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Farmers market manager has a plan: simplicity

Mark Pound's background is as eclectic as the many vendors whom he nurtures as interim manager of the Rogue Valley Growers and Crafters Market.

Pound has earned his living as an auctioneer on the fund-raising, auto, livestock and horse circuits. Prior to taking on his market role, he worked for Green Mountain Energy of Texas, promoting wind power and thermal energy possibilities in southwestern Oregon. But when the Growers Market was in need of a new leader, he jumped at the opportunity.

That's where my passion is, he says. This isn't rocket science. I've run some pretty big companies, so this is simple compared to that.

It's that simplicity, he says, that vendors want after growing or crafting products to bring to market.

— They want that face-to-face interaction, make sure they've satisfied the customer and then go home and do it all over again, Pound says. Somehow, in the course of things, it's gotten really confusing to a lot of people. My goal is to make it a simple, family, fun-filled atmosphere.

The 43-year-old grew up on a dairy farm outside Buffalo, N.Y., before heading west to seek his fortune in 1979. He spent seven years in the Sacramento area before moving to the world's garlic capital, Gilroy, Calif., where he met his wife. The Pounds moved to the Rogue Valley in 1995 and are raising six children.

During his stay in California he began selling his produce at a roadside stand and later began going to growers markets.

I love the concept of a farmer direct-marketing the end result of the labor, he says.

Pound replaced Janet Bierbower after the Growers Market board fired her in May. His task was to make the market more visible and, to some extent, his predecessor accomplished that when some vendors tried to pull away from the Ashland National Guard Armory location.

(The Ashland Planning Commission) brought up enough points that it was settled in the mind of vendors that there wasn't a need for another market (downtown), Pound says. We would like to find a permanent spot. We're looking for creative ways to attract downtown traffic.

Pound will have to go through the application process when the season ends later this fall ' competing with other applicants ' to continue in his role.

As a key matter, board member Ray Ellingwood of Medford says he would still like to see more exposure and promotion for the group.

We need to have more information about what we're doing on TV, says Ellingwood, who sells cantaloupes and tomatoes.

Markets continue to run 8:30 a.m. to — p.m. Vendors sell their wares on Tuesday in Ashland; Thursday at Medford Center; Saturday near the new Medford Library and in Jacksonville.

Overall, we've had a real full market this year, but we're always looking for ways to expand, Pound says. He says surveys show that Ashland's Tuesday market draws between 130 and 140 people her hour. In Medford it runs between 130 and 150 customers hourly.

Foot traffic, however, doesn't always translate into sales. He says markets in Eugene and Grants Pass have paralleled the Rogue Valley's decline in dollar volume.

We've had some terrific years and have been steadily growing, Pound says. Now we've started to take a dip in the last year.

Weather and shopping habits are contributing factors.

Farmers are used to working out in the weather and others aren't necessarily used to it, Pound says. Do buyers want to go out into the hot pavement or in the rain or go into superstores that are climate-controlled?

On the flip-side, residents desiring produce that hasn't encountered DDT when grown overseas can be assured that isn't the case when they buy from Rogue Valley farmers.

That's a perfect example of the benefit of buying local produce, he says.

Mark Pound, interim manager for the Rogue Valley Growers and Crafters Market, keeps track of tenant rents at a market in Ashland on Tuesday. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell - Mail Tribune Bob Pennell