It’s Saturday morning at the farmers’ market. Buyers and sellers from local farms and neighborhoods gather among open-air tents displaying the freshest tomatoes, berries and vegetables of every color, jams and jellies, cut flowers, and bread, still warm from the oven.
Young and old, urban and rural, people gather not just for commerce but also for community.
“We call this ‘civic agriculture,’ using food production and marketing to develop economic and social relationships within a community,” says Larry Lev, Oregon State University Extension marketing specialist. “In general, these markets operate with low overhead because they provide services to both growers who earn their livelihood there and community people who become loyal shoppers.”
Farmers’ markets are a great success story for Oregon. By connecting consumers with farmers and developing best-practices guidelines, Lev and his colleagues have helped grow the number of markets statewide from 18 to over 100 in one generation. And they’ve encouraged other direct-to-consumer sales, such as roadside stands, subscription agriculture, and U-pick operations.
“Direct market producers must enjoy meeting people who visit their farms or stands,” says Larry Burt, an OSU Extension economist. That’s particularly true with community-supported agriculture, where subscribers buy shares of a farm’s harvest, enjoy the seasonal bounty, and assume some of the risks.
Increasingly, local foods are a featured part of local restaurants, where the salad greens or the pork loin might be identified by the name of farm that supplied it. Chefs often are willing to make the extra effort to get high-quality and specialty items and reduce the travel miles of their ingredients, according to Burt. “However, chefs demand the same consistent quality and service from the farmer that they get from a wholesaler, including clean produce, frequent deliveries, convenient ordering—even expert advice.”
Relationships are the heart of farmer-to-consumer commerce. Keep that in mind when you drive through rural areas and come upon the least-sophisticated method to bring home local vegetables or flowers. Bless the trusting farmer and remember to leave your payment in the jar.
Oregon is one of the country’s most agriculturally diverse states, producing more than 220 agricultural commodities (including some we don’t eat, such as Christmas trees, nursery plants, and grass seed). Oregon leads the nation in the production of hazelnuts, blackberries, raspberries, boysenberries, loganberries, and storage onions, and ranked second in the production of hops, peppermint, spearmint, prune plums, and green beans, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.
The numbers in the chart indicate annual farm gate sales, in millions. From the OSU Extension Service.