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Growers Market stronger than ever

Mail Tribune / Drew Fleming

The economy may have soured some places, but that hasn't been the case for Rogue Valley Growers Market.

"Our market has been better than ever," market manager Janet Bierbower said Friday. "The economy might be down, but we're getting more crowds and great community support."

Vendors from Southern Oregon set up shop three days a week, starting Tuesdays in Ashland at Ashland Christian Fellowship parking lot at Oak and Hersey streets. On Thursdays, the scene shifts to Medford Center, behind the old Emporium building. On Saturdays, the Jacksonville market is located on C Street by the Jacksonville Museum.

The Central Point market, which was part of the Grants Pass Growers Market, has ceased operation.

Bierbower noted vendors prefer quality and artistry to bargain-basement prices. Produce, plants and baked goods account for 60 percent of the membership and 80 percent of the merchants on a given day.

"Even from the beginning, the crafts have been juried," she said. "We don't want to be a flea market. Products have to be totally crafted and relate to agriculture in some way. We suggest selling for retail prices, because this is their living and they should expect retail prices. If you compare organically grown produce, conventional stores are usually more expensive. Plus the fruit and vegetables are usually harvested that morning."

The Medford Market began in 1987 with 50 vendors and grew to 127 participants by 1994. Ashland began its market three years after Medford and Jacksonville dove in six years ago. This year, there are 200 members paying $25 annual dues and $10 to $13 for set-up space. On a given market day in Ashland or Medford, there are between 65 and 70 vendors. The Jacksonville turnout is between 15 and 20.

The market season will continue to Thanksgiving, although weather and decline of produce reduce the vendor turnout.

Bierbower is the lone employee of the market group, which is governed by a board of directors. There is a statewide Oregon Farmer's Market Association that works as an idea exchange for market managers.

Food vendors are accepting U.S. Department of Agriculture vouchers. Those eligible are 65 years and older who are not living in a senior care facility, who are earning less than $11,592, who have case workers and who are receiving either Medicaid payments or food stamps.

A program spokesman said that nearly 3,000 of the original 15,000 vouchers are still available. For details, call 1-800-232-3020.

The Rogue Valley Growers Market draws a hefty crowd to the Medford Center parking lot on a Thursday afternoon. Despite an economic downturn, the market - which also is held in Ashland on Tuesday and Jacksonville on Saturday - is attracting more shoppers than ever.