One sunny morning last autumn I went to the farmers’ market for pumpkins, eggs, and whatever vegetables were still available at this, the final market of the season. One of the more prominent booths, Magic Garden, featured friendly elderly ladies offering produce, dried herbs, and a dozen different types of relishes and sauces in home-canning jars.
“We can do this now,” one of them said brightly while passing her arm above the display, “thanks to that new law.”
The law to which the vendor referred was Oregon HB 2336, signed in 2011 and implemented in January 2012, which allows farmers to process their own produce in a limited number of ways, and then sell directly to consumers in a farmers’ market setting. Previously, the canning would have been required to occur in a licensed commercial kitchen.
I talk about value-added products in Get Your Pitchfork On! and in a blog post—it’s a great way to improve one’s profit margin and reduce food waste from spoilage.
The Magic Garden is an effort of the local Methodist church to provide a farm-to-school experience for the students of Joseph Charter School. They function solely with volunteer work and donations; all of the proceeds from the market booth go directly to the cost of seeds, infrastructure and other materials. None of the wares at the market were technically for sale; any money given by customers was donated.
Until HB 2336 became law, the Magic Garden’s offerings were limited to excess unprocessed vegetables that hadn’t been fed to the schoolchildren. Once it was legal to process the produce, volunteer gardeners gleaned their plot more heavily, wasting less edible material and increasing the amount of money they could raise for the organization.
Similarly, HB 2872 loosened the restrictions on small and medium-sized farms that raise poultry for slaughter. Farmers may now sell up to one thousand poultry (chickens, geese, ducks, turkeys, or guinea fowl) directly to consumers, exempt from Oregon Department of Agriculture fees and continuous USDA inspection.
These two recently passed laws make it easier for small and mid-sized farmers to sell their produce and, thereby, make a living (though their income from such is capped at $20,000). Most states also have a version of this law on the books. This type of legislation begins to address the inequities in agriculture policy that are rife in the United States. Current USDA policy, most notably under the “Farm Bill,” directs most of its support and subsidies to international corporations. The policies of the past forty years have left smaller operations struggling to make ends meet, resulting in a lost heritage—younger generations are encouraged to leave farming as their career and consumers lose their contact with the sources of their food—as well as a lost quality of food. The prospect of state-level exemptions and other legislative strategies that temper the inequities codified by federal law are an important step toward reforming the Farm Bill itself.