In May of 1987, the Ecology Center opened the first Ecology Center Farmers’ Market, beginning a journey to create a viable alternative to the industrial food model. Today, the Ecology Center’s three thriving farmers’ markets constitute the heart of the community’s alternative food system. The Bay Area’s most esteemed restaurants, the Berkeley Unified School District, local food justice programs, UC Berkeley Cooperative Housing, and thousands of residents get the freshest, most delicious fruits and vegetables at these markets while supporting the region’s small family farms.
“From the very beginning, the Ecology Center’s Farmers’ Markets have distinguished themselves from other farmers’ markets, by keeping to the stated values of Environment, Community, and Justice” said Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, who helped secure the first location when she was the Mayor of Berkeley.
Unlike many markets, the Ecology Center dedicates significant resources to educating customers about sustainable farming practices and supporting small organic farmers. “We really walk our talk, and believe you have to lead by example,” says Executive Director Martin Bourque. Examples of this include the Ecology Center Farmers’ Markets’ environmental activism include banning the use of GMOs and the sale of produce grown using toxic soil fumigant methyl bromide, advocating for strong national organic standards, and now campaigning for meaningful Farm Bill reform.
“I want to get people into the Farmers’ Markets,” said author and chef Alice Waters, “to taste and touch and have their senses opened to real food, to support the people who are taking care of the land so we’ll have a pure source of food in the future.”
In recent years the Ecology Center Farmers’ Market has focused on reducing inequities in the food system as well. “Our support for new farmers has helped stabilize some migrant farmworkers’ successful transition to farm owners,” says former Ecology Center Farmers’ Market Operations Manager Rosalie Fanshel. “Unjust food policies in the Farm Bill make bad food cheap and abundant, and they make large corporations a lot of money. The result is a public health crisis. Low-income families and folks of color pay for this with their health,” explains Tiffany Golden, Ecology Center Board Member. “The Ecology Center Farmers’ Markets help local food justice programs like People’s Grocery, Spiral Gardens, and Farm Fresh Choice offer an alternative to the systemic oppression of the food system.”
The markets create a diverse and unique community space out of an empty street, where people meet, shop, talk, eat, and get involved in local issues. Social justice activists, food activists, “locavores,” Slow Food enthusiasts, students, chefs, and even farmers flock to the Ecology Center Farmers’ Market. Joe Schirmer of Dirty Girl Produce sells at many other markets, “But I shop Tuesdays in Berkeley. The produce there is as good as it gets, and the prices are among the best I’ve seen.” Al Courchesne of Frog Hollow Farm says, “I go to Ferry Plaza on Saturday to work, but I shop in Berkeley on Tuesdays.” In a recent appearance, best-selling author Michael Pollan told a Berkeley audience that one of the most immediate and significant acts that they could do to deepen the local economy is to shop at the Ecology Center Farmers’ Market.
The Ecology Center Farmers’ Market has served as the hub of the community alternative food system for twenty years, and has been ground zero for many food movements. Additionally, the Ecology Center Farmers’ Markets have received numerous awards and recognitions.
In a 2012 interview in Berkeleyside, illustrious wine importer Kermit Lynch was asked what he particularly liked about Berkeley. He answered, “I love the Berkeley Farmers’ Market. It’s better than what I find in Provence these days.” In 2010, our farmers’ market won the title of Best Farmers’ Market in the Bay Area in the SF Gate Baylist Best contest. We also won the California Resource Recovery Association’s Zero Waste Achievement Award! In 2005, San Francisco Magazine published “Looking for the Bay Area’s Best Farmers’ Market? Just Follow the Chefs,” which highlighted our South Berkeley market. The following year, San Francisco Magazine readers voted the South Berkeley market among the Best Farmers’ Markets of the Bay Area. In 2002, our farmers’ markets were on Gourmet Magazine’s list of “100+ Great Things” in the Bay Area, and in 2000, Sunset Magazine heralded our market among their seven favorite farmers’ markets in Northern California. We have been voted “Best Farmers’ Market” by readers of the East Bay Express many times. Come out and shop!