Halfway through the Umpqua Valley Farmers Market on Saturday, Deb Gilding sold out of her blueberries and raspberries.
“I sell out of the berries every weekend,” Gilding said.
As customers strolled up to the Deb’s Garden stand the next couple hours, she drew their attention her other products, including dried apples and a diverse selection of dried crushed peppers. Gilding says she usually sticks to the milder ones, but she grows everything from sweet green peppers to habaneros to ghost peppers.
The Saturday after the Fourth of July, the farmers market was busy, and it was clear summer was in full swing as people discussed what to buy to put on their grills later.
It was also the market’s annual customer appreciation day. Farmers gave berries to be passed out for free at the market’s entrance and people bought raffle tickets to win prizes including soaps, produce and beef steaks — all donated by the vendors. The proceeds will go to the market’s Double Up Food Bucks program — low-income shoppers can double their money up to $10 to buy fruits and vegetables at the market. The state allocated $1.5 million to fund such programs throughout the state this week. Funds will kick in next year.
“I just walked up to some people and gave them a whole bunch of free berries,” said Amanda Pastoria, the manager of the market, who, as part of customer appreciation, spent the day doing random acts of kindness. “The farmers give so much. It’s really important that we have days like this so we can support them and their customers.”
Teresa O’Sullivan came to the market after biking from Myrtle Creek.
“I’m training for a triathlon, and it’s about the distance of the biking portion, a little farther,” she said.
O’Sullivan works for the United Community Action Network’s mobile food pantry. She tries to come every weekend, but this time she came to see UCAN’s two AmeriCorps interns working at the market and eat some protein after the bike ride, she said with almonds in hand.
“Are you working yourself up to buy some potatoes,” Jon Riggs, of Riggs Family Gardens, asked O’Sullivan before asking about her bike ride and telling her it would be easier to raft to Roseburg from Myrtle Creek.
Riggs first had a stand at the market in its second year in 1995, making him the longest running stand at the market, he said. Since then he’s seen the market’s popularity grow steadily.
“It’s really kicking now,” Riggs said.
He’s an active salesman, always pitching the quality of his potatoes and other produce.
“The proof of the quality is when you get home and taste the difference in freshness,” Riggs said.
He said everyone has to find their own niche at the market. Some people sell crafts at their stands with their produce. This year, Riggs has timed it to allow people to pair his heirloom tomatoes with his basil plants. He added people can look forward to his partnership with Papa Curt’s Salsa to produce a black heirloom tomato salsa.