This year, Oregonians will have an opportunity to find out just what makes Oregon agriculture so strong. The Oregon Department of Agriculture is helping residents make the connection through its traveling exhibit, “Telling the Oregon Agriculture Story,” at selected county fairs.
“If consumers in Oregon learn more about the importance of agriculture in Oregon and the wide variety of crops grown in Oregon, hopefully it will encourage them to look for and purchase Oregon-grown-and-made products and to be supportive of local and statewide legislation that is ‘farmer friendly,’“ said Laura Barton, trade development manager.
The traveling exhibit covers the top 20 specialty crops in Oregon with industry-specific information to complement the display’s photography. The exhibit, which made its debut at the Marion County Fair the week of July 8, will be installed at a total of seven county fairs during 2012. Included in the 2012 rotation is Umatilla County, which will house the display Aug. 7-9.
“Next year, we hope the exhibit travels to even more fairs,” Ms. Barton commented. “ODA staff and industry partners will be attending these fairs as well. We hope the messages will resonate and people will have a ‘Wow, I had no idea’ moment.”
Onion production, included on the list of the top 20 specialty crops, is big business in Umatilla County. Oregon State University provided the following data regarding onion production for the county during 2011. A total of 4,500 acres were in dry storage onion production for a total of $34.65 million in sales. A total of 2,100 aces were in production for other onions for a total of $3.78 million in sales.
Last year, more than 1.5 million people visited Oregon’s county fairs. “We are bringing county fairs back to their agricultural roots,” Ms. Barton stated. “Many people don’t always think of a county fair as a place to learn about and connect with agriculture. So we are very excited about providing a colorful way to showcase interesting facts and important details of how Oregon agriculture contributes to the state’s economy and specifically to the communities where these fairs are located.”
ODA received a $17,000 specialty crop block grant in 2011 and worked with the Oregon County Fair Commission and Oregon Fairs Association to develop the mobile exhibit. Oregon ranks fifth in the nation in production of specialty crops.
According to Ms. Barton, the display will include information helping visitors connect agricultural production with Oregon’s geography. “One of the key messages focuses on the importance of the global economy,” she continued. “We are very excited about getting our products marketed locally. But most Oregonians probably don’t realize that a great majority of what we produce makes its way overseas. The exhibit provides some facts about agricultural exports, including an illustrated map of where our products go, whether they are sold locally, regionally, in other parts of the United States or internationally.”
Farmers markets are increasingly popular in Oregon. “But the people who go to a farmers market aren’t necessarily the same people who go to a county fair,” Ms. Barton observed. “So there’s a great opportunity for [agricultural partners] to work together and cross promote in order to reach out to new people in both venues. We want this exhibit to be a building block. We want to connect with more partners in the future to make this experience even more interactive.”