“People get to know us because they’re here and then they become close … and we get each other,” said Steven Carroll, an employee of Dirty Girl Farm who sells at the company’s farmers market stand. The Berkeley farmers markets are convenient, accessible sources of fresh produce that are a part of countless Berkeley High student’s childhoods. There are some students, however, that further their involvement with the market and find jobs with individual farms where they are able to build bonds with people in the city community.
Berkeley is a tight knit community, where people can get involved in local events and take care of the city. Students who have gone to the farmers market while growing up are able to use this experience as a job opportunity. Getting employed can be as simple as just knowing the owners of a farm because you’ve been around their stall, having personal connections with vendors, or just going up and asking if a stall is hiring.
Celie Schwarzer works at Riverdog Farm and is a Berkeley High graduate but started her employment at the market as a junior because of a connection her mom had with one of the staff of the farm.
She said, “I’ve been coming here for a while. (My mom’s friend) was like, you should work here because you hang out here a lot.” Students mostly start jobs at the farmers market as juniors or seniors because a work permit is necessary. Teenagers are able to get a work permit at 16 and can then work throughout the entire school year. Schwarzer enjoyed working at the market so much that she was able to continue the job during the school year. Most students, however, only work during the summer since it is peak season and school year schedules can get very busy.
Juliet Gibbs, a junior in AC also worked for Riverdog Farm and was employed at the farmers market last summer. She had a similar experience of getting hired as Schwarzer did. “I found out about the job and also got the job because my dad’s wife had previously worked there. She just walked up to Kim, who’s the big owner of Riverdog and she got hired,” said Gibbs.
Carroll spoke on the benefits he has seen students gain from working at the market.
“Retail experience is really valuable. You can take that anywhere. Money handling is really important, people, employers especially, they want to know that you can safely handle money and you’re trustworthy. It’s also just general customer service,” he said. Student employees usually only work at the farm stalls rather than transportation or farming. They are immersed in an environment where there isn’t always an obvious way to handle a given situation.
Rude customers are a natural part of business, but having to deal with them firsthand gives students the opportunity to know how it feels to be treated this way. It can help students speak more consciously and patiently as customers themselves because they know how it feels to be on the receiving end of it. Gibbs recalled a specific customer experience in which a woman bought a bag of almonds that went bad after she had left them untouched for a long time. “(She) fully made us refund her and then she also demanded to swap the almonds for a full box of produce, so there are just some sticklers. it’s not even like taking advantage they just can’t really see outside of themselves,” she said.
Not only do students gain valuable retail ability, they also get to become a part of a supportive community. They are able to build relationships with their fellow employees, workers at other stands, and customers. Seeing as each of the three Berkeley farmers markets happen once a week, many of the people who shop at the market are regular shoppers and get to know the different farms and what their specialties are.
Gibbs recalls a conversation she had with a customer earlier this year. “I complimented this lady’s ring. And it turned out her ring was from her high school boyfriend, who she’s no longer with. He gave her that ring in high school and it was his grandmother’s ring that she wore when she survived the Holocaust,” she said.
Interactions like this one give vendors and customers the opportunity to get to know one another and especially as a student who doesn’t have much job experience this can be a nice way to ease into a retail position.
“I definitely met a lot of really cool people and it’s a really nice community to be a part of,” Schwarzer said.
The farmers market is a great way for students to get involved in the community and gain job experience while having fun. Students can build bonds with coworkers and get to make money in a non stressful environment. Schwarzer enjoys working there and praised the experience.
“I recommend it to anybody. It’s a good thing to have on the side in high school,” Schwarzer said.