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Land access for direct market food farmers in Oregon, USA

Horst, Megan, Gwin, Lauren
Land use policy 2018 v.75 pp. 594-611
affordability, agricultural land, direct marketing, environmental stewardship, farmers, farmland preservation, farms, food security, income, interviews, land use planning, land values, leasing, local food systems, sales, surveys, Oregon
This article examines the challenges direct market farmers face related to land access in the United States. The number of farms participating in direct market sales is growing in the U.S., though their relative number and share of the food economy is low. The benefits of direct market farms range from fresh, high quality food for urban residents and a stronger local food economy, to potentially greater environmental stewardship and enhanced community food security. However, direct market farmers face significant land access challenges related to affordability, appropriateness, availability, and security. We explore the challenge of land access through the experiences of direct market farmers in the north Willamette Valley region in Oregon. The region has a robust agricultural economy, a growing number of direct market farms, and a history of relatively strong farmland conservation influenced by statewide land use planning requirements. We collected data with a mix of methods, including a survey of direct market farmers; interviews and group discussions with farmers and other key informants; and secondary land use and parcel data. Despite Oregon’s reputation as an agriculture-friendly state with strong consumer interest in local food systems, direct market farmers in the region experience land access challenges, including rising land prices relative to their incomes, a lack of appropriate land, a declining agricultural land base with competition from other buyers, and insecure leasing terms. These challenges suggest an uncertain future for direct market farming and its associated benefits. The article concludes by identifying potential strategies to enhance land access by direct market farmers, and suggesting areas for future research.