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Countertop Crunch

With aquaponics one of the newest waves in Rogue Valley agriculture, Rock Field Farm's "produce pack" is the latest way to streamline salad preparation.

Rock Field's live lettuces, chard, kale, herbs, Asian greens and European specialties, like sorrel — all nestled in a custom-made container — are available for purchase at the Saturday Rogue Valley Growers & Crafters Market, which opened last week at its new downtown Medford location. The concept allows customers to pick leaves from up to nine plants for a couple of weeks before replenishing them.

"It looks like a flower arrangement," says farm co-owner Angela Boudro.

"My idea was they can just put it ... on the countertop and let it stay there," says husband Kreg Boudro.

The Boudros started selling the setup for $35 a few months ago through Rogue Valley Local Foods, an Internet-based farmers market. They plan to sell individual heads of lettuce, with roots attached, for a couple of dollars apiece at the Saturday market, along with peas, cucumbers, strawberries and the gamut of greens.

"People like their local food," says Kreg Boudro. "I figured this would be a good time to get into it."

Boudro 31, worked in construction, and his wife, 32, is district conservationist for Jackson Soil and Water Conservation District. The couple installed an aquaponic system about a year ago after Kreg Boudro saw it action in Hawaii. Four "troughs" between 100 and 80 feet long and 4 feet wide provide the habitat for about 5,800 plants to grow under coverings of clear, greenhouse plastic or shade cloth.

"You don't have to pull any weeds," says Boudro.

Nourishing the plants are a few hundred sterile, male tilapia, which munch fish food and produce solid waste. Oregon law prohibits aquaponic operations from selling the fish for food or keeping them in any natural body of water, despite inhospitable conditions, he says.

"They'll die in water that's 50 degrees," says Boudro of the tilapia's heated tank.

This fertilizer settles in a separate trough and gets munched some more by thousands of red wiggler worms, commonly used in composting. The decomposed, nutrient-rich waste flows through a recirculating water system that feeds the plant troughs. The operation isn't certified organic, but no chemical pesticides or herbicides can be applied because they would kill the fish, says Boudro.

"Really, the fish do the certification."

A similar farm is operating in Wimer. The Farming Fish installed an aquaponic system in December and sells microgreens to local restaurants and at farmers markets, says co-owner Olivia Hittner. The farm will have larger-scale produce for sale within the next few weeks at farmers markets Tuesdays in Ashland, Thursdays in Medford and Saturdays in Grants Pass. For more information on market hours and locations, see www.mailtribune.com/growersmarkets.

Hosting Medford's Saturday market in a lot owned by Lithia Motors is temporary until the company's Commons project is complete, says Mary Elllen DeLuca, manager for Rogue Valley Growers and Crafters Market. It opened Saturday at Third Street and Central Avenue and will run from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays through Oct. 27.

About 25 vendors will offer produce, eggs, honey, prepared foods and crafts, says DeLuca. The market previously did business in a parking lot owned by Asante off Barnett Road. The location was successful, she says, but conflicted this season with Asante's use of the property.

The Rogue Valley Mall even courted the market, says DeLuca, but after eschewing downtown locations for years, the market board decided it holds more promise since Medford Food Co-op opened last summer.

"We're just hoping that ... Medford is now on the move," she says.

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

Aquaponic farmer Kreg Boudro shows off the live roots of plants in his 'produce pack,' available for purchase at the Saturday session of Rogue Valley Growers & Crafters Market in downtown Medford. - Bob Pennell