April 20, 2020

Helping in Times of Coronavirus: Portland Farmers Market

COVID-19 has torn through our world over the past weeks, disrupting lives, putting the health of our family and friends at risk, and destabilizing the local community which we hold so dear. We are all coping in the best way we know how, as daily stories of resilience and ingenuity inspire us to keep pushing onward. In a new series of blog posts, I am highlighting some amazing stories of resiliency and dedication in Portland’s non-profit sector — stories of organizations and community members who are fighting to serve our most vulnerable populations.

This week I spoke with Portland Farmers Market, an organization that operates world-class farmers markets that contribute to the success of local food growers and producers, and creates vibrant community gatherings. Active since 1992, Portland Farmers Market operates the hugely popular year-round PSU market, as well as four other markets in the Portland Metro area. The Portland Farmers Market’s work is supported by its companion non-profit, Farmers Market Fund, which works to make healthy, locally grown food accessible to underserved Oregonians.

In this time of isolation and social distancing, many people deeply miss the full force of organizations like the PSU Farmers Market, a dynamic community gathering that welcomes visitors and locals alike with food, entertainment, and a rich sense of what it means to belong to the Portland community. As a critical service providing food, Portland Farmers Market has had to change quickly to adapt to COVID. This means stripping away the character of the PSU market and getting down to brass tacks: allowing small family farms to sell their products in an environment that is safe for both vendors and customers.

The PSU Farmers Market is providing critical income for small family farmers in the Northwest. These farmers rely on three key revenue streams: wholesale accounts with restaurants, groceries, and distributors; institutional accounts with schools and businesses; and direct-to-consumer sales. With wholesale and institutional accounts drying up during the COVID crisis, direct-to-consumer sales are serving as the sole reliable income source for many of these local farmers.

The Portland Farmers Market’s commitment to its farmers has not come without costs to the organization. In addition to losing many of the sponsorships and exhibitions that support the PSU Market on an annual basis, social distancing means that the market can host fewer vendors than usual, and increased cleaning and hygiene costs have created significant budget stress. Despite expecting a year in the red, Portland Farmers Market remains committed to doing the right thing by staying open and supporting our community and our local farmers.

The affiliated Farmers Market Fund has also expanded its efforts during the COVID crisis to increase underserved Oregonians’ access to healthy, locally grown foods. The Farmers Market Fund offers “Double Up Food Bucks” that give Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients a dollar-for-dollar match up to $10 to purchase fruits and vegetables at each farmer’s market. During the current crisis, that match has been expanded up to $20 for the first $20 spent at the market. As unemployment continues to skyrocket in Oregon and across the nation, the Farmers Market Fund expects to see significantly increased need for, and interest in, the Double Up Food Bucks program.

As Portlanders, we take great pride in the strength of our community. The vibrancy of that community cannot be on full display during this crisis. But it still lives in our hearts, evidenced by efforts to support our neighbors and local organizations and through the work of organizations like the Portland Farmers Market and Farmers Market Fund. They are striving to adapt to serve populations in need and ensure that the vitality of our city will return after the COVID crisis passes. If you would like to support the efforts of the Portland Farmers Market or the Farmers Market Fund, you can make a donation here.