.Come for the Salsa, Stay for the Climate: Berkeley’s Farmers’ Market Salsa Festival gets spicy again

Cue the marimbas!

After two years of pandemic-mandated cancellations, dancing, food and eco-consciousness will samba back on May 21, as the Farmers’ Market Salsa Festival returns to Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Park.

Created in 2018 by the Berkeley Ecology Center as a way to blend healthy outdoor activities and information about how to help fight the climate crisis, the festival was also designed to engage with the city’s thriving Latinix and artisan communities. A family-friendly event, it drew thousands who crowd-danced while being led by professional salsa instructors, shopped at the farmers’ market, sipped beverages (adult and otherwise) and visited activities and booths “meant to help people get in touch with their individual ability to make a real, lasting impact in the ongoing climate crisis,” said the BEC’s event coordinator, Cynthia Murdough.

The Ecology Center has been eager to restart in-person festivals, and this marks the first one since the 2020 shutdown, Murdough said.

Now the festivities resume, and with much more going on than in 2018, when organizers were just “getting our feet wet,” she said. This year’s festival is expected to attract at least 2,500 attendees, who will shake their booties to live performances by the Latin Jazz Youth Ensemble of San Francisco, the 30-piece Berkeley High School Jazz Ensemble, Afro-Cuban/Afro-Peruvian artist Erick Peralta and Grammy Award-winner Christian Pepin y su Orquesta Bembe.

“How many people know that [Berkeley High School] has an ensemble that just got back from Cuba?” Murdough asked, “or that we have a Grammy winner right here in our community?” 

Those who can’t resist moving their feet to the music can learn basic salsa steps, led by Latin dancers from Fenix Dance, who will perform and teach throughout the day. At the Kids’ Eco-Zone, smaller salsa fans can make up-cycled percussion instruments and join the Kids’ Drum Circle while learning a few dance moves.

Besides filling baskets and bags with produce from the farmers’ market, hungry visitors can sample salsa recipes sourced from the market by chefs from Berkeley’s Kitchen on Fire, and CHICA, a woman-and-POC-led Oakland restaurant. Or they can cycle their way to a People Powered Smoothie on a stationary bike, using fresh fruits and juices from farmers’ market vendors.

“All the ingredients will be sourced from the farmers’ market that morning,” said Murdough.

Naturally, other beverages will not be neglected, with a focus on local sources and sustainably made, including craft beer, wines and mojitos in partnership with market food vendors. DeNovo Winery will pour Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Sparkling Cremant. Drake’s Brewing Company will feature Pilsner and IPA. Montoya Distillers, an industry leader in sustainability and social responsibility, will sponsor the mojito booth, with drinks made to order, using fresh mint and lime.

Eco-shoppers can visit displays from more than 15 local artisans who create Earth-friendly items.

The complementary side of the festival will showcase the multiple ways people concerned about the environment and climate crisis can make an individual difference. “All of the Ecology Center’s programming will be represented,” Murdough said, giving participants a chance to find out more about Berkeley Curbside Recycling, paths to zero waste, “plastic-free July,” the Berkeley Climate Action Coalition, the EcoHouse, the EcoDirectory, and, of course, the Ecology Center Store. 

“Many people don’t know that the Ecology Center is the sponsor of all three Berkeley farmers’ markets,” said Murdough. This includes the downtown market, 10am-3pm on Saturdays; the North Berkeley market, 3pm-7pm on Thursdays; and the South Berkeley market, 2pm- 6:30pm, also on Thursdays.

Support for eliminating throwaway fashion will be spotlighted by the Haute Trash Artist Collaborative, hosting the “Trashion Fashion Selfie Booth.” Try on creations made from up-cycled materials, from computer chips to plastic grocery bags to USPS packaging, and take a selfie to prove it. Murdough noted that while huge global issues, like climate, can seem overwhelming, there are much smaller, everyday things everyone can do “to inspire and build a sustainable, healthy and just future for the East Bay, California and beyond.”

The Kids’ Eco-Zone will feature some star turns by Compton the Compost Pile, who is made entirely from recycled materials. Compton puppeteer Toni “Tune” Makula will make the neighborhood rock, Mariela’s Bi-lingual Music Time will entertain with sing-alongs, the Berkeley Library will host Environmental Story Time, and the Pollinator Posse will help kids make their own take-home bee houses. And if they are still not tired? Then they can make clay masks; blow environmentally curated, giant bubbles through handmade metal wands; or have faces painted with eco-friendly paints and designs inspired by nature.

Of course, the Ecology Center is hoping to recruit members during the festival, and those interested can sign up on the spot. “But just being there is a first step towards engagement,” said Murdough.

Asked what basic tips she’d give for anyone thinking of attending, she listed:

•Take BART to get there. BARTable is a sponsor, and the walk to the park is only a couple of blocks from both the downtown Berkeley and North Berkeley stations. There is also free on-street parking and paid parking in nearby local garages.

  • Bring your market bags/basket and your dancing shoes!
  • Wear layers for the somewhat unpredictable May weather.

• Bring a picnic blanket for al fresco dining.

Farmers’ Market Salsa Festival, 10 am-5pm May 21, Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Park, 2151 Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Way, Berkeley. Free. More information: https://ecologycenter.org/events/farmers-market-salsa-festival

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