“Buy local” is an old idea, and a new idea. But a trend toward national food distribution that began in the 1960s separated most small producers from institutional purchasers. There were very few grocery stores willing to buy directly from local farmers. Oregon farmers’ markets started in the 1970s, organized largely by farmers looking for a place to sell their produce.
In 1978, the federal Farmer-to-Consumer Direct Marketing Act directed the Extension Service to become involved in farm-direct marketing and to include the organization of farmers’ markets. Two farmers’ markets opened that year in Oregon, at Albany and Newport. More followed.
“We call this ‘civic agriculture,’ using food production and marketing to develop economic and social relationships within a community,” said Larry Lev, an OSU Extension marketing specialist. By connecting consumers with farmers and developing best-practices guidelines, Lev and his colleagues have helped grow the number of markets statewide to over 100 in one generation.