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Recipients praised the quality of the free organic food they received at farmers markets put on by Rogue Food Unites at Phoenix First Presbyterian Church Wednesday afternoon as they waited in line.
“The carrots are the best,” said Kate Clark of Medford. Several voices in the line backed her assessment enthusiastically.
Three markets are held weekly from 4 to 6 p.m. On Tuesdays, there is one at Jackson Elementary School in Medford. On Wednesdays, it’s in Phoenix. On Thursdays, it shifts to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival production facility in Talent. The markets won’t be held during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day.
“The squash is fantastic. We eat it all, except the jalapenos,” Clark said of the allotment she receives for herself and two children.
Wallace Beckwith of Phoenix has been coming since the market started in late October. He likes to make a meatloaf with the ground beef. “We got some good cabbage a few weeks ago. We made very good soup.”
A young man from Medford, who declined to be identified, said the weekly supply definitely helps feed the six people in his home.
“The food is so healthy. It benefits my family greatly. Not everyone has the opportunity to get healthy food,” said Racquel Hall of Medford. She said some people lack the resources to buy organic food.
“The idea came out of Rogue Food Unites trying to tackle the food deserts locally, recognizing that access to quality, organic, culturally specific, locally grown produce is hard for so many people regardless of demographics,” said Lucus Wedeman, community engagement coordinator for the group.
West Medford is a large food desert, said Wedeman. There is an ongoing need for quality food in Phoenix and Talent since the Almeda Fire of September 2020 disrupted the lives of many residents.
The market is open to anyone, with no income qualifications. Wednesday RFU employee Jesus Rios was collecting information including name, number in the household, town of residence and language spoken. While most speak either English or Spanish, he’s also logged recipients from Japan, Russia and Ukraine.
A long table underneath a canopy was set up Wednesday in front of RFU’s van with 16 produce items, including onions on one end and Romaine on the other, plus oranges, apples, cilantro, potatoes and more in between. Eggs and ground beef also were available. At 4 p.m. there were nearly 30 people in the line.
Volunteers and RFU employees get the information on how many are in a family, then walk along the table picking out items recipients want. All the volunteers and workers have food handler cards to ensure healthy procedures and to limit quantities. Wedeman said he doesn’t want to run out of avocados at 5:45 p.m. because someone took a half dozen earlier.
“We are averaging about four volunteers per location, but we are always looking for more,” said Wedeman. “We are thankfully getting people to come out and people are finding us through social media.”
“Tuesdays are big work days. We get all the produce from Fry Family Farm for all three markets,” said Wedeman. There are about eight or nine pallets that need to be sorted and stored.
RFU pays Fry at its normal rates because the organization wants to support local producers, said Wedeman. For items than cannot be sourced locally, they turn to other regional providers, including in California and Baja, California.
“It is specified in our model to pay farmers top dollar for their services. We are trying to support those producers,” said Wedeman.
For now the project is not fully funded, but the organization is submitting grants to bring in support. Donations are the main source of support currently.
Since starting at the end of October, the markets have seen continuing growth. The first one, in Phoenix, drew 85 families. Recently the Medford market has averaged 150 families, the Talent market 145 and the Phoenix site serves 130.
“We are serving close to 450 families a week and project about 1,000 individuals per week receive food,” said Wedeman. Demographic information shows families in Medford average about four members while there at 3.5 in Phoenix and three in Talent.
“The amount of conversation that happens in the lines is so heartwarming. Folks will get their supplies and turn around to continue visiting,” said Wedeman. “Every day, every single time, people won’t hesitate to tell me how amazing and how useful this really is. I see people cry every day in the line.”
When inclement weather strikes, the market has canopies to shelter those in line. Rogue Food Unites also is developing an information board for the markets where people can display recipes or pictures of their creations.
Wedeman sometimes is asked how long the organization will continue the market. His response is as long as they see a need, they will be here. More information can be found at roguefoodunites.org
Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at email@example.com.
Corrections: The spelling of Lucas Wedeman’s name has been corrected in this story, and the spellings of workers Michael Bagnaschi and Rachel Barnhart were corrected in the photo captions accompanying the story.
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