Fine mind for local finds in Ashland

At a recent Saturday Rogue Valley Growers and Crafters Market, the vegetables were as fresh and vibrant as the day. A visit to the market with a local and organically minded chef offered insight into the world of locally grown produce.

With a cart specifically designed for the task, Standing Stone Brewing Company Chef Eric Bell explained the importance of having first-hand contact with the farmers, whose food will eventually grace the restaurant's tables.

"I get most of my stuff sent to me," Bell said, "but I like to go the market because there is no other way to talk to the farmers and see what they have."

Bell said the prime summer vegetable season is here, and timing is key as the variety of vegetables changes from week to week.

"Different things come up at different times," Bell said. "The tomatoes are about to hit, there is a lot of squash, and the corn is just incredible. What's big right now may not be available next week."

Bell has a working relationship with the different farmers at the market, and was quick to introduce himself to those he didn't know. The first stall entered was Wandering Fields Far, and, after he introduced himself, Bell quickly noticed something he had to have.

"What great daikon radishes," Bell said. "These are great to make to make kimchee with."

Bell and Ben Yohai of Wandering Fields discussed kimchee, and how Yohai primarily grows the daikons for kimchee.

"See, that's another great thing about going to the market," Bell said, "These farmers eat what they grow, and they know the best ways to prepare them. I mean, I could talk kimchee with him."

At Standing Stone, Bell has been on a pickling kick, with Mason jars of different vegetables and kimchee in plain view. During this trip, pickling was certainly high on the list of priorities.

At Blue Fox Farm, he purchased beets and radishes to add to the daikon kimchee, which he said will turn it pink. Over at Barking Moon Farm, he found the baby carrots irresistible. Before he left, he invited Cameron from Barking Moon to come and try the finished product while everyone else was admiring his cart.

As Bell entered Village Farms, he noticed a real stand-out.

"See those cucumbers over there, next to the lemon cucumbers?" he said. "They're from the Middle East and he grows them in Ashland — they are incredible."

Bell was referring to the cucumbers grown by Chris Hardy at Village Farms. Hardy said he learned about certain exotic produce through traveling to the regions from where the vegetables originated. That is further proof of the farmer's passion, Bell said as he pointed to a basket of mixed hot peppers.

"These here are Czechoslovakian blacks, and this one is a Bulgarian carrot," he said as he picked through the peppers. "This guy is so into it. He doesn't grow plain jalapeños; he grows Czech blacks."

Bell said another great thing about the market is how it helps lessen the restaurant's environmental impact while providing his customers with the freshest local products available. Upon entering, Bell placed a bison order from Full Circle Farm, which he later picked up. Many of the farms deliver Standing Stone's order when they leave, preventing unnecessary trips in the meantime.

"That's my Saturday trip to the market," Bell said. "This idea of a farmer's market is incredible. Since the industrialization of food, we've lost touch with our food, and here is where we get it back."

Bell's final tip to marketgoers: "Ask the farmer how to prepare your purchase. They know better than anyone."

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