Author: Melissa Matthewson, Barking Moon Farm & Maud Powell, Oregon State University Small Farms Program
Publish Date: Fall 2020
This summer, thirty farmers markets in Oregon launched online ordering systems in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Oregon Farmers Markets Association (OFMA), in partnership with the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) and the Oregon Coast Visitors Association (OCVA), launched the new statewide project this spring, aimed at helping Oregon’s farmers markets establish online ordering systems. Since farmers markets are ideal venues for purchasing local food but some customers did not feel comfortable attending in person, many markets added online pre-order systems for their shoppers. This made it possible for all consumers to keep supporting local businesses and preserving the farmers market industry.
“We felt that an online platform was critical to maintain our farmers markets as a safe venue for all Oregonians to access locally produced foods,” says ODA Director Alexis Taylor. “The move online was already a growing consumer trend and provides an opportunity to support local farmers and make shopping accessible amidst new constraints from the pandemic.”
In 2019 alone, farmers markets in Oregon hosted an impressive $63 million in sales, supporting 6,700 vendors at 127 locations. COVID-19 hit Oregon just as markets were gearing up for the season. This brought significant challenges for markets in serving both their communities and vendors. Farmers markets were looking at a drastic reduction in shoppers and sales, likely hurting vendor businesses and jeopardizing the markets’ long-term viability. In response, many farmers markets rapidly shifted their operations to make shopping safer by spacing out vendor booths, enforcing social distancing, and in many cases, by including online shopping options for customers. These changes give local food lovers a chance to buy from area farmers through a lower-contact method.
“OFMA is proud of Oregon’s innovative farmers markets,” said Kelly Crane, Executive Director of the Oregon Farmers Markets Association. “Throughout this challenging time, our markets have done their best to keep feeding their communities while also supporting vendor businesses and providing a safe shopping experience. Online ordering is just one more way they’re doing that.”
Thirty farmers markets are currently operating online ordering systems. Most markets are either using the app “WhatsGood” or Local Food Marketplace. Shopping for local products online is not unlike other online shopping experiences: local food shoppers choose vendor products, check-out with a shopping cart, pay online, and pick-up at the market’s designated time each week. There are also drive-through options at some markets where customers can have purchases delivered to a pick-up point.
Emily Vollmer of the Manzanita Farmers Market said of her market’s online pre-order system: “Online ordering is the only way the Manzanita Farmers Market is currently allowed to operate in our town, which means our choice was to either provide online ordering or close for the season. We chose the former because we recognize how important our farmers market is to our local farm businesses, and how much our customers benefit from and appreciate being able to purchase such fresh and healthy food, and in such a safe and careful manner.”
Online ordering systems are an excellent option for vulnerable or at-risk populations. For example, the Florence Farmers Market, which serves a community with many retirees, is operating a drive-through only market for customers. To ensure broad access to local foods, SNAP customers can continue to use their benefits at select online markets and will receive a dollar for dollar match of up to $10 weekly through the Double Up Food Bucks program to spend on fresh fruits and vegetables.
“Our support of OFMA’s online marketplace efforts not only invests in food security and community resilience for Oregonians, it also turns visitors into life-long customers of Oregon Coast products,” says Marcus Hinz, Executive Director of the Oregon Coast Visitors Association.
Oregon farmers markets have shown an amazing resiliency and creativity in changing conditions due to COVID-19. While farmers markets are essential businesses and many have remained open in their physical locations, markets have taken their markets online through pre-order systems. This creates an expansion of the marketplace to vulnerable shoppers who would like to shop local, but from their homes. Through dedicated funding from the ODA Specialty Crop Block Program and the Oregon Coastal Visitors Association, OFMA has been able to provide on-going technical assistance to all markets in the state, ensuring the continued viability of hundreds of small businesses.
To find a farmers market that is available online, you can visit OFMA’s directory page: https://www.oregonfarmersmarkets.org/online-farmers-markets
The mission of the Oregon Farmers Markets Association (OFMA) is to support local agriculture and healthy communities by strengthening and promoting Oregon’s farmers markets.