Last weekend I stepped into another Farmer’s Market mecca in Berkeley, California. My cousin and I wheeled away from dropping her daughter off at work and decided to stop, even though our plan was to visit a farmer’s market in El Cerrito, just a few miles away. Farmers were still stocking their tables with the days bounty in the early minutes of the market.
BERKELEY FARMERS MARKET
Carolyn immediately noticed the displays, gorgeously arranged and so attractive, and then she noticed the prices. She leaned in and whispered that everything seemed more expensive. I scanned the offering and noted that most stone fruit was selling between $3.25 – $3.50 a pound. I saw carrots and beets offered at $2 a bunch, sugar snap peas at $5 a pound, and a variety of lettuce at $1.25 a head.
I immediately suggested we see for ourselves. Carolyn hadn’t been to the El Cerrito market for stone fruit since last year. As we circled back through the Berkeley market, I shared that I have seen a similar disparity at home. The famed Santa Monica Farmer’s Market close to my office can be more expensive than other local markets that I frequent, but not always.
THE EL CERRITO FARMER’S MARKET
Five miles down the road we pulled into a very crowded parking lot and made our way into the already crowded aisles. Mixed raspberries and blackberries for $10 a three pack. Most stone fruit at $2 a pound. Apricots on special at $1.25, with one friendly farmer letting us know the early heat was our friend today, bringing the fruit on all at once. Yes, some of the prices were much lower.
I also noticed that most of the farmers were not advertising certified organic produce, a significant factor when it comes to my own local markets. When I spoke to the vendors, the comments were varied. Some were in the middle of the three year process required for certification, others claimed that they used “no sprays.” Some were grown as organic, but smaller venders often can’t afford the price of certification. Others claimed that they were more organic than anything that the state could certify. I buy from like minded growers at home. Buying fruit from vendors who grow with organic traditions, but lack the certification, can be a really good deal.
The El Cerrito farmer’s market was notably busier. I struggled to get to the produce, and lost my cousin in the rush more than a few times. When we walked through the Berkeley market it was just opening and pretty quiet. The experience gives me pause. Despite the time difference, I wonder if more people shop at El Cerrito because the produce is notable less expensive. I wonder if the cost differential reflects the cost of growing and certifying organic produce, or does the Berkeley market suggest that farmers merely charge what the market will bear?
In any case, it is possible to buy more affordable produce from farmer’s market. Often it is found just a few miles away from markets like those at Berkeley and Santa Monica that get most of the attention. For me, the deliciousness of locally grown fruits and vegetables, the benefits to our environment, and the satisfaction I get from buying sustainable produce is worth every penny–but it sure is nice to get a good deal.