CORVALLIS - Two Oregon State University researchers have gathered new information about why more Oregonians are buying fruits, vegetables and other goods directly from their local producers.
In an era of fast check-outs and cavernous food warehouses, the number of farmers' markets has tripled, from 10 to 37 in the past decade.
According to two sets of consumer surveys conducted by Larry Lev, an OSU Extension agricultural economist, and Garry Stephenson, an OSU Extension small farms agent, consumers increasingly are willing to spend a little more time and money to buy fresh, local products both for the quality, to support of local farmers, and for the enjoyment of the market atmosphere.
That is good news for small farmers who have struggled in the past few decades to find viable markets for their goods.
Lev's and Stephenson's study had its origins when Lev noted during a sabbatical trip to France that consumers there are willing to pay more and go out of their way to seek out farm-fresh products.
Would consumers be willing to do the same here?
Some of the results of last January's initial mail research survey indicated broad support for local products across economic and geographical boundaries, especially among older consumers.
Last summer's research, which was conducted on-site at farmer's markets, indicated:
- Farmers' markets were a big cash producer for surrounding business.
- Freshness was the biggest draw, with more people showing up as more flowers, fruits and vegetables were ready for harvest.
- Purchasing was sometimes limited by the ability of customers to carry goods.
That is just the sort of information that Trish Stormont, market master for the Tigard Farmers Market, said she found valuable.
"I had put (buying wagons) in my idea file as something we would do down the road," she said. But after reading the research, she decided to begin looking in thrift stores and garage sales for wagons that could be purchased and assembled into a small fleet.
Stormont is hoping that when the market re-opens this summer, the number of vendors might climb from the customary 18-22 to a more desirable 30-35.
The results of the OSU research are detailed in the fall-winter edition of Oregon's Agricultural Progress magazine, published by OSU's Agricultural Experiment Station.
Copies of the magazine in which the fresh-market article appears are available without charge by writing: Circulation coordinator, Oregon's Agricultural Progress, Extension and Experiment Station Communications, OSU, 422 Kerr Administration Building, Corvallis, OR 97331-2119.