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Marin Farmers Market awarded as environmental educator

Rob Rogers
Marin Independent Journal 
June 8, 2007

As far as Sharon Jones is concerned, the Marin Farmers Market is a place to find fresh, local produce at a good price.

"I love the fresh vegetables and fruits," said Jones, a Marinwood resident who visited the market in the parking lot near the Marin Veterans Memorial Auditorium in San Rafael on Thursday. "And the prices are fair, better than at the grocery store."

But the market is also the face of local agriculture for many Marin consumers, and one of the best advertisements for earth-friendly growing practices, according to a Bay Area environmental group.

"The Marin Farmers Market impressed us by going above and beyond the business of selling produce," said Laura Teksler, awards chairwoman for Acterra, a Palo Alto organization that presented the Farmers Market with its 2007 Green Business Award for Environmental and Sustainability Education on Thursday.

"They reach out to consumers, through hospitals and schools, and educate people about healthy food choices, teaching them about the impact of eating within local sources," Teksler said. "They connect people to the farm."

That's the goal of the Marin Farmers Market, according to outreach director Leah Smith.

"We try to help both adults and kids discover our farms," Smith said. "They're small and local, unlike the large corporate farms in the Central Valley or the Midwest. We also want to educate consumers about what different terms mean, like 'organic' or 'transitional.' We want people to understand the labels and certifications provided and what they mean."

Using the Marin Farmers Market for education isn't easy, Smith said, because the fruits and vegetables popular with market shoppers are grown by only a small portion of the county's farmers.

"About 50 percent of our county is involved in agricultural production, but that's principally beef and dairy," Smith said. "Only 211 acres are dedicated to row crops. There's a lot of row crop products in the market, and the largest number of them come from Sonoma. They have things like stone fruit and pears, which we don't - although we do have amazing greens, strawberries, artichokes and peas."

Yet the market still acts as a link between the people and the land of Marin County, said Robert Berner, executive director of the Marin Agricultural Land Trust.

"It's true that the farmers market is chiefly an outlet for nondairy products, although it does sell beef and meat products," Berner said. "But in addition to providing a showcase and a venue for agricultural production here in Marin, the market provides an opportunity for people to buy, experience and understand the connections between what they eat and what we grow."

At least 16 of the growers who regularly appear at the farmers market are from Marin, Smith said, and all of them are certified by the county.

"All of the growers in Marin County are certified by the agriculture department, which inspects them," Smith said. "They have to prove they're growing what they say they're growing in the way they say they're growing it."

The 24-year-old farmers market has expanded its educational efforts in recent years, leading children from local schools on tours of markets and farms and initiating a food delivery service to schools and hospitals, including Dominican University and Marin General Hospital. Its Web site, www.marinfarmersmarket.org, also answers questions about farm products.

The organization has been certified by the county as a Marin Green Business.

"They've done a great job in raising public awareness of local growers and getting people to buy directly from the farmers," said Fred Crowder, assistant county agricultural commissioner. "They have good people working there with a real interest in agriculture who both support local agriculture and make it available to the public."

The Marin Farmers Market received its award with other 2007 winners: Adobe Systems, Applied Materials, Earthbound Homes, Farella Braun and Martel, Genentech, iReuse, Green Citizen, Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants, Stanford Dining and Sun Light and Power during a ceremony at the Symantec Corp. in Mountain View.

Contact Rob Rogers via e-mail at rrogers@marinij.com