a1 University of California Cooperative Extension, Santa Cruz County, 1432 Freedom Blvd, Watsonville, CA 95076, USA.
a2 University of California Cooperative Extension, Santa Barbara County, 624 West Foster Road, Suite A, Santa Maria CA, 93455, USA.
Small farmers face more challenges in farming than ever before. Examples include competition and consolidation within the global marketplace and low and unpredictable product prices. Evaluation and development of alternative market outlets is one means of helping small farms to become more economically sustainable. From 2000 to 2020 the US population is expected to increase by between 50 and 80 million people. A concomitant increase in consumer demand for local, fresh, specialty and organic produce is also projected. Alternative market outlets that skillfully link local or regional small-scale production with evolving consumer demand are currently lacking. We hypothesize that there is considerable potential for helping small farmers sustain or improve their economic position and fulfill consumer needs by exploiting these connections in the marketplace. This investigation draws from the literature to ascertain whether horticultural auction markets may provide such a link for small farms. The paper characterizes horticultural auction markets using current and historical examples, discusses marketplace changes with special reference to consumer demand, and appraises the value of this market model with respect to the dual challenge of meeting both farmers' and consumers' needs. Current marketplace research and characteristics suggest measured optimism for horticultural auction markets to provide a small farm–consumer link.
(Accepted April 18 2004)