The project undertook five objectives:
1. Provide a direct-market outlet for small growers who can’t afford the time to attend neighboring farmers markets.
2. Provide an opportunity for local farmers already traveling to farmers markets to develop closer-to-home markets with a low time investment and a chance to sell heavy-bearing produce midweek.
3. Introduce the community to organic produce.
4. Serve as a model in building a local organic market.
5. Conduct consumer education on local alternative agricultural ventures.
Veneta, population 2,500, is a timber town 10 miles southwest of Eugene, Ore. It sits on the edge of a fertile river valley that serves as a doorway to the Coastal Range Mountains. While the economy has turned down as timber mills have closed, it may be on the verge of rejuvenation as a bedroom community for Eugene.
Most Veneta residents buy produce from a locally owned grocer that buys mostly out of state. Small fruit and vegetable farms surround the town, and several farm stands and farmers markets operate 15 to 100 miles away, but the town itself has no organic farmers market.
The SARE grant recipients proposed to operate the Jubilee Farm Stand, a cooperative organic market open Thursday from 3-7 p.m. in the parking lot of Our Daily Bread Restaurant’s all-you-can-eat spaghetti night. The 8-foot by 10-foot wooden stand, with two display racks and two umbrellas, will be set up and taken down each week June through September.
The growers and cooperating restaurant were sufficiently pleased with the Jubilee Farm Stand performance that they agreed to increase their cooperation in growing, delivering and selling produce the following year.
Indeed, cooperation was a hallmark of this SARE-funded project, during which the core participants brought to the table a variety of expertise not only in growing organic produce but also in merchandising, displaying, advertising and direct marketing.
The stand operated on Thursday evenings to avoid conflict with surrounding farmers markets, most of which were open Saturday, Tuesday and Wednesday. It was open evenings to allow morning-harvested produce to be delivered and to coincide with the restaurant’s hours.
Starting with a core group of four farm families, 13 farms ultimately sold produce with as many as 11 participating at one time. Almost half of the farmers are classified as small. Stand experience prompted all but one of those to increase operations in 2001 and three will be certified organic. The small farms also added diversity to the stand, contributing products like peppers, tomatoes, melons, pumpkins, okra, eggs and soap. For larger farmers, the stand provided an important mid-week outlet for heavy-bearing crops like potatoes, blueberries cherries and strawberries, helping them even out their product flow.
The stand also educated Veneta residents. One participant described the market as a “great advertisement for local, organic produce.” The stand sold to 775 Veneta community members, with an average customer count of 45 per evening and a high of 75. Partnering with Our Daily Bread Restaurant provided customers for the market as well as the restaurant. Gwendolyn Ellen, the project coordinator and owner of As the Crow Flies Organics, said the stand received rave reviews.
“Some customers came to the stand seeking organic produce but most just came to check out the produce,” she says. “Many customers expressed surprise at how tasteful the food was and repeat customers were common.”
The project showed that a small town could support a local farm stand supplied with fruit and vegetables from local farmers. More than 700 of Veneta’s 2,500 residents spent $4,099.93 at the Jubilee Farm Stand, which was supplied by 13 local farms, half of which were categorized as small. Having an outlet for local producers close to home means they spend less time and money on the road and more in the community.
FARMER ADOPTION AND DIRECT IMPACT
The 13 farmers involved committed to a second year of the farm stand. Given such dedication, and the fact that farmers participating in such stands typically double or triple their sales each year, the project could turn into a full-fledged farmers market with a permanent location. Four growers were new to direct marketing, and three are expanding their business.
“The farm stand is serving as a business incubator for these new growers as they were able to meet and exchange growing and merchandising techniques with other more experienced growers,” says project coordinator Gwendolyn Ellen.
A cooperative growing/selling chart has been developed, and growers will continue to help run the stand, which serves as a site for information exchange on varieties, irrigation, composting, bees and growing plants. The farmers also agreed to pay a 10% daily commission to help cover advertising and supplies in 2001.
FUTURE RECOMMENDATIONS OR NEW HYPOTHESES
In future years, the stand will have more signs. “Farmers developing a cooperative farm stand can never have enough signage,” says Ellen. Posters of different farms and farmers with logos and photographs will be used for education and merchandising.
Ellen suggests that similar projects organized as non-profit can obtain free radio and television advertising through public service announcements.
She also recommends that such stands try to understand the dynamics of their customers and seek to engage the community by offering variety tastings, vegetable contests and music and harvest festivals.
DISSEMINATION OF FINDINGS
Three newspapers published articles on the stand, the Capital Press, a weekly Pacific Northwest agricultural publication, The West Lane News, Veneta’s local paper, and The Register Guard, published in Eugene. In February 2001, project coordinator Gwendolyn Ellen displayed a poster on the stand at the Farmers Markets 101 workshop, sponsored by OSU Cooperative Extension, Oregon Department of Agriculture and Oregon Farmers Market Association. In addition, in the fall of 2000, Ellen introduced the farm stand concept during a question and answer session at the Oregon Tilth annual meeting in Lorane, Ore.
Starting with a core group of four farmers, the stand ultimately sold fruit and vegetables from 13 local farmers.