Marion Farm Loop connects people to local food systems during COVID-19

Agritourism pumpkins. Photo by Audey Comerford

When COVID-19 started, most family activities were put on hold and stores started running out of supplies. Schools and restaurants closed, sports and entertainment were limited and traveling came to a halt. People craved something to do, something to get them out of the house and ways to supplement their pantry.

Many people worried about food shortages and turned to local sources. Fortunately, farmers were considered essential and were able to continue working. The 4-year-old Marion Farm Loop, a program supported by Oregon State University Extension Service, was poised to provide the public with the activities they wanted. The 24 farms that in the Marion County area make up the cooperative go beyond offering food. There are pumpkin patches, wine tasting, animal barns, nature walks and other activities. Known as agritourism, the idea is to find another financial stream to keep farmers on the right side of the profit margin.

Working with Oregon Agritourism Partnership, which runs the Marion Farm Loop, Extension organized meetings, helped create and produce a brochure highlighting the 24 farms in the loop, as well as an interactive website. Visitors can easily explore sources and find safely run farms to visit to find activities or products that appeal to them and tempts them out of the house.

As a result, by the end of 2020, 5,000 Marion County Loop brochures were distributed. Social media bloomed with hundreds of interactions online. New customers discovered or rediscovered U-pick, farm stands, CSAs, on-farm bakeries, nurseries and harvest festivals held with strict safety measures. Though they were allowed to continue farming, some of the customers they rely on disappeared – at least for awhile. The Marion County Loop brought people back, helping to defer some losses the farms experienced during the pandemic.

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