CORVALLIS, Ore. – A crowd of more than 800 farmers and prospective farmers gathered to learn and network at the 23rd Oregon State University Small Farms Conference.
“The conference is the premiere event organized by our program,” said Garry Stephenson, director of OSU’s Center for Small Farms and Community Food Systems and professor in the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences. “As always, the topics were cutting edge and addressed climate change, marketing, forming cooperatives, emerging crops, policy and more. After the pandemic hiatus, I think everyone would agree it was fantastic for all of us to be together.”
The conference, hosted by the OSU Extension Small Farms Program, returned after a two-year pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It started with a panel of four farmers discussing the resilience of Oregon’s small farms during the pandemic and beyond. Laura Masterson, 47th Avenue Farm; Bashira Muhammad, Zoom Out Mycology; Michele Week, Good Rain Farm and Patty Kloft, Lonely Lane Farms, discussed their experiences expanding their crops and pivoting their means of distribution.
“The pandemic was hard on many farms, especially those that rely on direct markets,” Stephenson said as he introduced the panel. “But ‘Look we’re still here.’ These four farms are accustomed to being nimble and were able to pivot through minor or major adjustments. This demonstrates the resilience of these farmers and our industry.”
Considering farming was an essential industry throughout the pandemic, the resiliency of growers demonstrated the crucial importance of local and regional farming and processing, Stephenson said. Farmers reacted to the spike in food demand by transitioning in a different business plan.
One farmer added meat to her inventory, one added community supported agriculture (CSA), one switched to online sales and one started home delivery. All were successful, which brought enthusiastic applause from the audience, many of them just beginning their path to farming.
“There was a phenomenal increase in demand for local food,” Masterson said. “The challenge now is sustaining that increase with the appropriate level of production and marketing.”
After the panel, the conference continued with a total of 27 presentation in three concurrent sessions. Presentations managing drought, the emerging growth in olive production, truffle farming and online marketing.
The flagship OSU Extension Center for Small Farms and Community Food Systems works to advance sustainable agriculture, community food systems and economic progress for Oregon’s farmers and ranchers. The Center’s programs include the Small Farms Program, Niche Meat Processor Assistance Network, Organic Extension Program, collaborative connections with the Oregon Community Food Systems Network, BIPOC-serving organizations and more.