Where paradise isn't paved over

I grew up in a land of asphalt and metal. Playgrounds were as earthy as airports. Open space was a novelty.

I remember a field trip in which we visited an orange tree protected by a 3-foot-wide fence. Instead of applauding the TSA-like effort, I kept hearing Joni Mitchell's voice in my head: "They took all the trees and put 'em in a tree museum."

Imagine my newfound ability to breathe when I moved to Ashland in 2005. The concept of farmland jumped from romantic descriptions in books and lyrics to real life. I could see orchards and vineyards and vegetable gardens. I could talk to farmers. And they were so willing to talk to me.

Chris Hardy of Ashland's Village Farm once pulled a pudgy onion the length of a leek out of the ground. Its aroma knocked me out. The deep-thinking Hardy is now selling beets and carrots at the Rogue Valley Growers and Crafters Market, and he's getting squeamish Ashland High School students to stick their hands into wormy soil to learn about sustainable farming and permaculture.

Chef Matthew Domingo, who understands the connection between just-harvested foods and improved taste, made it easy for me to meet local ranchers and growers at his spring-through-fall Farm to Fork dinners. During a dinner at Fry Family Farm in Talent, co-owner Steven Fry took the microphone and said he appreciated being treated like a rock star: "I have been waiting 30 years for this," he said, gesturing with a glass of Abacela albarino. "Look at my tomatoes."

I realized that unlike famous non-celebrities who marry to sell their wedding photos, farmers deserve my attention. They're entertaining. They work hard. And they are making it so easy for me to do the right thing by buying and eating fresh-picked greens, wild mushrooms and heirloom fruits.

At the morning growers markets, I get to devour a Marionberry pie as I shop for flowers, garlic or rabbit. At Dunbar Farms in Medford, I can place my shopping order online early in the week, then drive over Fridays after work to pick up my root veggies, winter squash and sourdough bread freshly baked from grains grown there.

As I cast my eyes over the century-old farm from the vantage point of the unfinished tasting room, I can meet dedicated locavores. I can dream about one day sharing their commitment to buy only food raised within reach. And I can listen to Dunbar's David Mostue — a tired farmer's hat on his head, soil-splattered T-shirt on his back, cellphone headset on his ear — explain his progressive business model of selling a year's worth of meat, produce and organic veggies to subscribers, a mega community-supported agriculture program, if you will.

Because David's family also make Rocky Knoll wine, I can have an apres food-foraging glass of claret ($29 a bottle). No chain supermarket ever offered me a pour with my plastic-bagged goods.

The next pickup at Dunbar Farms is Dec. 2. You can sign up today at www.dunbarfarms.com, or email David at dunbarfarms@charter.net for his recipes for soups, chili verde and fried kale over wheat berries, and also to learn what could be handpicked in the fields for you and why your support is important.

If I am reading this November report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture correctly, Oregon's small-scale farms rely on local food sales for their financial security. Customers surveyed say they keep coming back because of the quality of the food, interactions with those hands-in-the-soil saints and their desire to support the local economy.

Not to sound like a hypocrite because I had to travel far to finally find a home here, but this Thanksgiving I am not thankful for strawberries from Chile or wine from New Zealand, but for the growers and producers in our valley who have not paved over paradise.

FOR THE BIRD: Porscha Schiller, who markets South Stage Cellars wine, is shaking up her Thanksgiving table. She's pouring a semisparkling early muscat with a crumbled blue cheese salad and a crisp sauvignon blanc with a hint of juniper with the turkey, instead of the traditional pinot noir or grenache.

Chef Tim Keller of Troon is making a Thanksgiving focaccia with sweet-potato butter, goat cheese and figs paired with roussanne and an Applegate garden salad with poached pears, Rogue Creamery blue cheese and candied walnuts paired with a dry riesling.

EVENT: EdenVale Winery is serving inventive leftovers at its Voorhies Mansion Friday, Nov. 25, and Saturday, Nov. 26. On the menu are stuffing dumplings, salsa made with pears from Eden Valley's orchard and home-grown tomato bisque. The charge for unlimited wine tastes and appetizers is $15.

Reach columnist Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or email jeastman@mailtribune.com.

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