Oregon Farmers Grow Community

Greg Holmes
Thu, 12/21/2017 - 2:00pm

We’ve been hearing the statistics for years—about how Oregon agriculture is responsible for over $5.7 billion in sales, how it is connected to over $50 billion a year in economic activity, and how 1 in 8 jobs in Oregon is dependent in some way on agriculture. We also know that over 90 percent of Oregon’s farms are family owned, that the vast majority are small, and that many of them depend on local markets for part or all of their sales. But what impact do local farms have on local and regional economies? A new study suggests that the impact is huge for communities across the state.

At the 2015 gathering of the Oregon Community Food Systems Network, partners learned about a toolkit being created by the US Department of Agriculture that would help measure the Economics of Local Food Systems. Curious to learn more, Network partners OSU Extension, the High Desert Food and Farm Alliance and the Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council decided to use the toolkit with real local data to find out what the impact was in Central Oregon.

Researchers concluded that the 28 small and medium sized farms that shared data for the study directly support millions of dollars in local economic activity. For every 5 on-farm jobs, these farms also support two off-farm jobs in the local economy. The study concluded that with relatively modest shifts in demand for local products and on-farm gains in efficiency these farms could support many more local jobs and millions of dollars more in economic activity. The report can be viewed here, and a webinar summarizing the findings is available here.

These findings support what we’ve been seeing around the state for years. For example, the Fry Family Farm in the Rogue Valley needed to expand its capacity to process, pack and store its own produce that was destined for regional wholesale markets. After talking with partners within the Rogue Valley Food System Network, the family decided to scale up their facility so that other local farmers could also use their infrastructure. The resulting food hub includes a wash and pack line, storage, and a commercial kitchen that other local farmers can use to create value-added products, as well as a farm store selling products from farms across southern Oregon. After a year of operation, the hub now directly supports several year-round jobs and provides an extended selling season to farms across the region.

The extended selling season is a huge benefit for smaller farmers. In Klamath Falls the Grower’s Market only runs from June through October. Although small, the market has been steadily growing since about 2010. In order to extend the season a bit, and with little fanfare or advanced publicity, a new Online Farmers Market has just opened, giving residents a chance to continue to support local farmers. Organizers hope to grow this online market next season. Katy Swanson, one of the farmers supplying the market, says that even the modest sales this year have caused her to re-think her crop planning for next year, when she will plant additional rotations to be available later in the fall and winter.

Local markets do not produce the majority of the total revenue that supports Oregon’s farmers. However, they are everything for the family farmers that do depend on them. Studies like the one in Central Oregon confirm that local markets also represent a huge opportunity for growth that will have big benefits for surrounding rural and urban communities. Of course there can be no local agriculture without a reliable supply of the right types of farmland near the towns and cities where people live—which is why 1000 Friends will continue to work with partners in communities across the state to strengthen all aspects of Oregon’s food systems and to protect the land and the farmers that make it all possible.


Photos: Top - Fry Family Farm, Bottom - Baker City Farmer's Market, Baker County Tourism, Creative Commons