June 13, 2002 11:00 pm

The Blue Mountain Producers Market opens its 20th season Saturday, with sponsors hoping the recent relatively cool weather hasn't prevented crops from maturing enough to be harvested.

"We have regularly had about 15 growers," said Annie Ray, one of the volunteer organizers.

The event, held on the lawn at Sunflower Books on Washington Avenue in La Grande, will be open from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturdays from this week until the end of the growing season in the fall, Ray said.

"We started at 9 previously, but by starting at 10, we can give growers a little more time to harvest their produce before coming to the market," Ray said.

"People come early because there has been more demand than supply," said Ray, who expects more produce in July and August to meet buyers' needs.

She also is seeking vendors of home-made arts and crafts, and musicians are welcome. She will have a banjo player this week.

"It's not a flea market. We want home-crafted items," she said.

Anyone wanting to volunteer to help set up the market, staff the tables, make signs, take down and clean up at the end can call Ray at 975-2411.

She said the market needs to expand to a bigger location, but she wants to keep it in the downtown area so people who come to buy will also patronize local businesses.

"We want to continue to grow. We'd like to see the market have its own steering committee and a board of directors, including downtown business people, gardeners and people from community groups," said Ray, who is executive director of Oregon Rural Action.

She cautioned that processed food, such as jams and jellies and baked goods, must come from a kitchen licensed by the state Health Department.

"Maybe we can help anyone interested in securing a certification or help them find out how they can get to use such a kitchen," Ray said.

"We want to promote locally produced niche items," she said.

The City of La Grande is giving the program a boost by fronting $5,000 to help with a voucher program for seniors. Senior Services provide the vouchers to clients on a need basis, the seniors present the vouchers for produce, and the market presents them to the state, which reimburses the city.

— Ray Linker