Local ginger is fresh as it gets

Runnymede Farm offers a local take on an international flavor
Heat-loving ginger is grown at Runnymede Farm in Rogue River.Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell

A spice native to Asia and grown rarely in the continental United States has found a home at one Rogue River farm.

Fresh ginger will arrive at Rogue Valley Growers & Crafters Market this week from Runnymede Farm. Timing her harvest to avoid the first frost, farmer Teri White also supplies participants in the annual Eat Local Challenge with one more option amid scarce seasonings.

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"When I sell it at the market, people just go nuts for it," says White. "They like it because it's fresh and because it's local, of course."

Along with salt and commodities such as chocolate and coffee, spices often are cited as exceptions in a diet of foods exclusively grown and produced locally. Thrive, the nonprofit business-development group that initiated the Challenge eight years ago, redefined its levels of participation in 2010 to leave some room for commonly imported ingredients.

"We wanted to create another level ... meaning they really wanted to do it every meal but weren't really willing to go to extremes," says Thrive Executive Director Wendy Siporen.

An extremely heavy feeder, ginger is sustained by the heat of White's hoop house. The crop starts as certified organic rhizomes from Hawaii that spend six weeks in Runnymede's heated greenhouse. In June, the plants move to the hoop house, where they soak up compost tea, bone meal and kelp before harvest in mid-September. The roots don't have enough time at Runnymede to develop a tough, tan skin like commercial ginger.

"It was this beautiful pink and white," says White. "You don't need to peel it at all."

Sold in small bunches for $2 to $4, the ginger also isn't as pungent as mainstream types, says White, explaining that it's juicy — something like the difference between green garlic and mature heads. She keeps part of the stalk intact, which could be infused into liquid, as cooks would use lemon grass.

"It's exciting; it's fun," says Siporen of the area's increasing number of specialty items.

"People are experimenting and pushing the envelope of what can be grown here," she says, adding that one small farm is starting to cultivate citrus fruits in pots, and another "backyard" farmer is anticipating a peanut crop.

This is White's second year of growing ginger after she saw an article about it in a farming magazine. There's nothing, she says, to keep home gardeners from trying ginger, too, particularly in containers that could be moved inside for winter.

"I haven't perfected it yet," says White.

Yet Runnymede ginger usually is included in the farm's final community-supported agriculture shares of summer, and White hopes a bit will be allotted in her new winter CSA, which starts Nov. 8. The cost is $500 for 20 weeks, with shares supplied every other week. Call 541-582-6193 or email runnymedefarm@msn.com.

Winter CSAs extend the availability of local foods when cold weather inhibits growing and local farmers markets are on hiatus. See the Mail Tribune's guide to local farmers markets and CSAs, as well as other resources for taking the Eat Local Challenge, at www.mailtribune.com/growersmarket and www.mailtribune.com/eatlocal.

Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or email slemon@mailtribune.com.

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