Land Use Is: Your Plate

“The only thing that has really protected long term farmland in the Hood River Valley is statewide land use planning...without [it] we probably would have many, many destination resorts and much of the farmland would have been lost in the Hood River Valley over the last 30 years.” – Mike McCarthy, Orchardist, Parkdale, Oregon.  Hear more of Mike’s Oregon story in this video.

From the Hood River Valley to the valleys of the Tualatin, Rogue, Grande Ronde, and Deschutes, land use planning has protected irreplaceable farmland throughout the state of Oregon.

It has given farmers and ranchers the security they need to invest in their land, connected urban and rural economies in myriad ways, and given everyone from consumers to chefs delicious things to celebrate.

Oregon uses a variety of innovative land use tools to protect farmland, including urban growth boundaries, which limit urban expansion onto farmland; rules limiting non-farm houses on agricultural land; tax structures that make farming more viable; and policies limiting activities that would interfere with farming on those lands.

Protecting Oregon's rich farmland and forests from urban sprawl was one of the key concerns that led Oregon to create its pioneering land use planning laws in the 1970s, and support from farmers and ranchers has been critical to its success.

Research demonstrates that Oregon’s land use program has indeed effectively protected Oregon agriculture. According to a recent Oregon Department of Forestry study(PDF) 98% of farm, range and forest lands in Oregon remained in the same use between the establishment of Oregon’s land use planning laws and 2009.

Similarly, according to the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development, between 1978 and 2002, the rate of loss of large (500+ acres) farms in Oregon was less than half the rate for the nation, while the rate of loss of mid-sized farms (50-499 acres) was almost four times lower than for the nation as a whole. 

First and foremost, Oregon farmland provides us with a bounty of great food. But it does much more for Oregon.  "Agricultural lands – even in urban areas – are critical drivers that contribute substantially to the region and the State’s economic engine and identity. These assets represent perpetual, renewable, adaptable, and sustainable economic, cultural, and ecological values," states an Oregon Department of Agriculture study on the long term value of farmland.

Farmland has a big impact on Oregon's economy, too. Oregon agriculture:

Oregon is a national leader in producing many agricultural products(PDF) 100% of the commercial marionberries grown in the United States are grown in Oregon, as well as nearly all of the blackberries, black raspberries and boysenberries.  Oregon is the national leading producer of several other crops, including

  • Peppermint
  • Hazelnuts
  • Storage onions

…and is in the top ten in many others, including:

  • 2nd in hops
  • 3rd in pears
  • 3rd in strawberries
  • 6th in wine grapes

Part of Oregon's uniqueness is the way that residents of cities and towns can connect easily with locally grown food and the farmers who grow it. In 2012, the USDA reported, Oregon had 164 farmers markets, which an OSU economist estimated generate $50 million in annual sales. Oregon had 311 community supported agriculture (CSA) farms in 2007, the last year from which data was available. (PDF) This was more than twice the national average of CSAs per person.

According to USDA figures, Oregonians spend almost four times the national average on farm direct sales every year (including farmers markets, U-pick operations, farm stands, and CSA subscriptions). Many of these operations depend on being close to populated areas, which thanks to urban growth boundaries, is possible even for people living in the heart of Oregon's largest metropolitan areas.

The bounty of Oregon's farmland can also be enjoyed in processed form through Oregon's thriving restaurant scene, lauded wine industry and booming brewing industry.  In 2010, the wine industry alone was responsible for more than $2.7 billion dollars in economic activity. (PDF)  Wineries in Oregon are often located in or near growing towns and cities, and without land use protections, sprawl would long ago have consumed much of Oregon's best wine regions.

1000 Friends of Oregon works hard to protect Oregon's valuable, irreplaceable farmland. We believe that Oregon's land is our greatest asset, and using it wisely should be Oregon's first priority, to create good jobs for urban and rural people.In 2011, we reached out to farmers with our New Face of Farming Initiative, listening to them to find out how land use laws could best help them succeed.  We will take what we learned to shape our priorities for the 2013 Legislature and for local communities around the state.  You can read more about our work for Healthy Rural Economies here.

Land Use Is shaping and supporting a vibrant, productive Oregon--in farm fields and rangelands, in the places where Oregon-grown products are processed, shipped, and prepared, at farmers markets and in home kitchens all across our state.

It's just one of the many ways that Land Use Is helping make Oregon a great place to live and work. Learn more at, and help us tell the story of land use in your world.


Photo credits:
Header image:
Cheese plate: Owen Lin.
Vineyard: Chip Smith
Farmers Market: Phil Whitehouse.
Kitchen scene: Tim Roth.
All photos used under Creative Commons License 2.0.