Very often people think of farmers markets as being similar to flea markets. They are not. Flea markets are for selling one man’s junk that is likely another man’s treasure. A farmers market is a place where a farmer can display his or her goods that they worked hard to create. In no way are those two concepts even remotely similar. You do not go to a farmer’s market to get something used that is cheap. You go to the farmer’s market to get food – the best available – for yourself and your family.
To get the best available food, find out what your local farmer’s market stands for – if anything. Some have high standards and others do not. Myself, I look for a farmer’s market that caters to local farmers producing local goods. That may sound self-evident to you but it is not. You need to ask questions. There is a farmer’s market near me that has all kinds of produce all year long. They buy their products from other countries when it is out of season. It is not even labeled organic. You might as well buy it from the grocery store. It is no different. Then there are the farmer’s markets that have strict guidelines about the food that is sold there and how it was grown. These are the farmer’s markets I look for. They only support local farmers and the food the farmer produced themselves. Many will also hold the farmers to growing standards such as “organic”, “certified naturally grown”, and “humanly raised”. These monikers have been misused of late so, again, ask questions. Even if a farmer is not “certified” you will find many that have very high standards – and many that don’t. Ask lots of questions. If anyone is interested in the types of questions you need to ask, let me know and I will post about that as well.
The best food at the farmers market will be grown sustainably. The word “sustainable” means something different to just about anyone you ask. Here’s my definition. There is no food without the soil. Sustainable farming uses methods that add to the soil and build it. Many “organic” farms cannot viably sustain themselves without causing harm somewhere else. Their methods of growing food, while “organic” (not using chemicals), are taking sustenance out of the soil with no way to put it back – short of trucking in organic material from miles away. Again, too much to go into now. Let me know if you want more information.
Is the produce at the farmer’s market cheaper than the produce in the grocery store? No. In fact, it is generally fairly competitive and somewhere between the very high-priced organic and very low-priced non-organic. Many of you probably believe that you cannot afford this and that you must buy the non-organic, “cheap” vegetables. There is another way. It’s called a CSA.
CSA stands for community supported agriculture. In this model farmers seek memberships from customers. The customer pays in advance. Depending on where in the country you live and how long the growing season is the determining factor in how many weeks of vegetables you will get for your investment. The farmer receives his payment ahead of time and you are guaranteed a certain amount of product for that payment. I believe you will find that you get more vegetable for the buck in this model. While the farmer at the farmer’s market charges a higher price per pound to compensate for throwing away crop that is not sold, the CSA farmer is producing vegetables for specific customers that have paid him in advance. I have found CSAs that provide so much for their membership price that it is actually cheaper than buying the cheapest grocery store non-organic vegetables.
Your CSA farmer is committed to providing you with lots of vegetables but there is a commitment on your part as well. You must pick up your food each and every week at a designated location. This is very important. The farmer puts together your “share”, packages it, and transports it to a delivery location. They will never fail to be there. You must make the same commitment on your end and retrieve your share or send someone to get it for you. Sometimes that is not easy in the summer – when the vegetables are ripening. You will find a common arrangement in a CSA agreement is that if you fail to pick up your product, it will be donated to a food bank or some other charitable organization. You will forfeit your share of the food that week – it will not be replaced and there is no storing this food for you. The cost and management of that kind of storage is not part of the cost of membership and would be very counterproductive for a CSA farmer. So again, I stress, it is up to you to be responsible for picking up your CSA purchase each and every week.
One other learning experience in working with a CSA is that you will need to learn to eat “seasonally” again. Vegetables are naturally available only at specific times of year. In the grocery store you can pick up any vegetable at any time. And we have learned to expect that kind of variety. When you join a CSA, you will get vegetables as they become available – the way we used to before the 1950s when the grocery store became popular. To assist you in making that transition, many times the farmer that operates the CSA will provide recipes to go with the vegetables you get in your weekly share. So that brings up another topic that needs more discussion. Home cooking, preparing and storing foods you are unfamiliar with. But that’s yet another blog post. For now . . . .
Long days and Pleasant nights