Local: Phat Beets Farmers’ Markets

Phat Beets (http://www.phatbeetsproduce.org/) is an Oakland nonprofit dedicated to providing affordable access to fresh produce though the creation of farmers’ markets and youth-powered gardens. They run three farmers’ markets in North Oakland.

The farmers are all small and local, and I filled my usual shopping basket with extremely fresh produce for about 40 percent less than it would have cost me at the major organic farmers’ markets in Oakland and Berkeley.

Not all the vendors are certified organic, however. In fact, most are not. Many are in the process of certification; others provide various combinations of partially organic (e.g., pesticide-free) and what’s ultimately pretty much conventional (see vendor guide, below).

That doesn’t mean what’s on offer is not worthwhile or no better than conventional supermarket produce: it’s still local, fresh, affordable food that benefits the community and leans towards organic. But problem is there’s not much information provided about what you’re actually getting on a given item, and vending staff wasn’t able to provide much detail the day I was there.

Phat Beets isn’t making any false claims. They just want to get lower-income people fresh, local food from small local producers, and that’s what they’re doing. But if you’re looking for a deal on organic at a Phat Beets market you should use my vendor guide to know what you’re buying.

Part of what you’re paying for at the seemingly boutique-priced farmers’ markets like the ones the Ecology Center runs is organic certification and some degree of verification and transparency for methods used on non-certified food.

Organic certification can be a double-edged sword. It’s very expensive for farmers, especially small ones. So while it enables you to know what you’re getting if you understand the standards (http://www.epa.gov/agriculture/torg.html), it also raises small producers’ prices. (That’s not to say the bigger ones might not be marking up the price unfairly, an inquiry for another day.)

Organic certification is no guarantee that produce is seasonal, local, or produced with fair labor, and those are important considerations, too. But that’s no reason throw up your hands in despair and just buy whatever’s cheapest as the conventional agricultural industry would have you do.

A little mindfulness goes a long way. Nothing is perfect, but once you’ve informed yourself about standards, established your personal priorities, and accepted your budget, the choices become surprisingly easy.

I’ll shop again at Phat Beets, especially the Tuesday market, which features the 100-percent certified J & P Organics. But I’ll be sure to take my vendor’s guide with me.

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PHAT BEETS VENDOR GUIDE

5715 Market Street, Saturdays

Vang Family Farms. Clovis/Fresno, CA. Not certified organic. They use DiPel (http://www.valentbiosciences.com/docs/pdfs/learning_center/LC_DiPel.pdf), an organically-approved pesticide, to control pests in their tomatoes, and organic fertilizer. But they also use Roundup between rows and before planting in addition to hoeing and hand-weeding. So I guess you could call them semi-organic – probably better than supermarket conventional, but not organic. See http://www.ecologycenter.org/bfm/vendors/farm-facts.php?vendor=Vang%20Family%20Farm&id=10277.

Firme Farms. Stockton, CA.  In process of getting organic certification (they say by end of 2011).  Wide variety of veggies. See http://www.firmefarms.com.

J&J Farms. Hughson, CA. Not certified organic. Phat Beets says J&J grows oranges and tomatoes and pesticide-free stone fruit. I take that wording to mean the oranges and tomatoes are conventional, so I might buy the pesticide-free stone fruit (not organic but closer to it) but not the oranges & tomatoes. However, other farmers are offering organic oranges and tomatoes; you gotta ask which farm the stuff comes from to know what you’re buying. See (http://jandjfarmsca.blogspot.com/ & http://www.phatbeetsproduce.org/farmers-markets/north-oakland-children’s-hospital.

Scott’s Family Farms. Fresno County, CA.  In process of getting organic certification. Farmer Will Scott is president of California Assoc of African American Farmers. He farms without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. Various fruits and veggies.  See http://www.phatbeetsproduce.org/order-a-beet-box/scotts-family-farm/.

747 52nd St  (Children’s Hospital), 2 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays.

The Tuesday Phat Beets Market has J&P organics, which says it’s is all certified organic (http://www.jporganics.com/). They also have J&J Ramos, which is mixed, so watch which one you’re buying from if your priority is certification.

675 41st Street (St. Martin de Porres Catholic School) 2:30 – 5:30 Wednesdays.

Supported by the school. The farmers are not listed on Phat Beets website; whether it’s the same farmers as above or produce grown by the school or both or some other deal is not indicated.

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