‘What a blessing’: Rogue Food Unites launches free organic farmers market open to all

Elias Bazan, of Phoenix, center, beams as Karen Carnival, of Rogue Food Unites, helps him shop for fresh produce on Wednesday at the free farmers market outside of First Presbyterian Church in Phoenix. Ashland.news photo by Holly Dillemuth
November 3, 2022

Bring a bag, but not money, to three-day-a-week market rotating between Talent, Phoenix and Medford

By Holly Dillemuth, Ashland.news

Rain and hail couldn’t stop Elias Bazan, of Phoenix, from beaming as Karen Carnival, of Rogue Food Unites, placed a cabbage in his shopping bag Wednesday afternoon outside the First  Presbyterian Church in Phoenix, one of three sites for a new free farmers market that launched last week.

Bazan was among dozens who lined up in the wintry weather for the second week of the market, which sets up in Medford on Tuesdays and Talent on Thursdays, and left with a shopping bag filled with fresh produce and other farm fresh products. Rogue Food Unites, a Rogue Valley-based nonprofit, launched the market as a way to continue helping the community following the Almeda Fire, and in an effort to make more organic products accessible to all, no matter their income. 

The “Neighbors Unite” markets, which run from 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, offer free, farm fresh, organic eggs, ground beef from central Oregon and produce from local farms. 

Jesus Rios, a Rogue Food Unites worker, busily refilled a basket with fresh lettuce on Wednesday as he shared about the organization’s work helping those following the Almeda Fire in September 2020 that burned more than 2,400 homes and left thousands homeless.

“There’s still a need, there’s still recovery happening,” Rios said. “It’s barely been two   years, you know?

“It’s just important to be part of the community and helping out your own community.”

That’s what Rogue Food Unites is all about.

In addition to the markets, Rogue Food Unites provides hundreds of provision boxes to vaccine clinics, as well as providing solidarity cards redeemable at dozen of local restaurants to Almeda Fire survivors living in temporary housing.

Wendy Conner, associate director of Operations and Programs at Rogue Food Unites, empties a box of peppers into a basket on Wednesday at the “Neighbors Unite” free farmers market at First Presbyterian Church in Phoenix. Ashland.news photo by Holly Dillemuth

“There’s so much food insecurity in our valley,” said Wendy Conner, associate director of Operations and Programs at Rogue Food Unites, in an interview with Ashland.news.

Conner bustled throughout the market, emptying a box of brightly colored peppers into a basket for the taking. She emphasized the accessibility of the market, that it is available to everyone, whatever their income status.

“Our whole goal with this is to create no barriers, there’s no cost involved,” she said.

“Everybody mentions how expensive food is now, everyone talks about what a gift, what a blessing, how this is really going to help,” Conner said. “They just can’t afford things at the grocery store anymore, particularly fresh, good produce. There’s no particular demographic that we’re trying to target. It’s just open and given with love.”

At the market on Wednesday, Conner noted an individual dropped off a donation of gourmet cheeses for attendees. There are new items each week as well, but also staples, such as organic eggs from northern California and ground beef from The 1017 Project in central Oregon.

‘Neighbors Unite’ market schedule
4 to 6 p.m.
Tuesdays: Jackson Elementary School,  713 Summit Ave., Medford 
Wednesdays: First Presbyterian Church, 121 W. Second St., Phoenix
Thursdays:  Oregon Shakespeare Festival Production Facility (big red building)
        408 Talent Ave., Talent

On Wednesday, the list of items available was long and bountiful: avocados, tomatoes, carrots and potatoes, along with onions, garlic, radishes and apples.

Produce comes from Fry Family Farm, and other organic farms in northern California. 

Conner said there’s been discussion about including a resource fair — where people can be connected with community resources — along with the market on a monthly basis in the future with partnering organizations.

“We’re not there yet,” Conner said. 

Since launching last week, Conner said the growth in market attendance has been noticeably substantial, noting that some have been lining up as early as 3:15 p.m. to attend the market at 4 p.m. She emphasized there is enough meat and produce to go around.

“We have plenty and we do our best to serve everybody,” Conner said. 

She also noted the abundance of gratitude of those in attendance and the plan is to    continue to serve all who attend.

“We’re here for the foreseeable future with this,” Conner said. “As word has spread, we expect it will continue to grow weekly.”

Attendees are encouraged to bring their own shopping bag, but paper bags are available at no charge.

To learn more about the services provided by Rogue Food Unites, go to roguefoodunites.org.

Reach Ashland.news reporter Holly Dillemuth at hollyd@ashland.news.

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Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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