The Rogue Valley's online farmers market is pulling the plug this month to focus on stocking grocery stores with locally grown produce.
Administered by the economic development organization Thrive, Rogue Valley Local Foods is closing for lack of funding, said Executive Director Wendy Siporen. The final orders at www.roguevalleylocalfoods.com will be taken Friday, Dec. 13, through Tuesday, Dec. 17, for pickup Thursday, Dec. 19.
"I'm frankly very disappointed," said customer Karen Starchvick, 55, of Jacksonville. "I ordered everything from vegetables to fruit to fish.
"It was a great way to get the farmers market to you."
Launched in June 2010, the market was designed to assist small farmers with direct sales, while appealing to customers who otherwise couldn't shop at local farmers markets. Since Rogue Valley Local Foods' debut, new farmers markets — Saturdays in Medford and Sundays in Jacksonville — and retailers, such as Medford Food Co-op, have opened. In addition, more farmers offer community-supported agriculture shares during the winter, as well as independent online sales year-round.
"We just didn't have the volume," said Siporen.
Rogue Valley Local Foods represents 58 of the region's small farmers, ranchers and artisan-food producers, about half of whom had no other sales outlet, said Siporen. Some produce vendors are new as of this week, she said.
Thrive is shifting toward wholesaling locally grown produce to grocery stores, markets and food cooperatives, said Siporen. The pilot project likely will kick off this spring with funding from Meyer Memorial Trust and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Business Enterprise Grant, she said. The plan developed from surveys of the local food system in collaboration with ACCESS.
"The community wanted more local produce where they already shop," said Siporen.
Meat is one commodity that the online market offered regularly —and often at lower prices than other retailers, said Starchvick and customer Tracey Howerton of Medford.
Rogue Valley Local Foods' meats are affordable enough to purchase with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance benefits, said Howerton, 44, who likes to eat as many organic foods as her budget allows.
"I think meat is a good place to start."
Ranchers were able to sell just a few cuts through the online market, rather than waiting to amass enough product to stock grocery stores, said Suzanne Willow, co-owner of Willow-Witt Ranch near Ashland. Although demand wasn't consistent, the market constituted a significant portion of the ranch's sales depending on the week, she said. Willow-Witt started its own online store about a year ago.
Since its inception as part of the Southern Oregon Farmer Incubator project, Rogue Valley Local Foods brought more than $140,000 to the local food economy, said Siporen, calling it a "learning experience."
Based in Ashland, Thrive is a nonprofit group that represents locally owned businesses, particularly in the food industry. For more information, see www.buylocalrogue.org.
Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or firstname.lastname@example.org.