Joining Farmers Market Good Move for Small Berry Farmer (VIDEO)

The farmers market saved the farm. In this case, quite literally so.

As farmer Kathy Unger explains in the video, she and her husband Matt Unger began selling berries to the cannery in 1984, but were hardly being paid enough to make ends meet.

Unger Farms, located in Cornelius, Ore., had been selling strawberries to the canneries and getting pounded by low prices -- 35 to 40 cents a pound, 50 cents if they were lucky.

According to Unger, after a few years, they planted blueberries on credit -- and started selling at farmers markets, starting with the nearby Hillsboro Farmers Market. There, they were able to get $1.50 a pound for their strawberries.

The growth in the Unger's business, which now includes U-Pick-Em flowers and berries plus a farm store, is directly attributable, she said, to their expansion into more farmers markets, where 70 to 80 percent of their produce now winds up.

"We were struggling and they kept expanding the number of markets and we kept expanding with them and so we were able to keep this first 80 acres that we originally bought and keep farming it," she said.

The USDA says that the growth in farmers markets that the Ungers saw in Oregon has been repeated across the country. In 1994, there were just 1,744 farmers markets in the United States. Now there are 7,864. While most of the growth has been done organically -- that is to say, by farmers and communities themselves -- the USDA also funds farmers markets.

2012-08-08-obsidianberrypickingUngerFarm.jpgIn 2011, the Farm Bill included $10 million, which was split among 140 locations (keeping in mind, of course, that the entire Farm Bill encompasses more than $96 billion worth of programs).

The biggest driver of farmers markets is the customers, who crave fresh food and a connection to the farmers.

As Unger says in the video, "Customers are looking for quality but they also want to know how their food was grown and who grew it and you can get that at farmers markets."

Originally posted on Food.Farmer.Earth