Friday, August 13, 2010

Cool Oregon Farmers Markets to Visit

Considering a trip through Oregon? Try a farmers' market trip from Ashland to Corvallis.

In southern Oregon, the Rogue Valley Growers and Crafters markets sell in three locations on three days. Ashland hosts two markets--one on Tuesday(8:30-1:30) and another larger market on Saturday (9-1). Medford hosts one market on Thursdays (8:30-1).

I visited the Medford farmers' market, which is a block or two from the Harry and David tours and retail store and not farm from Rogue Creamery in Central Point. Plus, if you're up for a winery tour, there are plenty of great wineries here.

I arrived at the market early and hungry, so when I saw Pennington Farms, I couldn't resist a pint of berries. In southern Oregon berry farmers have different challenges when growing berries, and one challenges is the summer heat. Berries can't take 90 degree days for long or they get mushy. And when it gets hot, Cathy Pennington turns her sweet sun drenched berries into jams and syrups. She bakes incredible sweet turnovers to sell at markets. The berries and turnovers disappear quickly at the markets, so arrive at the market early to enjoy these treasures.

Another farm featured in my book is Whistling Duck Farm in Grants Pass. This is a multiple succession row crop farm that grows amazing vibrant produce to sell at the market and the Ashland Food Co-op. I stopped to say hi to farmer Mary Allonis and asked her what she did with purslane. "I made a smoothie with it this morning," she said brightly. She added celery and another green and made it in a VitaMix blender.
I also stopped at the Fry Family Farm booth and was so impressed with the bouquets of flowers that Suzy Fry grows, cuts and arranges that I wished I lived here. Steven and Suzi Fry also sell an amazing variety of produce including beautiful eggplant, peppers and tomatoes. Check out their CSA newsletters to find out what is in season and how to cook it right now
I was delighted to hear Suzi had met JoanE from Rent's Due Ranch in Stanwood, Washington. When I featured these two farms together in a farm profile in my book, I had mentioned how much in common they had with Rent's Due Ranch. It was gratifying to hear they had made a connection through my cookbook.
Another farm I discovered at this market was Dunbar Farms, run by David Mostue--a twenty-six year old fourth generation farmer whose 230-acre farm has been in this area since 1909. These bags of wheat started a conversation that led a freshly baked cookie that led to a farm visit the next day.

"Dunbar Farms was my great-grandfather's farm and he started growing pears," David told me. Now David (26) is growing beans, grains, vegetables and has a few acres in wine grapes. He also hosts the Rogue Valley Farm-to-School program, where Medford school children come to learn how to plant, harvest and cook local produce. I couldn't resist buying a bag of Dunbar pastry flour. (This flour needs to be refrigerated or frozen because it's a cracked whole grain.) I stuck it in my ice chest and when I visited the farm the next day, I bought two bottles of Rocky Knoll Dunbar Red Wine.

Another thing I like about markets is you can usually find a vendor selling tamales, my first choice for market food. These spinach tamales were so good I went back for seconds.
It's a long mountainous drive to Corvallis, but the scenery is beautiful and the Saturday Corvallis market is worth the drive. The market is one of the most beautiful markets I've seen. It's downtown along the waterfront of the Mary's River. It's breathtaking to see the amount of produce from the fertile Willamette Valley in the early hours before the market opens. From demonstration beehives and comb honey to berries to beans to produce filled crepes--this market is everything a farmers' market foodie dreams about.

This is Denison Farms, another farm featured in The Northwest Vegetarian Cookbook. Tom Denion started out selling berries, and the amount of berries on his farm tables now is astonishing. I couldn't believe they were unloading so many flats of the most beautiful certified organic berries--luscious strawberries, yellow and red raspberries, mulberries, blackberries and blueberries--and this is just one of the markets where Denison Farms sells. And Denison Farms also has a fairly large CSA to fill each week.
Check out their big chalkboard signs. Denison Farms berries are so sweet and flavorful, and the abundance of them almost makes growing them seem deceptively easy. With all the berries, I could easily live near this farm.
Their peppers and celery are awesome, too. You might think: "Celery so what?" But the flavor difference between locally grown and grocery store is astonishing. I'd recommend taking a giant cooler, if you want to take treasures from this farm home. I got a bag filled with peppers and I've roasted, grilled and sautéed them. There is nothing like them around here, but maybe food tastes better when each bite is filled with memories.
The Corvallis market is a busy place where canine companions are welcome on short leashes. I saw many dogs greeting one another and there was even a vendor selling locally processed dog bones.
This market has vendors that boast green transportation like this all-electric Gem car that pulls a basket filled with Artisan goat cheese to the market.
Another unusual vendor I discovered at this market was a seed growing farm called Peace Seedlings--the next generation of Peace Seeds. I got a package of Red Swan Bush Snap Beans and a 7 Kale Mix. "Is is like a grab bag of kale seeds?" I'd asked. "Exactly," grinned the farmer who said was taking over the business from her father who had this business for 25 years. Growing seeds is different from growing produce for market because you don't harvest the best specimens. Those beautiful market specimins I love at the market are the plants a seed farmer saves for seeds.
Many farmers' markets have entertainment but the Corvallis market has lots of guitar pickers and singers. This group was so good, they had a big crowd around them for every song.
Another very cool thing about this market is the farm demos at the Gathering Together Farm booth. They not only have fresh raw produce to sample but simply cooked veggies like sautéed sweet onions and greens or summer squash. They had sautéed purslane and freshly sliced tomatoes. This is my kind of entertainment.
I spent so much time at the Corvallis market, I never did get to the Eugene farmers' market, but the next day, I stopped at the Hillsdale Farmers' Market. Tune in to hear what I found there.

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