Saturday mornings are for sleeping in, catching up on Netflix, and going to farmers' markets. There’s nothing better than tables abundant with the freshest seasonal produce, especially since they offer varieties you can’t find at your typical grocery store.
Plus, prices are competitive and you sometimes get the chance to talk to the actual farmer. The Downtown Berkeley market, which runs from 10 AM to 3 PM near the BART station, is so close to campus that everyone should stop by.
After working there for a couple seasons, I’ve sampled all the stalls and found the cream of the crop. Here’s the insider scoop on some of the best vendors you should definitely check out.
Asian pears from Gabriel Farms
Just like apples, there are countless varieties of Asian pears and the best place to sample some is Gabriel Farms. Among the eight different varieties that they offer throughout the season, a customer favorite is the 20th Century, crisp and juicy with a slight citrus flavor that’s perfect in salads.
They also offer jams, apples, persimmons, and the unique pineapple-guava, which are aromatic, torpedo-shaped green fruits that taste like Sweet Tarts candy. Satisfy your sweet tooth and get your vitamin C quota all in one fruit.
Unfortunately, Gabriel Farms is only a seasonal vendor (July to November), so pick up your Asian pears while you can.
Veggies from Avalos Organic Farm
For all your veggie needs, Avalos Organic Farm has got you covered. The tables are always overflowing with peppers, cabbages, onions, tomatoes, and more. They even sell dried beans by the pound. You can always count on the farmer Efren to greet you with a smile and make you feel like you’re part of the family.
Pick up some zucchini for zoodles, bell peppers for stir fry, or potatoes for a hearty stew. Produce will vary by season, but when one veggie's season ends, another one begins and you can be sure Avalos will have them.
Almond butter from Massa Organics
They started off selling brown rice at the markets, but after bringing some almond butter on a whim, it quickly took off. The ingredient list is literally one line long — organic dry roasted almonds — so the ultimate question is whether you want smooth or crunchy.
There are no artisanal flavors, but this almond butter doesn’t need any. Many days they’re sold out before 1 PM, so if AB is on your mind, better get to the market early.
(This is literally the best almond butter I’ve ever eaten and if I could bulk order this stuff I would.)
Eggs and meat from Riverdog Farm
If you need to stock up on eggs, head over to Riverdog Farm. They are notorious for their “egg line,” where die-hard shoppers regularly line up 15 minutes before the market officially opens to ensure they get a carton.
Like Massa, eggs are typically gone by noon. But you shouldn’t leave empty handed, so pick up some fresh cuts of pork sirloin, boneless chops, and Boston bull steak instead.
If you see people walking around with baguettes peaking out of their totes, it’s likely they stopped at Morells. Organic, naturally leavened, and baked in a brick oven, these breads are the perfect upgrade for your morning toast.
Options range from rye to sesame to sunflower, but the baker himself recommends the classic multigrain. Loaves are $4 to $7, and are baked fresh right here in Berkeley. One look at those crusts and you’ll be in love.
Mushrooms from Solano Mushroom
You don’t have to be a mushroom fanatic to love Solano Mushroom. I was never a fan of the fungi growing up (hello, they look like slugs), but recently have been loving experimenting with them in risottos, soups, and stir frys. Become inspired by all the pickings such as shiitake, royal trumpet, and oyster.
Mushrooms usually go for around $3.50 per 1/4 pound, but you can count on these locally grown mushrooms to pack in tons of umami and flavor that bagged grocery market shrooms just don’t have. And if you really want to impress someone, splurge on some chanterelles or morels to elevate your homely dishes.
Olive oil from Bariani
This is perfect for the artisanal shopper or last minute holiday shopper (me). Bariani has been making extra virgin olive oil for over 25 years, and the expertise definitely shows. Harvesting typically happens in the fall and the final oil is bottled the following year and sold immediately to ensure customers receive the freshest olive oil.
Sample some of their oils and balsamic vinegars, then buy a couple bottles for family and friends. An 8-oz bottle runs for $6.25 and the 16-oz is $12. They also offer mini bottles, perfect for picnics or toting around in your bag.
The market runs from 10 AM to 3 PM every Saturday morning near Civic Center Park on Center Street. Grab your friends and start a relaxing weekend by heading to the "far mar" for some fresh fruits and veggies. (Yes, we’re going to make “far mar” a thing.) Plus, it’s always great to support local farmers and producers.