OFMA was inspired by the keynote address given by August Schumacher, Jr. at a Pacific Northwest Farm Direct Marketing conference held in Seattle, in February of 1987. Mr. Schumacher was the Commissioner of the Department of Food and Agriculture, State of Massachusetts, at the time and later served as a USDA undersecretary. He had started a program in his state’s markets that allowed WIC recipients to also receive coupons good at farmers’ markets.
Conference attendee Caroline Goodall met Marti Fate, and OFMA’s history began. Caroline and Marti served on the Board of Directors for the PNWFDM conference and began meetings to start a statewide Oregon farmers’ market project in April of 1987. In May of 1987, OFMA was incorporated.
Just after OFMA formed, the Oregonian’s FoodDay section listed only twelve markets: Albany, Corvallis (Wedneday), Grants Pass, Gresham, Hillsboro, La Grande, Lane County, Lincoln County, McMinnville, Medford, Rogue River, and Salem. The Beaverton market, now the largest single market in the state, opened the following year. Portland Farmers Market, which now operates eight markets, was organized in 1992.
In June of 1987, under the auspices of the Oregon Department of Agriculture, a grant was written to fund the start-up of six new markets in Oregon over the next 18 months. It was not funded.
Caroline and Marti continued helping with start-up markets all over the state and by April of 1988, OFMA had 35 members from 12 markets.
In 1989, Oregon became one of seven states participating in a pilot project for the WIC coupon program that became nationwide in 1990. OFMA’s requests for market guidelines became the first Direct Marketing Handbooks for farmers and food processors, written and published by ODA.
The resurgence of farmers’ markets in the 1980s and today owes some its impetus to an economy in recession. The economy of the 1990s allowed markets to flourish, yet OFMA became inactive. At the end of the decade, new leaders presented themselves to reactivate OFMA.
OFMA worked with ODA on a set of farmers' market guidelines in 2003. In 2009, ODA issued a new set of market guidelines that were not well received. The response to those guidelines from dozens of farmers and market managers reached the ears of legislators and galvanized the organization.
Friends of OFMA, including food safety policy expert Rebecca Landis, helped draft new legislation to acknowledge the importance of farm direct marketing of Oregon agriculture and to clarify which farmer activities require licensing and which could safely be conducted at a lower level of regulation. This Farm Direct Bill passed in 2011.
For 25 years, OFMA has worked for markets and the farmers who sell in them. OFMA represents small farmers and farmers markets in ways no one else does.