February 01, 2023
By Jim Flint for Ashland.news
The Ashland Growers & Crafters Market is set to open on March 7 back at the Ashland National Guard Armory for 2023.
Located at 1420 E. Main St., the market will operate from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Tuesdays through November.
After nearly two decades at the armory location, Rogue Valley Growers & Crafters Markets (RVM) moved its Ashland Tuesday market to land owned by Southern Oregon University last June because of a scheduled remodel of the armory. The RVM board planned to use the site for several years.
The two-acre plot on Webster Street, across from Market of Choice on the Ashland Street side, is adjacent to student housing and the SOU football field.
“The planned remodel for the armory has been discontinued,” said Jaimie Griffin, executive director of RVM, “leaving the space available for our market to resume there this spring.”
Griffin cited economic and safety concerns as factors in the decision to move back.
“I met with several contractors and gathered bids for needed site work at the SOU location,” Griffin said. “Costs ranged from $14,000 to $28,000 for work on both the parking lot and market layout.”
Those costs included:
• Summer maintenance, including water and recommended ground rolling, about $2,000 per month.
• Weekly striping for the unpaved parking lot, required by a conditional use permit, up to $160 per week for paint and additional funds for staff time. The parking lot was created out of an empty field at the SOU location.
Many of the extra costs would be annual expenses.
Safety was the underlying reason for much of the work.
“The market layout in the dryer months wasn’t safe for our elderly or handicapped customers to navigate,” Griffin said. Ground rolling was used to smooth out the bumps of the uneven terrain.
“And in the wetter months, the parking lot wasn’t safe for anyone to drive through at some points,” she said. When it rained, the parking area became muddy and slippery, requiring closure of part of the lot several times because it was too dangerous to use.
“The decision to move back to the armory wasn’t made lightly, but we feel this is the appropriate decision for the market, our vendors and our customers,” Griffin said.
She says 2022 was a good year for the Ashland market. Business was up compared to 2021, despite challenges faced at the new site.
“We saw an overall increase in foot traffic at the markets, and welcomed many new customers,” she said. “Our customer base followed us to our new location, and we gained some new customers, thanks to the visibility and ease of access at the SOU location.”
RVM also operates the Medford Market at Hawthorne Park on Thursdays from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., opening March 2; the downtown Ashland Market on Saturdays, opening May 6; and a December winter market.
The number of vendors last year was down slightly at the beginning of the season, but increased after open enrollment was extended for new vendors. “Our membership consistently ranges from 110 to 150 vendors,” Griffin said.
Open enrollment for 2023 vendors closes at the end of February. At that time, the organization’s jury committee will present its recommended applicants to the board for membership approval. Applications are accepted based on appropriateness for the market and with an eye on providing variety and diversity.
Vendors can apply on RVM’s website, rvgrowersmarket.com. “Read through our market guidelines to ensure your business qualifies, then click to apply,” Griffin said.
Entertainers and buskers are part of the markets’ appeal. Performers interested in participating need only to stop at the market information booth for permission and an assigned space.
“We love having them at the markets,” Griffin said. “It helps create such a fun atmosphere.”
Performers are required to move around the market every 45 minutes.
Griffin is excited abut a new program for enrollees in Oregon’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP or food stamps.
SNAP recipients already can get $20 in matching funds to spend at farmers markets for fruits and vegetables in the Double Up Food Bucks program.
Griffin applied for and received a $50,000 grant through All Care Health for a new “Protein Match” program which awards SNAP recipients an additional $10 to spend on proteins such as meats, fish, eggs, cheese, and poultry.
SNAP members can acquire the match funds at the market information booth. Match funds can not be spent at grocery stores.
“It essentially gives them $50 to spend at the markets for taking only $20 off their card,” Griffin said.
RVM is also inaugurating a children’s farmers market scavenger hunt this year. Kids can pick up a scavenger hunt list at the information booth and complete it while their parents are shopping.
“They can get a $1 market token or sticker for returning a completed scavenger hunt,” Griffin said. “It’s fun and will help them learn more about different aspects of our market.”
To help increase market funding, RVM developed a sponsorship program in the middle of the 2022 season. This season, RVM already has five market sponsors and hopes to grow the list. There are several levels of sponsorship, each with different costs and benefits.
Market sponsors this season thus far are Medford Food Co-op, True South Solar, Poppy and Veil, Morning Light Properties, and Ashland Parks & Recreation.
Those interested in market sponsorship can contact Griffin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last year was Griffin’s first full season as executive director of RVM. She expanded the Double Up Bucks program, which had been running from June to October, to a full season, April through December’s winter market.
She brought experience in public administration, marketing and development to the job, but she believes her growing up on a northwest Washington farm also helped prepare her for her present role.
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