Field-to-Market: Producing & Selling Farm-Direct Products

The Oregon Farm Marketing Direct Law, passed in 2011, allows small farmers to produce and sell certain low-risk products (jams & jellies, pickled vegetables, salsa, dried fruit, herbal vinegars, hot sauces, sauerkraut, kimchi, etc...) from the produce that they grow, without a license, in their home kitchen. This law gives new life to excess produce, decreases food waste, extends the market season, provides a supplemental income source, and contributes to the local economy. Since its passage, small farmers have sought information and clarity regarding how to interpret and implement the Administrative Rules – what qualifies as an approved recipe, what liability insurance is required, what information needs to be included on label, etc... Some also seek hands-on training to learn credible, research-based food preservation techniques that will ensure a safe product.

To respond to these needs, Sara Runkel, OSU Extension Service Faculty, developed and delivered a program titled “Field-to-Market” to small farmers located in Southern Oregon in 2016. The program consists of five 4-hour workshops: The Essentials and four “Specialty” Foods workshops titled (Naturally) High Acid Foods, Acidified Foods, Dried Foods, and Fermented Foods. The Essentials workshop explains the administrative rules associated with the Farm Direct Law, and small farmers producing farm-direct products share their challenges and successes with implementing it. The Specialty workshops provide the hands-on training described above under the guidance of Master Food Preserver volunteers.

The OSU Extension Service, Family & Community Health (FCH) Program, based in Clackamas County received a 2018 Clackamas County Innovative Grant to support the delivery of the “Field-to-Market” program in the Portland-Metro area. Representatives from the FCH and the OSU Small Farms programs, and the Food Safety Division, Oregon Department made up the project team.

Forty-six participants attended The Essentials workshop in February 2018. Approximately 1/3rd of the participants identified themselves as farmers. The majority of the remaining participants identified themselves as “thinking about starting a farm.” Fifteen participants attended at least one Specialty workshop, ten participants attended at least two, and four participants attended all four. Attendance at the Specialty workshops ranged from seven to ten participants.

A pre- and post-survey filled out by participants at the Essentials workshop revealed an increase in short- term knowledge and understanding of the Oregon Farm-Direct Law. Participants who attended the Specialty workshops in March and April 2018 reported an increase in skill and confidence to follow credible, and research-based, food preservation techniques.

All 46 participants were contacted six-months following The Essentials workshop and asked to fill out a brief follow-up Qualtrics survey. The objective of the survey was two-fold; to find out whether or not they had produced a farm-direct product following that workshop, and what factors influenced their decision either way. Fourteen surveys were returned. Those 14 surveys revealed that four participants had produced a farm-direct product prior to the workshop. That number increased to eight at the time of the follow-up survey. In addition, the variety of farm- direct products produced by the participants had expanded from mostly jams & jellies (pre-workshop) to include pickles, salsa, tomato sauce, dried fruit, and sauerkraut and kimchi. Reasons cited for not pursuing a farm-direct product included “The product that I want to produce is not covered under farm- direct, ““I don’t grow the produce,” “I lack the time and/or capacity to produce a product,” and/or “I’m just not ready yet.”

The opportunity to deliver the FTM program presented a few challenges. There is never an ideal date, day of the week or time of day that “fits” with a farming lifestyle. Attendance was also limited to those who could travel to Clackamas County.

There were many positive written comments shared by those who attended any of the workshops:

“I was truly impressed and thankful for the information presented in these workshops. It would have taken me so much more time to try to understand all the laws and safety measures. I hope that you offer more workshops.”

“The classes were informative, high quality, and affordable.”

“The Essentials class was a great overview of the farm-direct exemption. The instructors were very knowledgeable, friendly, and helpful.”

Participants also expressed their appreciation for the guest speakers who shared their experience with implementing the farm-direct law

The written comments also revealed some areas for improvement, including more “hands-on” time in the kitchen, more information on where to purchase equipment and supplies, and an activity addressing how to do a cost analysis.

When asked to suggest topics for future FTM workshops, participants who completed the follow- up survey expressed interest in the following: Recipe Development, Marketing & Promotion, Safe Food Sampling, Label Design and Product branding, and Insurance Requirements.

Plans are currently underway to deliver the FTM program in both Clackamas and Tillamook counties in 2019. A “Phase 2” track consisting of “new” workshops is also a possibility. Efforts to secure additional funding to support the production of a series of four “how-to” 5-minute videos that demonstrate credible, science-based, food-safe preservation techniques to produce food products allowed under the law are also underway. If the efforts are successful, the OSU Extension Service will share the videos on their YouTube channel, social media, the OSU website, and at future training events. The videos will also be included as part of a fee-based online OSU PACE course titled “Field-to-Market Essentials; Producing and Selling Value-Added Products” that was recently funded within the College of Ag Sciences. These alternative delivery formats will expand the reach of the program throughout the state and address comments like the one below:

“Please do them live, but then archive them so we don’t have to drive 2 hours on a workday and can watch anytime.”

For additional information regarding the FTM Program, please contact Kelly Streit, MS, RD.

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