Farm Direct at Five Years: An Early Assessment of Oregon’s Farm-focused Cottage Food Law
In 2011, the Oregon legislature passed the Farm Direct Marketing Law (FDML), which took effect in 2012. The law clarified licensing and food safety requirements for direct-to-consumer sales at farmers markets, farm stands, and similar venues. It also included a “cottage food” provision allowing farms to make and sell certain low-risk, value-added products from farm-grown ingredients, direct to consumer, without a food processor’s license. Advocates predicted enhanced small farm viability through new products and revenue streams, market season extension, reduced processing costs, test marketing opportunities, and other avenues. Detractors warned the deregulation would cause outbreaks of foodborne illness. In 2016, the law’s fifth year, we explored these predictions and early outcomes. We conducted a focus group with stakeholders and semistructured interviews with two key informants, 18 farmers, and 24 farmers market managers around Oregon. We found farmers making and selling a variety of value-added products under the FDML. We found no foodborne illness linked to FDML products. Interviewees described multiple benefits resulting from the law, many corresponding to predicted benefits. They also described unanticipated benefits at the community level. Interviewees identified barriers and recommended changes related to the law and related education. We discuss the feasibility of these recommendations as well as the long-term potential of the cottage food provision. We end by reflecting on the FDML as a whole, as it supports Oregon’s direct market farming sector.
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