We didn’t know if the sun would shine or the rain would pour, if people would come out, or we’d be standing, lonesome, in a cold warehouse. We only knew that 33 community-supported agriculture farmers from the Portland metro area — from vegetable growers to salmon fishermen — were coming to the Redd on Salmon Street to welcome whatever the day had in store.
On March 21, the spring equinox, the sun did shine, the rain also poured, and some 1,069 people piled in to meet farmers at Portland’s first-ever CSA Share Fair, a collaboration between Ecotrust and the Portland-Area CSA Coalition.
“This was hands-down the most valuable CSA/farm marketing event we’ve ever been to.” –farmer
What did we learn?
We asked the 33 participating farmers to reflect on their experiences at the fair. Twenty-nine of them replied.
On the day of the fair, farmers, fishermen, and ranchers sold a total of 90 shares ($29,336 in value). Eighteen of the 29 farmers sold additional products at the fair, from a quarter cow to plant starts to bouquets, netting an additional $1,870.50.
In the four weeks following the event, these farmers sold an additional 64 shares ($30,691 in value).
Altogether, we can attribute to the CSA Share Fair $61,897.50 in sales going directly to Oregon farmers, ranchers, and fishermen. And, eaters and regional food producers forged at least 150 new, direct, long-term relationships.
“People who came to the CSA fair were looking to give money to a farm. It was a match made in heaven.” –farmer
Deep sense of connection
More than anything, this event brought out an overwhelming sense of connection — between people and farmers and within the CSA farming community.
“It was really nice to be treated as a valuable community asset.” –farmer
We learned from our survey of attendees that people crave an authentic connection with farmers. It’s why they came. We have lots of wonderful farmers markets where the food is local, but many are not staffed by farmers because they simply don’t have the time.
For those people who joined a meat, vegetable, or flower CSA, they will have an on-going relationship with people who have devoted themselves to the land.
The farmers indicated that they appreciated the monetary rewards, but there is a strong sense that the event also made them feel valued and connected to the community. Farmers told us that the CSA Share Fair gave them an infusion of energy by demonstrating that there are many people out here who are curious about their lives and want them to succeed.
“I felt like the most popular kid at school.” –farmer
In light of research that Ecotrust presented in its Future Economy findings that CSA farmers are struggling to make a viable living, this event cemented that CSA farmers are most effective when they work together as a community. Their solidarity is key to unlocking greater opportunities to reach the CSA members of the future and to advocate for their needs.
The event was also a fruitful collaboration between Ecotrust and the Portland-Area CSA Coalition — not to mention dozens of other partners and organizations, from the East Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District to the City of Portland, Zenger Farm to Friends of Family Farmers. We hope it is just the beginning.