Jay Krebsbach needs no convincing when it comes to the importance of buying local products.
"That's the whole reason I'm still in business after the third year," said Krebsbach, a seasoned chef who struck off on his own to make a Modena balsamic vinegar reduction free of salt, sugar and gluten. "If it hadn't been for the Market of Choice, Paddington Station and Tark's Market, I wouldn't have been able to branch out to the other parts of Oregon."
Today the Mail Tribune launches a new regular feature called Buy Rogue Valley.
A couple of times a week, we'll feature a product grown or manufactured in the Rogue Valley and sold here. After today, it will appear on our Business Page.
Have an idea? Email the information to email@example.com. The description should be no longer than 25 words and include a jpg image. (Because of the large quantity, wine and non-packaged foods will not be considered.)
Krebsbach's Shibui sauce found its stride when Krebsbach sold 300 bottles at Paddington Station in Ashland during the 2009 holidays.
"They were blown away," Krebsbach said. "That gave me a great jump-start and put me on the road to where I had a fabulous product and someone to back me up — a reliable vendor to support my story."
From growers and farmers markets to wineries and gift shops — even chain stores — locally produced bread, pasta, jam, cards and decorations are playing an increasing role in the Rogue Valley economy.
Organizations such as THRIVE, founded in 2004 to call attention to food grown locally, discovered even more producers than it expected to find.
Wendy Siporen, executive director of the economic-development and food-advocacy group, said the movement to create products for market crosses age-group demographics.
"I've seen 20-somethings and 60-somethings with these businesses," Siporen said. "It's people with an extra spark of creativity or who want to be their own boss."
The range of artisans and agricultural producers reflects both the desire to share the results of labor and the need to find new income streams during tough economic times.
As hard as recessionary forces hit pocket books, Krebsbach said it created a better environment for artisans.
"The economy gave more emphasis to the small vendor," he said. "I really believe the bad economy spurted the growth of my company. If things were a lot better, people wouldn't read the labels and would be picking up whatever is on the shelf, going on life as usual. It causes everyone to pause, reflect, concentrate and make better decisions on where and what they are spending their money on."
While the digital age has introduced greater access to customers, getting into retail locations still provides critical exposure for mom and pop operations.
Tark's Market in Talent carries products from a dozen local vendors, ranging from neck warmers to soap.
"We're small potatoes compared to big guys," said Tark's owner Ron Ridgway. "But if you can get into Albertsons or a chain-type operation, right away you've got a big smile on your face. Even if you don't sell a lot, putting that much product into marketplace keeps you really busy."
Ridgway said buyers gravitating toward local products figure they are getting quality.
"We know the manufacturer and it eliminates not knowing what's in your food, whether it's in a glass, jar or canned. Some folks shop those products religiously."
Paul Murdoch of Gary West Meats is both a retail outlet for several local vendors and an Internet seller. The Jacksonville merchant theorizes a broader cultural trend has put a premium on products perceived as local. Organic and other labels have gained importance.
"From where we sit," Murdoch said, "people want to know and trust the manufacturer in an era where a lot of goods are anonymously made. When you think buying local is critical, people want to know the source. These guys are not big companies and that's part of the value."
During the holiday season, he said there is even more incentive for some buyers to find a gift that reflects the region.
"They want to be able to point to who made the gift," he said. "I know the guy who made it lives in the Applegate, he's a nice guy and does other things in the community. There is value on both sides of the equation."
While opinions vary on whether there are more people involved in artisan efforts than when the economy was soaring a few years ago, Murdoch said he's seeing more people trying to get products in front of the public.
"The number of producers is still going up," he said. "About half of them contact me or I'll be at a farmers market or hear about them and track them down.
"I don't know if it's because they were losing employment at other jobs, but I see a steady increase in the number of people making products and a lot of them are start-ups."
There is another element summer visitors and Christmas shoppers are searching for when they stop by his Fifth Street shop, Murdoch said.
"Typically, they are looking for something they didn't know about," he said. "They love the stories about the local person. They want a genuine story. The large companies have caught on to that, but that leaves consumers jaded because they know when something is contrived versus authentic."
Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.