CORVALLIS - Local growers interested in taking the most direct route from farm to market and personal profit could benefit from a conference at Oregon State University on how to join the surging trend of direct farm-to-customer selling.

The "Farm Direct Marketing 101: Strengthening Agriculture and Communities" conference is scheduled for 8:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 23 at the LaSells Stewart Center on the OSU campus, across from Reser Stadium.

Although farmers markets date back as far as agriculture and trade, they all but disappeared about 20 years ago as small farms merged into larger ones. Consequently, small grocery stores and farmers markets gave way to large, multi-department grocery outlets. However, a new generation of consumers---many of them born in the "Baby Boom" years between 1945 and 1964---have discovered that shopping at farmers markets is a more social event. Further, it is a rare instance where producers and buyers meet face-to-face.

Consumers who shop at farmers markets prize this atmosphere, according to research by Garry Stephensen, a small-farms agent with the OSU Extension Service in Benton County, and OSU agricultural economist Larry Lev. They also shop farmers markets for high-quality goods such as hive-fresh honey, rare varieties of just-picked produce, dewy bouquets of flowers, and home-baked bread and pastry.

In fact, the number of farmers markets in Oregon has tripled during the past decade, with more expected as the state's new agri-tourism industry gains ground.

Selling farm products directly to the consumer brings higher earnings to the farmer, and fresher local products to consumers. This kind of direct marketing through produce stands, shops, and restaurants also supports the local economy and stimulates the production of specialty items by providing a local sales outlet.

The OSU conference is designed for anyone who produces, sells, uses, or has an interest in the lucrative, growing field of farm direct marketing. In particular, farm direct market managers, food retailers, restaurant owners, agricultural professionals, and community leaders may find the conference useful.

The Oregon State University Extension Service, the Oregon Department of Agriculture, the Oregon Farmers Market Association, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture sponsor the event.

Topics to be featured include:

  • how to use multiple marketing outlets to construct a successful farm business
  • how to price and display products to maximize profits
  • building local coalitions to enhance farm direct marketing

Additional sessions will focus on selling specialized farm products to restaurants, gourmet markets, and the like; managing your farm direct business; and improving sales.

The cost is $15 per person for registrations received by Feb. 15 and $25 per person on the morning of the conference. The price includes morning coffee, refreshments, and a catered lunch.

This year, a free pre-conference introduction session, "Introduction to Farm Direct Marketing," will also be held from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, Feb. 22, at the LaSells Stewart Center. To register for the seminar, call the Benton County Extension Office at 541-766-6750 or 1-800-365-0201. Additional information about the seminar, and about farmers markets in general, is available on the Web.

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Garry Stephensen, 541-766-3551