Cabbage Meets Cars

As the co-manager of the Ecology Center’s farmers’ markets, I know that birthing a market involves more than lining up growers. The first day of the new North Shattuck market, I watched a steady stream of customers sample peaches and bag up crisp arugula. Whether those patrons could buy late tomatoes and winter squash in October would depend upon the city of Berkeley and its parking czars.
It turns out the greatest challenge in creating a human-scale sustainable marketplace is fitting it into a world defined by internal-combustion vehicles and international competition. Farmers can afford to sell only at markets with plenty of customers, and those customers must be able to find the market, have time to shop, and be willing to spend a little extra for organic produce. A market needs a highly visible location, and space for twenty or so vendors and their vehicles — a combination hard to come by in Berkeley.
When Stuart Skorman of Elephant Pharmacy offered his south parking lot for the Thursday afternoon market, the site seemed perfect. But patrons need places to park, and cars that usually park in the lot must go elsewhere as well, all without making parking impossible for neighborhood residents. City officials made it clear that parking was the issue, and put the market on probation. I realized that to argue our case, we needed stats — and better sooner than later. On the first two market days, I interviewed 69 shoppers and found that more than half rode bikes or walked to the market. I walked the streets, counting empty parking spaces block by block, first at 1:00, before the market opened, then at 3:00, at the height of the market, and again at 5:00. Parking is most congested at 1:00 — North Shattuck is a popular lunch spot.
I showed up at the city’s public hearing armed with my stats and supporters, only to discover that not one phone call or email had been received opposing the market. The board moved our item to the consent calendar, approved the permit, and sent us all away without giving any of us a chance to make speeches.
What’s the lesson? Tomatoes triumph over Triumphs — in this case at least.

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