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Local rose gardener found opportunity at Farmer’s Market

By Daniela Mohor Daily Planet staff
Thursday August 23, 2001

Last May, when the 48 rose bushes she planted in her back yard were blooming, Berkeley resident Anne Fitzmaurice decided it was time to become part of the farmers’ market. She would wake up at dawn every Saturday, prepare about 20 bouquets, head to the market, and sell them.  

“I loved being at the market,” said Fitzmaurice, who is in her 60s. “It’s fun to give people the pleasure to have flowers for not too much money.” 

The excitement however was not enough to keep Fitzmaurice at the market. Today, she works at home, delivering flower arrangements only upon request. The workload is lighter and the income can be greater.  

Decisions such as Fitzmaurice’s explain why, out of the 35 to 50 vendors who sell their products at the Berkeley Farmers’ market twice a week, only two are local growers. Most of the farmers come from other parts of California, such as the Santa Cruz area, Santa Rosa or the central valley. 

“There have never been many (local growers),” said Penny Leff, the farmers’ market manager. “We would love to see more urban agriculture at the market.” 

To encourage the participation of local gardeners, Leff said the farmers’ market administration charges them half price for the booth fee. For instance, Berkeley Youth Alternatives and Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency, the two non-profit organization that currently sell products at the market, only pay about $15 to have a booth for the day. While BOSS sells nursery plants, BYA sells fruit and vegetables from its two gardens in west Berkeley. The organizations use the gardens as part of a training program for homeless people and at-risk youth respectively. 

But partly because of the local lack of land, and partly because those who grow organic food in Berkeley are not interested in selling their products, the discount on the booth fee hasn’t really attracted Berkeley-based participants. 

“Most of the gardens that are growing vegetables are only (big) enough for the people that are growing them,” she said. “There isn’t really enough land for real vegetable-business operations in town right now.” And many local growers, she added, just enjoy eating and giving away their products. 

The Karl Linn community garden on Peralta at Hopkins is one of the many places in Berkeley, where people just grow food for the joy of it. Created 15 years ago, the garden includes a common herb garden and 15 individual plots. In addition to sharing the herbs, plot-holders meet for community events, pot-locks, and distribution of harvest. The purpose of the garden, said the garden’s coordinator Eleanor Walden, is to have community members connect with each other.  

“It’s reclaiming our community through our community garden,” said Walden. “I’d like to see more neighborhoods cooperate with backyard areas so that individual families would make it more communal and have flowers, fruit and vegetables that they could share.” 

Leff has a similar wish. And to her, being part of the farmers’ market is indeed a way to build a stronger sense of community. The mission of the market, she said, is to establish a connection between rural farmers and city people. Despite the lack of land, she said independent gardeners could find ways to participate. 

“We would love to see a cooperative, a group of gardeners who want to come together,” she said. “We would love to talk to anyone who would want to arrange something like that.” 

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For more information on community gardens and the farmers’ market visit the Web site: http://www.ecologycenter.org/index.html