Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Improving Local Food Systems -- Mosier, OR, Farmers' Market

From Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon, we heard about a great example of an organization that is cultivating a strong regional food system.  The Gorge Grown Food Network states on their website “We envision a healthy, self-sufficient Columbia River Gorge where our food is produced with integrity and is valued, abundant, and accessible to all.”

How do you go about promoting both the supply side and the consumer side of local eating?  One way is to promote local farmers’ markets.   But small communities can struggle to attract a critical mass of vendors that will bring enough customers to support the market.  So the Food Network bought a truck, outfitted it with a refrigerator, tables, and other equipment, and created George, the Mobile Farmers’ Market!  Each week, the driver buys produce and other products from local farmers and producers at a discounted rate to fill the truck.  She then takes George to 4 different small market sites over the weekend to augment the offerings by local vendors and add enough variety of produce to attract the local residents.  Once a farmers’ market is self-sustaining with its own local farmers, the goal is for the mobile truck to move on to other towns that need its support.

One of the mobile market sites is in the small town of Mosier (population 460).  We visited to see how their market is promoting community and healthy, local eating.

The Mosier Farmers’ Market is held on Sunday afternoon, from 4 to 7 PM.   We arrived early to help set up in the parking lot of the 10 Speed East Coffee Shop and the adjacent vacant gas station lot, where the market is held.  The merchants started arriving and setting up their displays and canopies about 3 PM.  Then the local fire truck arrived to block off the street between the two parking lots and filled a small pool with water for kids to cool off in.  

We met Suzi Conklin who explained that this is the first year they’ve had a farmer’s market.  She and some friends had taken a study course from the Northwest Earth Institute called “Menu for the Future” and decided that Mosier needed a farmers’ market.  They investigated the neighboring Hood River Farmers’ market, talked with the managers there, learned about the Gorge Grown Food Network and the mobile farmers’ market, and started planning.  Thus, the Mosier Farmers’ Market came about.  The first market day was July 3, 2011.

When the market was all set up, it was a bustling and busy sight: 
There were about 10 fruit and vegetable vendors.  The most common vegetables were tomatoes, green peppers and summer squash, but we also saw eggplant, hot peppers, cucumbers, potatoes (red, yellow, blue).  Fruits for sale included blueberries, strawberries, peaches, and melons. Theo, the son of one of the vendors was selling “natural bird feeders” (sunflower heads).

There were other food items, too.  Various vendors offered honey, jams, preserves, pickled beets, baked goods, eggs, pork and beef.  One of the vegetable vendors was making vegetable juice smoothies.
The mobile farmers’ market truck and its stand offered some items others didn’t have, such as sweet corn, cherries, bread, kale and shallots, as well as many of the vegetables that the other vendors had.  The driver appeared to know all the other farmers and was quick to refer customers to them.

Additional booths included the Seniors of Mosier Valley, who were selling lawn ornaments, weather vanes and raffle tickets for a quilt to help purchase a new refrigerator.  The local volunteer fire department was selling t-shirts and sweatshirts and recruiting for additional volunteer fire fighters.  The mayor had a table to sell her hand-made jewelry.  Another woman was selling candles, plants, cutting boards, and glass ornaments.  One young girl, with her mother’s help, had a few games for the kids and was also selling water and muffins to raise funds to go on the 6th-grade school class trip to England.
The information booth, manned by one of the organizers, gave out information about the market, sold some posters and some consignment items such as granola and small numbers of red, yellow and purple cherry tomatoes.  They gave away house plants in exchange for donations for the school garden.
As you’d expect, there was much buying and selling going on.  But there was other commerce, cooperation, and community-building happening, as well.   A local grocer arranged to pick up a flat of tomatoes from one of the vendors the next day to sell in his store.  Vendors informed their customers of other farmers’ markets and stands where their produce was available.  Vendors also referred customers to other vendors if they didn’t have what the customer wanted, and one vendor told us that she didn’t bring certain items to this market in order to give others a chance to sell theirs.   Customers chatted and caught up on the news with each other.  There was live music provided by a guitar and drummer combo.   A local circus performer entertained the crowd by magically handling balls.  This inspired a young boy to run home and return to perform with hula hoops.  Other kids played in the water and danced to the music.  There was even an “Ask Your Farmer” session based on the Dating Game.  
We were told that five years ago, only 1% of the produce consumed by people in the Columbia River Gorge was produced locally.  This vibrant new Mosier Farmers’ Market is already improving its local community food system and helping reach the goal set by the Gorge Grown Food Network of 20% local produce by the year 2020. 

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for visiting our little market and for your great write up!

    One of the things I want to add is that the events we do each week are all designed to highlight a different benefit of eating local. So we've created a website to list them all: PropagandaSeedCo.com.

    Our hope is that other farmers' markets and food organizations can browse the library and easily replicate any of the ideas to spread the word about the benefits of eating local.

    We love what you're doing! Good luck with the rest of your journey!