Growers markets abound here in Southern Oregon, and whether you opt for a quick in-and-out or prefer to linger, there are a handful of guidelines for making your trip as bountiful as it can be.
Bagging the best
One of the best things about shopping a growers market is snatching up the best produce at its peak of ripeness. To do that though, you need to know what's in season when. Here are some popular picks of the patch and their best seasons. For a more complete calendar, go to rvgrowersmarket.com/in-season.
Basil: April through October
Beets: April through October
Lettuces: March through November
Broccoli: March through October
Carrots and cabbage: June through November
Corn: August through October
Cucumbers: June through September
Kale: March/April and October/November
Peppers: Mid-July through October
Summer squash: July through mid-October
Watermelon: Mid-August through October
Winter Squash: September through November
These crops come and go before you know it:
April to early June: Asparagus
Late May to June: Snow peas and sugar-snap peas
Mid-June through July: Berries
Late June to early July: Cherries
July to mid-August: Blueberries
Did you know?
The Rogue Valley Growers and Crafters Market offers a program at its Saturday market in Medford called Fresh Rewards, which matches the first $4 that a shopper spends using an Oregon Trail (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) card.
Bob Schaller, market manager at the Grants Pass Growers Market (growersmarket.org), advises:
Mary Alionis, owner of Whistling Duck Farm (whistlingduckfarm.com) in Grants Pass, says:
Lori Hopkinson, general manager at the Rogue Valley Growers and Crafters Market (rvgrowersmarket.com) in Medford, adds:
There aren't a whole lot of hardcore rules at growers markets, but you should make an effort to find out what they are. At Grant's Pass Growers Market, for example, animals (other than ADA-compliant service dogs) are not allowed.
While informal markets seem to be the perfect place to haggle, Schaller says he doesn't see much of that. "My experience is that the price is the price. If you like it, pay it. If you don't, you can probably get a better price at Safeway or Walmart. Our growers look to command premium prices for their product, but they have the quality to go along with it."
Hopkinson, however, said that's not always a hard-and-fast rule. Later in the day, while the quality might not be as good as what's available in the morning, vendors might be more open to a little haggling to avoid going home with truckloads of goods. So it doesn't hurt to ask.
No matter where you are in the country, growers markets showcase the best produce at any given time of year. But every region has it specialties. Southern Oregon's climate is hospitable to a large variety of produce.
"The climate is temperate enough to grow things that like cold nights and warm days," Alionis explains. "We can grow artichokes, which you can't grow in really hot conditions, but also peppers, which you can't grow in really cold conditions. People aren't limited so much and don't have to adapt quite so much as they do in areas where the climate doesn't support as the variety of crops."
Pears are a signature crop for Southern Oregon, as are asparagus, wild mushrooms, and nuts like filberts and hazelnuts.But growers markets aren't just for fresh produce. The best ones also offer an array of prepared foods such as jams, relishes, sauces and more. In Southern Oregon, look for lots of things made with pears, as well as fermented foods such as sauerkrauts and other pickled fruits and vegetables. You'll also find some unique artisan cheeses and wines, including dandelion.
Picking among the picks
Growers markets are about freshness, quality and choice. You might find 10 growers in a row offering tomatoes or cucumbers. In that situation, Alionis recommends opting for organic. Most markets require vendors to use signage outlining their growing practices. When in doubt, she says, ask. Don't assume that everything is necessarily organic.
Next, she says, look for the brightest, plumpest, freshest-looking produce. Get to know the farmers and figure out who's the most knowledgeable and who maintains the healthiest soil.
Hopkinson agrees. "Let your senses be your guide. See the colors, feel the firmness, smell the flavors," she says. "And remember that shopping at the market directly supports your local farmers, ranchers and handcrafted artisans, and it keeps money in the local community. Keep dollars close to home and watch your community grow."