Gabriel Farms remains true to its roots

BERKELEY, Calif. —  If you go to any two farmers’ markets, a lot looks similar. There are vendors with fresh food and smiling faces. At first glance, the Berkeley Saturday Farmers’ Market may resemble any other market, but the variety and different kinds of vendors sets them apart.

Three times a week farmers from around Northern California gather to sell a variety of products . Photo by Elliot Magenheim.

Starting in 1987, the Berkeley Saturday Farmers’ Market has evolved to provide customers with a variety of services. From massages to fresh fish and flowers, the market showcases its goods and services under the brightly colored canopies of more than 60 vendors.

Hundreds of people roamed up and down Center Street. Newspaper vendor Anthony King called out greetings to everyone coming through the main entrance. “You don’t want no boring life, you want a happy life,” he said in an interview.

That sentiment was echoed by Torrey Olson of Gabriel Farms   “I enjoy this” he said. He has been selling here for 15 years, and in all that time, he noted how much the

Torrey Olson talks about Gabriel Farms. Photo by Andrew Darell

farmers’ market had changed.

“I run my farm … not many farmers [who] run their farms anymore show up at the booths,” he said.

Not only is Gabriel Farms authentic in selling its products, but it is also different from the competition in terms of food production.

“We’re relatively small, but [we] manage space well,” Olson said. With only 15 acres Olson produces an almost unimaginable variety of produce from apples to freshly cut lavender. 

However, Olson isn’t the only vendor with a variety of products, and that is largely due to the work of the Ecology Center, which organizes and runs the farmers’ markets year-round on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays around Berkeley. The center emphasizes sustainable produce and healthy living, which is reflected in the booths present.

Booths enter the market through a rigorous application process so that only the best are represented at the market. This provides a lot of choice for the consumer, though it does mean that some small farmers like Olson finds it difficult to compete. “Farmers’ markets don’t really make money anymore,” Olson said.

Vendors often struggle to make profits at farmers’ markets due to the high volume of competition. Photo by Elliot Magenheim.

Despite all this, Olson still has passion for his job.

“I’m still here after all these years,” he said.