Alumni Spotlight: Trudy Toliver
Celebrated as one of the city’s most vibrant gathering places, the downtown Portland Farmers Market on the PSU Park Blocks usually teems with tourists, children playing and couples milling on the grass. This spring, crisp asparagus, fragrant strawberries and locally sourced meats remain available along with artisan products like honey, chocolate and whiskey, but COVID-19 distancing measures have changed the market. Still, the decision to stay open was clear while meeting all necessary safety provisions.
“Our work is essential to keep the local food economy alive and feed the citizens of our communities,” affirms the market’s Executive Director Trudy Toliver '84. “We all deserve to eat the highest-quality food while supporting our neighborhood farmers and food artisans.”
A tradition for more than 20 years, the PSU Farmers Market marks a unique partnership between the market and the university.
“The market is a separate, nonprofit entity, but we couldn’t do this without PSU’s support,” says Toliver. “Our relationship is a wonderful example of how individual groups can come together to make something really valuable for Portland citizens.”
Today, the market is devoid of tourists, there’s nowhere to linger, and there are no food tastings. Physical changes position the market as a place for one healthy member of a household to come, shop, and return home. Controlled entrances restrict the total number of shoppers, and vendors redesigned their booths to be linear, with about six feet of distance between each booth. “This meant we had to use more space on the South Park Blocks, and Portland Parks & Recreation have been gracious in allowing that to happen,” says Toliver.
In addition, market staff and vendor personnel are deputized as physical distancing officers, complete with sheriff’s star badges as a nod to their authority. At most booths, shoppers point to the produce they want and vendor staff wearing masks and gloves slide it down to a pay station. Handwashing stations and portable toilet units were brought in to accommodate everyone’s needs.
Currently, the market is open on Saturdays from 8:30am – 2:00 pm in downtown Portland’s South Park Blocks in the midst of the PSU campus.
Seeds of Strong Economics
Land costs, feed costs and weather-dependent issues make farming enormously risky, so farmers and ranchers need multiple avenues of income. With the school and restaurant closures due to COVID-19, farmers have lost crucial segments of their sales. Direct-to-consumer sales provide the highest profit margin, which means the best way to help farmers is to buy directly from them. And Toliver says spring is the most economically challenging time for farmers.
“Now is when they’re preparing their soils and planting their seeds to guarantee we’ll have a food supply into the summer and fall,” Toliver explains. “They need our economic support to confidently make those investments, and that is vital to the future of our food system.”