A group that collects fruits and nuts from trees that would otherwise go unharvested has been dropped from the Rogue Valley Growers and Crafters Market this season.

A group that collects fruits and nuts from trees that would otherwise go unharvested has been dropped from the Rogue Valley Growers and Crafters Market this season.

"I was really frustrated," said Josh Shupack of Neighborhood Harvest. "I was really excited to be part of the growers market."

The nonprofit Neighborhood Harvest, founded by Shupack in 2008, collects fruit from about 80 trees leased by the group around the Ashland area, working with tree owners who do not harvest the trees themselves. The pickings from those trees are split four ways. One quarter goes to the tree owners, one quarter to local hunger relief organizations and one quarter to the people with Neighborhood Harvest who collect the fruit. The remaining quarter is sold to support the organization itself.

The fruit is sold through a Community Supported Agriculture program where people pay in advance to get a share of fruit for about 20 weeks. It was also sold at the growers market last year.

But at the end of the 2009 market season, Shupack said he received a letter from the growers market informing him that his organization had been dropped as a member.

Shupack said the reason cited in the letter was that his organization was "gleaning" produce rather that growing it.

The bylaws of the growers market require members selling produce to be a "Part-time or full-time person farming, growing or ranching in Jackson or Josephine County, Oregon, or in Siskiyou County, California," according to the growers market Web site, www.rvgrowersmarket.com.

Growers market officials declined to comment. But Mary Ellen De Luca, manager for the Tuesday market, confirmed that Shupack had appealed the market board's decision at the board's February meeting and that the board confirmed the decision to remove Neighborhood Harvest.

The market has been fielding questions about the action and sent a written response to people by e-mail, which states, "Neighborhood Harvest was given notification of our unanimous decision by last year's board to exclude them from our markets for being in violation of one of our basic principles, that produce offered for sale must be grown by the member."

"The question is whether we're a grower or not," Shupack said. "For me I feel like I belong with the market because I am a grower."

Neighborhood Harvest does a lot of pruning, mulching and clean-up around the trees they harvest, which Shupack believes puts them in a different class than "gleaners," who work an orchard after harvest collecting leftover fruit.

"If I were to lease an acre of orchard they would have no problem with me," he said. "But we lease 80 trees."

Shupack also believes the missions of the two groups mesh when it comes to sustainability and developing local food sources.

"If I'm selling apples, they're from blocks away," he said. "That's as local as you can get. They're grown in Ashland and picked by people from Ashland. We need to grow as much local food as we can."

For more on Shupack's organization, see neighborhoodharvest.org.

The growers market opens for the season on Tuesday. It runs from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Ashland Armory, 1420 E. Main St.

Myles Murphy, 541-482-3456 ext. 222 or mmurphy@dailytidings.com.