Whether it is selling at farmers’ markets and roadside stands or marketing through community supported agriculture (CSAs), Oregon producers are more likely than their counterparts in other states to cut out the middleman. The latest Census of Agriculture shows Oregon farmers and ranchers are among the nation’s leaders in farm direct marketing.
“With farmers’ markets now in full swing, roadside stands and u-pick operations springing up, and CSAs ready to provide fresh and local produce, it’s abundantly clear that consumers have a direct pipeline to what is being produced on Oregon farms,” says Katy Coba, director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture. “That’s exciting and good for both the grower and the consumer.”
According to the Census of Agriculture, Oregon ranks sixth in the nation with 6,274 farms reporting direct sales of agricultural products to individual consumers. Only California, Texas, Pennsylvania, New York, and Ohio have more farms with direct sales. The value of sales by farm direct marketing in Oregon has eclipsed $44 million, ranking ninth in the nation. The numbers include sales from farmers’ markets, roadside stands, pick-your-own operations, door-to-door sales and CSAs.
While the census does not tally the number of farms participating specifically in farmers’ markets or roadside stands, it does break out farms marketing products through CSAs where Oregon ranks 10th of all states with 391 farms.
The growers behind the numbers agree, there are advantages to farm direct marketing. The middleman is eliminated, which gives the farmer a better profit margin. Other advantages of selling directly to customers include better price and getting the money sooner. For the consumer, it’s an easy process and satisfying to know the product is being offered directly from an Oregon farm and locally grown.
Board of Agriculture member Barbara Boyer co-founded the McMinnville Farmers’ Market. She isn’t surprised by Oregon’s high rankings in farm direct marketing.
"The consumer is getting more educated and I think they want to close the loop from when the produce leaves the field to when it makes it to their plate,” says Boyer. “There’s a comfort level with food purchased directly from the farmer. I think the consumer enjoys meeting the farmer and having that conversation. That experience is just as important as the purchase.”
When the McMinnville Farmers’ Market started in 2001, it had 600 shoppers. Today, that number exceeds 4,000.
Laura Masterson is another Board of Agriculture member not surprised at Oregon’s standing, especially given the increased interest by consumers wanting to know where their food comes from.
“The opportunities for people to buy direct, the growth has been exponential in farmers markets, CSAs, in all of those areas" says Masterson. "We’ve been reaching into new markets, reaching new people, reaching suburban audiences that didn’t have access before, and all that equals more opportunities for more farmers.”
On a county level, Clackamas County leads the state in the number of producers participating in farm direct marketing with 839 farms. Lane (609), Marion (535), Yamhill (451), Linn (419), and Washington (411) follow in rank in terms of number of farms selling directly to the consumer. In terms of sales, Marion tops all counties at $6.3 million followed by Lane ($5.6 million), Multnomah ($3.8 million), Benton ($3.7 million), Clackamas ($3.2 million), Washington ($3.2 million), and Linn ($2.1 million). Even counties outside the Willamette Valley have significant sales and participation in farm direct marketing. Douglas ($1.7 million), Jackson ($1.5 million), Hood River ($1.5 million), and Lincoln ($1.5 million) counties are among the state’s leaders. Lincoln County, in particular, is a surprise because it is not one of Oregon’s major agricultural producers but certainly benefits from marketing fish and seafood commodities directly to the consumer.
With a smaller population compared to west of the Cascades, central and eastern Oregon counties don’t rank as high in farm direct marketing. Still, producers in Deschutes (246 farms) and Umatilla (210 farms) counties are finding customers who want to buy direct from the farm.
A look at the census shows that CSAs generally follow the same pattern of distribution around the state. CSA subscribers pay at the start of the growing season for a share of the harvest to follow and receive weekly shares of vegetables and fruits. The arrangements are particularly popular in Oregon's urban communities.
“It’s a great fit on that urban fringe because CSAs are kind of on the smaller side of farms in terms of acreage,” says Masterson. “It’s a way to get a high gross per acre return, and your market is right there, so your cost of delivering the product is reduced versus coming from a lot farther away.”
Lane County has seen the greatest growth and interest in CSAs, reporting 48 growers marketing products through community supported agriculture. Clackamas (35), Multnomah (31), Washington (30), and Linn (26) round out the top five counties with farms selling through CSAs. Of Oregon’s 36 counties, 32 offer CSAs. The total number of CSAs has grown from 311 to 391 over the past five years.
As an urban farmer operating the 47th Avenue Farm in Southeast Portland since 1994, Masterson has been supplying fresh local produce primarily through a community supported agriculture program. Initially having an intense interest in agriculture, but no real experience or ties with agriculture, she thought a CSA was a good way to start small and try it out with no major capital outlay. The decision for her proved to be a good one.
“I love farming and would want to farm no matter what,” says Masterson. “But the weekly interaction with the CSA customer is a huge benefit to me. I’m able to visit, share recipes, and have my food appreciated by our customers– just having that direct, heartfelt and thoughtful interaction on a regular basis means so much.”