16 January 2017

Farmers Markets a Vital Part of Oregon Agriculture

Farmers markets, farm stands and CSAs accounted for $114 million in sales for more than 5,000 farms according to US Department of Agriculture’s first ever survey of ‘Local Food Marketing Practices.’ This survey measured direct sales to consumers, which is important to farms both in terms of annual revenue and for the direct cash infusion they provide farms and rural communities over the length of a long growing season. Oregon placed 18th out of the 30 states who participated in the survey.

There is a reason for this seemingly surprising middle of the pack ranking for our food obsessed state, population. At nearly 4 million residents, Oregon has a smaller contingency to sell to than the more populous Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, who all finished behind California. Our southern neighbor is the nation’s most productive agricultural state is also the country’s most populated and can measure their direct sales in b-billions rather than millions. Although the survey didn’t officially track this component, Oregon most assuredly ranks 1st in per capita Instagrammed images of food.

Our national standing is also indicative of the type of food we grow and sell directly. Oregon was 8th in the sale of fresh, raw products. The survey’s fifth-ranked state in sales, Wisconsin, whose largest farmers market wraps its state capitol, is known for their cheese. Delicious, albeit a bit of a platitude for America’s Dairyland, but cheddar, cheese curds and like products are a value added product. One that will return a higher price than a gallon of milk, or since we are already trafficking in cliches, an ear of corn*.

Other tidbits from the survey: Nationally, 80% of direct sales happen within 100 miles of where the food is grown. Forget the City Mouse/Country Mouse dichotomy; most direct sales happen in metropolitan areas, rural and urban Oregon need each other. Not surprisingly, since the retailing and growing food are such disparate skills, it takes an experienced farmer to handle both ends of the production chain; 77% of growers who participate in direct sales have a decade or more farming experience.

Portland Farmers Market opens it’s 2017 season on January 7th. This market and this opportunity to participate in direct sales happens every Saturday on the campus of Portland State University, winter hours are 9-2.


* Author moved to Oregon from Wisconsin and loves almost all of his cornfed relatives. Go Packers!