Every Wednesday between 10 a.m and 2 p.m., an organic farmer’s market appears, tucked between the Cathedral of Christ the Light and the Kaiser Permanente offices near Lake Merritt. Operating since May, the Ordway Organic Farmer’s Market, a petite selection of just over a half dozen booths selling fruits, veggies, plants and other fare, is the new kid on the block on an array of farmer’s markets that dot Oakland. However, it is unique because it is among the few that take place midweek, mid-day and and are all-organic.
The organic farmer’s markets at Kaiser Permanente locations are the brain child of Dr. Preston Maring, who has been at Kaiser Oakland as a primary care physician for 41 years. The first one was started in May, 2003, at the Oakland medical center. Now there are 51 farmer’s markets at Kaiser facilities or sponsored by Kaiser around the country. Some of these markets are in communities that don’t have grocery stores, like Watts in South Central Los Angeles.
Dr. Maring insisted that the farmer’s markets had to be organic. “The best public health tool there is is a sharp chef’s knife, two cutting boards and a salad spinner,” he said. With so many Kaiser-sponsored markets around the country he thought it would be wonderful for people in Kaiser’s uptown Oakland offices to look down from their windows and see all the organic fresh fruits and vegetables.
As a physician, Dr. Maring feels that organic markets have a benefit that goes beyond marketplaces. “Ultimately, food grown organically is best for the people that eat it, best for the Earth, and best for people who grow it,” he said.
During a recent lunchtime, smartly-dressed women in business suits and men in button-down shirts and slacks are casually strolling among the Ordway market booths, enjoying samples of strawberries and jam and eyeing offerings like heirloom tomatoes and baby bok choy that was just picked the day before. Many are downtown workers still wearing the laminated nametags from their departments. One woman re-enters the Kaiser building carrying a single orchid in a pot.
Gwen Scott works at Kaiser in the communications department. She is holding a bag of grapes and is on the hunt for some oranges and vegetables, as well as considering visiting the lady who sells natural soaps. “I like eating oranges at work,” says Scott. She is excited about the mid-week market. “It’s great! I’m down here every Wednesday. I have a bag at my desk and I take everything home.”
Melina Clark is handing out samples of Company Jam, which is made from seasonal fruit jams and processed in small batches. The day’s samples are peach, plum and blackberry. The open jars and tiny spoons beckon curious shoppers. A man approaches and asks for a sample of the peach jam. While he is savoring its flavor, Clark explains that the company is based in Oakland and does all its cooking in Richmond. “We only use fruit, sugar and lemon juice,” she said. “We don’t use any pectin or preservatives.”
Clark doesn’t do any of the jam-making herself; she is strictly a salesperson at various farmers markets in the Bay Area, a role she enjoys. “It’s really fun to talk and interact with people,” she says. “I don’t mind selling because I am really enthusiastic about the jam. I believe in our product. It’s fresh and homemade, very tasty. I’ve definitely had a few samples!”
Wisdom by Wisdom is a bath and beauty product company that participates in the market every other Wednesday. The company’s owner, who goes simply by Wisdom, sells her natural soaps, body butters, salves and bath salts, which are made in small batches without detergents or animal fats. Her soaps are on individual display trays partnered with their names and list of ingredients so shoppers can pick them up and smell them. The lemongrass poppyseed soap and scrubby oats soaps have satisfying textures, studded by the ingredients. Her stress relief soap contains a mixture of lavender, sage, peppermint and star anise that she says calms the mind and spirit. “Every market has a different best seller,” says Wisdom. At the Ordway market, she says, her “stress relief” and “love spell” soaps are flying off the shelves.
Two co-workers from Barney and Barney, a nearby insurance brokerage firm, are enjoying their first visit to the Ordway market. Felicia McAroy and Lily Young heard about the farmer’s market that morning from a co-worker. McAroy came looking for vegetables for tonight’s dinner, but has picked up some pistachios to enjoy at her desk as a snack. She also couldn’t resist the stress relief soap. “I love the smell of this soap,” says McAroy. Young bought some bok choy. “I’m going to make a stir fry tonight,” she says.
Not only was the convenience of the market was a draw for McAroy and Lily, but the chance to support local entrepreneurs. “Instead of walking all the way to Whole Foods I like the idea of people doing it individually,” says McAroy. Young agrees, “We get to support the local growers and businesses around here.”
The Ordway Organic Farmer’s Market is located at Ordway Plaza by Lake Merritt and is open every Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., through October 3, 2012.