I would like to clear up some misinformation I have read recently in the Daily Planet regarding the possibility of Derby Street closing and its effect on the Tuesday Berkeley Farmers’ Market. While it is true that the current proposed site for the Farmers’ Market in a closed-Derby Street scenario contains more square footage than currently occupied, the market’s needs are more complex than the physical space of asphalt given to us.
The Ecology Center, which has operated the Tuesday Berkeley Farmers’ Market for over 20 years on Derby Street, prefers that the street stays open. This is because the small farmers who sell in our markets consistently state that any market they have been a part of that has moved from an on-street location to an off-street location took several years to recover, if it ever did at all. Any market requiring a road closure will be more visible to passing traffic than an off-street market will, regardless of the number of square feet given to the market.
In order for the Farmers’ Market to continue to serve the community and thrive, we have several needs that must be met. There must be ample parking for customers, including four spots for handicapped parking. In a closed-Derby Street plan, we lose that street parking, and no additional parking has been proposed for the Farmers’ Market. Loss of customer parking is the number one concern of our farmers and vendors. While we encourage alternate transportation, the fact is that people who are grocery shopping usually drive, and people who can’t find a parking space usually go somewhere else.
Accessibility and visibility are also vital needs. The current open street provides us with the open-space feel of a true community gathering place, with many places to enter the market. Our site in a closed-Derby Street plan, however, doubles as a basketball court, which would require fencing and would enclose the market. Access into the market, as well as visibility, would be greatly reduced.
We require lighting for operation during the winter months. We currently use street lighting on Derby Street. We must have access to high and low lighting in order to continue as a year-round, rain-or-shine market. Also, law requires that our vendors have access to restrooms with running water. As of now, there is no restroom planned for the site.
The Berkeley Farmers’ Market must receive a reasonable long-term guarantee of operation. We are concerned that operating on school district property, as opposed to the city property we currently operate on, will result in the market being evicted sometime in the future. We are primarily a civic community resource, and prefer that our landlord remain the City of Berkeley in order to ensure the market’s long-term security.
We are concerned that any transition period between an open-Derby Street and a closed-Derby Street may harm the market’s business. If we miss even a single week, customers are likely to shop someplace else. Most members of the public do not realize what a delicate business the Farmers’ Market really is. Most of the small, local farmers and food vendors that you support by shopping there truly rely on the market for their livelihood. If they do not meet their financial needs at the Derby Street Farmers’ Market for even a few weeks, they will be forced to sell at another of the Bay Area’s many farmers’ markets. Many farmers’ markets have ended in this manner.
The Tuesday Berkeley Farmers’ Markets supports many local food security organizations, local restaurants, and the Berkeley Unified School District’s salad bar program. It is a positive community resource that sets an example to other communities. If you wish to support the Tuesday Berkeley Farmers’ Market, please write to both City Council and the Berkeley School Board and let them know. Please tell local officials why the Tuesday Berkeley Farmers’ Market is so important to you, and urge them to meet our needs, whether Derby Street stays open or closes, so that the market continues to thrive long into the future.
Linda Graham is the program manager for the Berkeley Farmers’ Markets.