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Fresh from the farm

Named last fall by USA Today as one of the 10 best farmers markets in the nation, the Rogue Valley Growers & Crafters Market opens its 33rd outdoor season March 3 in Ashland and March 5 in Medford.

The Ashland market is open every Tuesday from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the National Guard Armory, 1420 Main St. The Medford market is open the same hours on Thursdays at Hawthorne Park, 501 E. Main St. A Saturday market will open May 2 in the heart of downtown Ashland in the 100 block of Oak St. Its hours will be from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

There are 23 new vendors — selected from 60 applicants — and 155 overall for the 2020 season.

“My goal was 155 total vendors,” said Daria Land, market executive director. “It’s all about making sure our vendors can make a profit.”

New applicants are tightly juried to ensure a good fit and to maintain the quality of the market.

Fourteen of the new vendors are growers. Among them are Golden Willow of Grants Pass, offering fresh flowers; Dancefarm of Talent, selling culinary and heirloom plants and produce; and White Oak Ranch, a 300-acre spread near Eagle Point, bringing heritage pork and beef to the market.

There will be nine new artisan food and craft vendors. Included are Sisters Sans Gluten of Ashland, bakers of gluten-free desserts; Killer Keto Snacks, offering a variety of keto-friendly crackers; and Blossom Barn Cidery of Grants Pass, producers of hard cider made from pears.

“What’s great about the cidery is that it’s a story of adult children coming back to the family farm to help launch this new endeavor,” Land said.

Market customers enjoy seeing what’s new each year — in terms of vendors as well as what’s for sale. Many of the vendors have been at the markets since the beginning.

One of the returning vendors is Truffle Pig Craft Kitchen. “They serve unbelievably gourmet breakfasts and lunches,” Land said, “ranging from butternut squash soup to Vietnamese pho, with menu changes weekly.”

Another returnee is Northwest Pine Apple of Medford.

“Their smoothie bowls are incredible,” Land said. “They serve the smoothies in a bowl with various accompaniments such as bananas, berries, other fruits and nuts.” They also occasionally offer savory smoothie bowls.

Word on the Street is back for another season at the market. “Look for the blue food truck with a mermaid on it,” Land said. “They have great tacos and vegan options.”

Shoppers who visit the markets early in the season can expect to find plenty of winter produce such as carrots, potatoes, garlic, shallots, kale, mixed greens, Italian parsley and pears.

Adding to the ambience are non-amped music buskers, performing in three locations at both markets.

Land says shopping at a farmers market is a unique experience.

“At our markets, you can shake the hands that have sown, cared for and harvested your food,” she said. “And so many of our customers greet old friends and make new ones. Eating local is such a positive way to stay healthy — and support the community.”

The market just closed its indoor winter market, held from December to late February.

“We had a new location in Phoenix for our second season,” Land said. “We had a minimum of 26 vendors every Tuesday for three months, a 30% increase over last year.”

Land says attendance was up considerably as well, with more customers coming from the Ashland and Phoenix areas because the market was more centrally located. “We already have signed up to use the same facility, at 220 N. Main St., for the 2020-21 winter market,” she said. “Our vendors are really happy.”

The markets are SNAP/EBT-friendly. People participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Electronic Benefits Transfer system can use their credits to buy fresh fruits and vegetables.

“We are currently fundraising for our Double-Up program, which we will launch in June at the height of the fresh fruit and produce season,” Land said. The program helps SNAP participants stretch their dollars. They can receive an extra dollar for every dollar spent, up to a limit, on Oregon-grown fruits and veggies.

Land said overflow parking is available for both markets. There is parking at the National Guard Armory for Ashland market customers, but they can also park in the lot at ScienceWorks. Medford market customers can park across the street at the Medford Center.

A new venture for the Rogue Valley Growers & Crafters Market is its involvement in creating the Rogue Valley Food Trail.

“We’re partnering with Travel Medford, a part of Travel Oregon,” Land said. “Johanna Talley and I are on the steering committee.” Talley is the market site manager, hired in 2019.

The Food Trail is rolling out in different locations to invite locals and visitors to participate in self-guided tours. It’s designed to cultivate partnerships between culinary and ag businesses and strengthen local food economies.

“It will focus on the freshest local food available at farms, markets, restaurants and farm stores,” Land said.

The program aims to inspire visitors to explore businesses they might not find on their own. It may also encourage visitors to stay in destinations longer, visit in shoulder seasons, and consider repeat visits.

For more information about the markets, vendors and events, see rvgrowersmarket.com.

Jim Flint is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at jimflint.ashland@yahoo.com.

Parents often make a trip to the market a family outing, introducing children to the joys of fresh fruit and veggies--and maybe a treat from an artisan food stand. Jim Flint photo
Customers throng the Rogue Valley Growers & Crafters Market in Ashland on a sunny day last summer. Daria Land photo