Romaine calm and shop on: A guide to Berkeley’s farmers markets

Kavya Narendra Babu/Staff

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Giant watermelons, baskets of cherries and fresh berries by the pound — these produce items are the iconographies of summer. Who doesn’t dream of pairing fresh fruit with a glass of rosé for the perfect beachside picnic? Unfortunately, the reality of scavenging through the already picked-over fruit section at Trader Joe’s in search of perfectly ripe strawberries isn’t quite as picturesque — and neither is blowing your entire monthly stipend at Whole Foods Market.

Instead, try shopping for your produce locally! The Ecology Center hosts three weekly farmers markets in Berkeley year-round — the Downtown Berkeley Farmers’ Market, the North Berkeley Farmers’ Market and the South Berkeley Farmers’ Market. While all of these markets are open-air, showcase sustainable and small-scale farms, and accept EBT and WIC, each market is differentiated by its own quirks and unique products. Overwhelmed by choice? Relax — here are some key qualities of each farmers market to help you decide which one you will be visiting first this summer.

 

Downtown Berkeley Farmers’ Market

Is your summer class or work schedule too packed to support a midweek trip to a farmers market? Well, the Downtown Berkeley Farmers’ Market is the perfect fit for UC Berkeley students who prioritize convenience in their shopping experience. This bustling farmers market is open every Saturday year-round from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and is nestled between Center Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way — making it the closest farmers market to campus.

Entering the market, you might expect to see all the classic big hits: peaches, strawberries, tomatoes and green beans — and indeed, there are multiple local farmers offering that produce at fair prices. However, this market offers some cool nontraditional vendors as well — like Big Little Bowl, which features freshly made soups packaged in Mason jars that boast the ability to optimize cellular health and reduce bodily toxins. Campbell’s soup could never.

 

North Berkeley Farmers’ Market

Do you miss the traditional, small-scale model of the farmers market or feel overwhelmed by a multitude of options? As the smallest market the Ecology Center has to offer, the North Berkeley Farmers’ Market has a quaint, personal feel that marks a return to the roots — pun intended — of the open-air vendor. This market at the intersection of Shattuck Avenue and Rose Street showcases conventional produce, so expect to see an abundance of color as you fill your bag with vibrant radishes, blueberries, heads of lettuce and carrots.

If filling up on carrots and celery isn’t your idea of a successful afternoon, the Frog Hollow tent offers delicious turnovers, “scuffins” (the delightful marriage of the scone and the muffin), and tartlettes to indulge in as you peruse the market’s selections of fresh-cut flowers, bottles of olive oil and even knives for sale. If this sounds like your scene, swing by the market any Thursday from 3 to 7 p.m. year-round.

 

South Berkeley Farmers’ Market

Located along Adeline Street, this farmers market is great for anyone who enjoys their kimchi with a side of chaos — the relentless vehicle and train traffic that surrounds this little market provides a chorus of car horns. Also, parking is a nightmare, so you may opt for trekking the couple miles on foot. However, the live music as well as conversation with the lovely vendors will quickly put such nuisances out of mind.

The South Berkeley Farmers’ Market, open on Tuesdays from 2 to 6:30 p.m. year-round, is midsized compared to the North Berkeley and Downtown Berkeley markets and offers much of the same produce. However, the South Berkeley Farmers’ Market has many options for shoppers who work up an appetite while perusing the produce — with freshly made Thai food, tamales, and vegan food available for purchase. Especially intriguing is Star Root Medicine’s tent — the founder of this business cultivates more than 100 species of medicinal plants to sell at this market every year. An insider’s tip: Her most popular summer item is her homemade hemp lotion, so make sure you arrive right at 2 p.m. if you want to grab a bottle before she sells out.

 

Each farmers market offers tasty produce — so don’t waste any time in heading out and exploring!

Meghan Mariani is the multimedia editor. Contact her at [email protected].