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Outdoor farmers market season kicks off in Ashland

The Rogue Valley Growers and Crafters Market is back in Ashland with minor COVID-19-era adjustments and no shortage of vendor variety.

Ceramics, honey, plants, food trucks, coffee, hummus, sheep cheese, fresh produce and more drew dozens of visitors eager to shop outdoors during the 34th season kickoff Tuesday at 420 E. Main St.

The Ashland market is open Tuesdays from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. until Nov. 23. The Medford branch of the market opens Thursday at Hawthorne Park, 501 E. Main St., until Nov. 18. The downtown Ashland market in front of Standing Stone Brewing Co. will open Saturday, May 1, and go until Oct. 30.

Twenty-two new vendors joined the market this season, including Grateful Smith, owner of Ore-ganic Harvest Hummus. The woman-owned business offers eggs and a variety of hummus flavors, made fresh weekly in Kerby. All samples available at the market booth are prepackaged.

Smith said the chickpeas used in her hummus are soaked for 24 hours before they are cooked, as a way to aid digestion and improve the product’s nourishing value. The eggs are soy free and produced by free-roaming hens. The market adds to Smith’s 14 accounts in Southern Oregon and Northern California.

“We thought this would be a good opportunity to have a wider reach within the community for local foods,” Smith said.

For the entire market space, COVID-19 safety requirements include face masks and 6-foot physical distance, said Daria Land, executive director of the Rogue Valley Growers and Crafters Market.

About 150 vendors are scheduled to cycle through the season depending on the availability of their products, Land said. Sampling food items is permitted by request, but self-serving is not allowed.

Last year, the market opened just as the pandemic began, which created some regulatory challenges for outdoor markets that could be considered events or grocery stores depending on point of view, Land said.

This season, the market is subject to the same regulatory changes as indoor grocery facilities regarding on-site consumption of goods, she said. Rogue Valley Growers and Crafters Market staff are on site to execute vendor safety compliance checks.

“We are trying to be fair to our customers and follow all state and local guidelines to the very best of our abilities,” Land said.

Anna Bloomquist, a new market vendor and co-owner of Birds, Bowls and Things, joined the vendor line-up this year to supplement canceled shows and markets — maintaining flexibility in a tumultuous time for artisans. Bloomquist and her father are the artists behind the business.

Bloomquist said she felt comfortable taking on the public face of the business in a dispersed outdoor space, while protecting her elderly father who is more at risk of COVID-19 complications. So far, visitors have respected physical distance and requests to sanitize before touching items, she said.

Facing a widespread reliance on online shopping during the pandemic, Bloomquist said selling food, produce and gifts is often more effective when customers can experience the products with their senses — an attractive advantage of the market format.

Contact Ashland Tidings reporter Allayana Darrow at adarrow@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497 and follow her on Twitter @AllayanaD.

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneKelly Merritt of Vital Salts hands a taste sample to Kim Carino Tuesday at the Growers Market in Ashland.