ALBANY, Ore. – As the Albany Farmers’ Market prepares for a 32-week run beginning April 19, a report by the Oregon State University Extension Service suggests that participating farmers may want to look to gourmet food magazines for trendy new ideas that are likely to capture market-goers' taste buds.
One such example, says OSU Extension specialist Garry Stephenson, is sautéed garlic tops, which requires farmers to harvest the tops of the plant before the bulb matures.
“It’s a wacky and innovative way to grow food,” he said, "but small-farm growers need to be flexible in what they grow and sell."
The Albany Farmers' Market moved last year from the riverfront area to the City Hall parking lot – and adjacent block of Fourth Avenue – to improve visibility and sales, according to market manager Rebecca Landis. As part of the market's efforts to revitalize, the OSU Extension offices of Linn, Benton and Lane counties conducted a year-long study.
The study, conducted by OSU graduate student Katie Murray, was based on interviews and counts of customers and vendors. The market has incorporated recommendations from the study to become more "embedded" in the community by connecting with community organizations, educating the public on the value of farmers' markets and better understanding the needs of vendors and market customers, Landis said.
"We have already seen significant increases in numbers, based on crowd estimates in August and September of 2007," Landis said.
According to another report by OSU Extension Services, "Enhancing the Success of Northwest Farmers' Markets," key elements of successful farmers' markets are atmosphere, product and community.
"Farmers' markets play a key role in local food economies and the social life of communities," said Stephenson, OSU Extension small farms program coordinator and one of the report's authors. In addition, he added, they are a crucial marketing channel for small farmers.
New growers need to find a farming niche, Stephenson suggests, such as "locally produced," "certified organic," "season-extended" or even of "exquisite quality."
The report lists five recommendations for market managers, boards and organizers that are supported by research findings:
• Plan new markets carefully;
• Make the management structure fit the market size;
• Consider pursuing community financial support;
• Focus resources on the local market and collective resources on state and federal policy;
• Engage in research and outreach.
More than 90 farmers' markets operate in Oregon. Historically, local markets have waned and waxed in popularity, according to the report, depending primarily on external circumstances, such as wars, lifestyle trends, political activism and demographic shifts.
The authors of the report note that the number of markets grew as a result of self-help programs during the 1930s and political activism during the 1970s. The most recent expansion began during the 1990s and continues today.
Research findings indicate that at least one reason for expansion during the 1990s was the use of farmers' markets to build community.
The full report, "Enhancing the Success of Northwest Farmers' Markets," is online. Choose Technical Report No. 22 at http://smallfarms.oregonstate.edu/oregon-small-farms-technical-reports.