This fall, the Oregon Farmers Markets Association (OFMA) was awarded a $247,000 federal grant through the USDA’s Farmers Market Promotion Program. OFMA, in partnership with five Oregon farmers markets, Oregon State University’s Center for Small Farms and Community Food Systems, and other partners, received this three-year grant to launch the Beginning Vendor Support Network (BVSN), which aims to study and support the role of farmers markets as small business incubators for their beginning vendors.
With the average age of the American farmer steadily climbing, reaching 58 years old as of the most recent USDA Agricultural Census, fostering beginning producers has become a hot topic in food system conversations. Farmers markets are a place where many new producers get their start.
“We know that not every farmer ends their career selling at market, but a great many of them begin their careers there,” said Kelly Crane, OFMA Program Director.
Jen Cheek, Executive Director of the national Farmers Market Coalition agrees: “Farmers markets serve as small business incubators, providing low-barrier entry points into the local foods economy for beginning farmers and food businesses to get started. Just like farmers grow crops, farmers markets grow farmers,” says Cheek.
This program is designed to create a community of practice around the five farmers markets selected for participation, and give them the tools they need to better help their newest vendors succeed at their markets. The managers of the five markets, including Albany, Manzanita, Umpqua Valley and Wallowa County Farmers Markets, will spend the next three years hearing from experts, sharing insights with each other, launching customized support initiatives for their own vendors, collecting sales data and working with consultants.
Oregon State University is also heavily involved in this project. OSU faculty will help evaluate the program’s success, conduct research and publish the results to help others who are looking at solutions for these issues.
“OSU Extension is excited to provide research capacity as we partner with OFMA to better understand and meet the needs of local food entrepreneurs who are selling through farmers markets in rural Oregon,” said Dr. Mallory Rahe, Extension Community Economist. “The OSU Center for Small Farms and Community Food Systems has a long history of partnership with OFMA. We are excited to work with them on this innovative and important new project,” said Dr. Lauren Gwin, Assistant Director of the Center.
The BVSN has already received a great deal of support from Oregon policymakers, including U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley. “Supporting farmers markets in rural areas and throughout our state is critically important to provide Oregonians access to healthy and tasty local foods,” Wyden said. “The Oregon Farmers Market Association and local farmers markets deserve huge praise for taking a leadership role to ensure that farmers markets develop and grow in rural Oregon while helping to build on the strengths of our state’s signature agricultural economy.”
Alexis Taylor, Director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture, who also lent support for this program said, “We are proud to stand alongside the OFMA as they lead the way in shoring up a critical access point in the food business pipeline. “Farmer’s markets are a logical leverage point in ensuring farmers entrepreneurs can enter and continue to expand in order to fill the growing gap in the new farmer pipeline in our state while connecting all Oregonians to farmers of all scales and production systems.”
“We were really pleased to be chosen for this grant award,” said Crane. “Since farmers markets are the gateway to the local foods economy, it just makes a lot of sense to target our energies into shoring up this important entry point. I think we are going to be able to do a lot of good together for Oregon’s farmers and farmers markets.”
The Oregon Farmers Markets Association (OFMA) is an incorporated and registered 501(c)(6) non-profit organization, established in 1987 with the primary purposes of promoting, supporting and helping establish Oregon farmers’ markets; providing services and educational assistance to market members; providing economic bridges between rural and urban communities. Our mission is to support local agriculture and healthy communities by strengthening and promoting Oregon’s Farmers Markets. Our vision is of a vibrant statewide network of farmers markets connecting Oregon’s farmers and consumers.