Thriving Farmers’ Market becomes archivist’s passion

Larry Landis sells plums from his orchard to Fern Hoagland at the Farmers' Market in Corvallis. Landis is a library archivist at Oregon State University. (photo: Tiffany Woods)

When Larry Landis and his wife Rebecca lived in Austin, Texas, they frequented a farmers’ market in the city. After moving to Corvallis in the early 1990s and joining a local organic gardening club, they were excited to become a part of a grassroots movement to start a Saturday Farmers’ Market in their new hometown.

Larry, university archivist at Oregon State, started out as a board member for the market, and helped run a community table at the market, assisting other backyard vegetable gardeners who wanted to sell their produce.

In the beginning, the market was located in a parking lot along the riverfront, but a major revitalization project was completed in 2002, transforming the park and allowing for a new location for the Saturday market. The handful of booths multiplied into a stream of vendors stretching from Van Buren Street to Monroe, and the vegetables and fruit stands have been joined by vendors selling local cheeses, meat, honey, baked goods and even wine.

The market now accepts Oregon Trail cards and Senior and WIC coupons, making it more accessible for people of all incomes. Food security, that is the ability to access a steady food supply, is a critical issue in Oregon, and Landis believes a thriving local farmers’ market is a key component to making sure fresh local food is available to the population.

After a few years of the market being run on an entirely volunteer basis, Larry’s wife Rebecca was hired to manage the market.

“She took to it very quickly,” Larry said. “The results speak for themselves. She has put her time, energy, heart and soul into it.”

The board assumed responsibility for the Wednesday Farmers’ Market and the Albany Farmers’ Market in 1998, and by 2002 Larry decided to leave the board and make room for some new faces. However, his association with the Farmers’ Market didn’t dissolve. It just expanded in new directions.

In late 2004, Larry and Rebecca fulfilled a long time dream of buying some property outside of town to expand their backyard garden into a more substantial growing project. They’d originally planned on buying vacant farmland, but were presented with the opportunity of purchasing land with a historic 1890s farmhouse attached. Given Larry’s interest in history, it wasn’t a difficult decision.

Five years later, after major renovation on the home (which is still in progress), they’ve moved into the property full time, and take full advantage of a well-established fruit orchard already on the land.

Apples, pears, plums, cherries and quince in an assortment of varieties have provided Larry with enough produce to start his own farmers’ market stand,
“Territorial Road Orchard.” It’s named after an early 1850s Territorial Road that skirted the property. He sells Snow Apples, Bartlett and Bosc pears, Italian prunes and many other common and unusual varieties.

He also sells bouquets of old roses in the spring, cherries in the summer, and apples toward the fall. Someday, he hopes to turn an old outbuilding into a farm stand on the property as well.

“I really like the interaction with customers,” Larry says. “That’s a big part of the reason I participate in the market. That’s one of the advantages of being a smaller grower. It enables me to explain some of the whimsical things I grow and bring to market. Bigger sellers get mobbed by customers and don’t have that time.”

Larry estimates he puts about 35 hours a week into working on the house, orchard and garden, in addition to his time at the market, and of course, his job at OSU.

“When was the last time we actually took a vacation?” he mused. Because both he and Rebecca are so tied to the market, the winter is usually the only time they can get away, and even then it’s a challenge.

Still, the effort is worth it. Having a thriving farmers’ market is an important piece of Corvallis’ high quality of life.

“People are beginning to make the connection between the farmers’ market and the issue of food security,” Larry says. “For years farmers’ markets were seen as a boutique enterprise. But markets can play a significant role in making the food supply more secure.”

~ Theresa Hogue

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