Munching on arugula, Quinn Barker neatly arranged his baskets of spinach and kale next to his other winter vegetables early this morning.
The vegetables — like the Rogue Valley Growers & Crafters Market — had lain dormant for the winter. But a few weeks ago, sprouts began to form, signaling that the market was about to open and spring was on its way.
At 8:30 a.m. today, a bell rang out through the market, held on Tuesdays at the Ashland Armory, on the corner of East Main and Wightman streets.
The beef and beets, turnips and tulips, kale and cakes were officially for sale and a handful of early-risers were eyeing the offerings.
One of them was Ashland resident Kimberly Hall, who has been shopping at the market for two decades.
"I came early today because at the beginning of the market there's often not as many veggies offered. I wanted to get the freshest veggies first," she said, admiring the beets at Barker's booth. He is the sole farmer at Meadowlark Family Farm in Ashland.
In reaction to the rising cost of produce and in order to promote sustainability, many customers were focusing on buying vegetable starts to plant in their own gardens.
Shari Kalb bought eight parsley starts from Ribbit Farms that she plans to plant in her Ashland plot this afternoon.
"We took out some of our landscaping to have more edible landscaping," she said, balancing her tray of several dozen starts on her arm. "We're definitely trying to increase our food production to be more sustainable and more self-sufficient."
This winter is also the first that food stamp recipients will be able to use their Oregon Trail cards at the market. The market also now accepts debit and credit cards.
"Due to the economic downturn we definitely have an increase in food stamp recipients in our valley," said Tracy Harding, who works at the Tuesday market and manages the Saturday market, which starts May 16 on the corner of Lithia Way and First Street.
"In addition to fresh fruits and vegetables, the great thing is that folks can buy starts, vegetable plants and seeds with their food stamp cards. People can put in a garden with their food stamp money," she said.
If planted now, a flat of mixed vegetable starts could provide an entire family with enough vegetables for several months, from May through July, said Maud Powell, who was selling starts at the market with her husband and two children.
The family, which owns Wolf Gulch Farm in the Little Applegate Valley, anticipates that more people will want to start their own gardens this year.
"This year we decided to grow starts because with the economic downturn we thought a lot more people were going to be interested in gardening," Powell said.
Growing the plants in the family's greenhouse was also a learning experience for 10-year-old Grace and 6-year-old Sam Powell, who are home-schooled, said their father, Tom.
"Because we kind of live in the middle of nowhere, it's good for them to interact with people and see the business side of having a farm. They see people buying the work that we've done in the greenhouse," he said.
Grace said she was merely doing her father a favor by planting the vegetable starts. "I helped my dad seed them in the greenhouse because his fingers are too big," she said.
The work that farmers, young and old, did all winter was on display Tuesday in the several dozen booths at the market.
And like any first day, there were bugs to be worked out — although thankfully none were spotted on the produce.
Barker was struggling to hang up his Meadowlark Family Farms sign in his booth with a makeshift leather strap, having forgotten the bungee cord he normally used.
But his wrestling with his sign was nothing compared to the wrestling with the earth he had done on his farm this winter, he said.
"I'm excited about finally being here," he said, taking another bite of arugula. "I hope it's another good year."
Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or email@example.com.