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|Saturday, September 01, 2007|
The Market Economy
There’s been an explosion of farmers’ markets around the state, and with it a casualty list. Can there be too much of a good thing?
By Robin Doussard
The Saturday Portland Farmers’ Market at Portland State University long ago morphed from a nice vegetable stand to a food theme park (special attraction: attack of the locavores). During the peak months, the hordes hit early: 15,000 people sweep through the free-range eggplant and local blackberries like locusts in a cornfield. By mid-morning, it’s elbow to elbow at the 140 vendor stalls and if you haven’t already snagged your wild salmon, you’re probably out of luck. But with the fiddlers fiddling and the handmade artisan sausages grilling, who cares?
It’s a crowded, festive scene that plays out at farmers’ markets from Hood River to Grants Pass to Beaverton. Farmers markets in Oregon have grown from 10 in the early 1990s to at last count 86. The Portland metro area alone has 37. From June to September, about 120,000 Oregonians shop weekly at a farmers’ market, business worth $25 million in sales in 2006 to local farmers and purveyors. Nationally, there are 3,700 farmers’ markets, 2,000 of which have opened in the past decade.
THERE HAVE BEEN OTHER PERIODS of growth and decline, say the researchers, in the number of farmers’ markets that were driven by major events such as war, the economy or social upheaval. Markets grew during the Great Depression because of the “self help” programs and during the 1970s because of political activism, and during the 1990s through today, driven in part by a desire to use markets as a way to build community.
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