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Farmers Markets vs. CSA

Which do you prefer and why? I've joined CSAs in the past but never loved the odd selection of produce I'd get and always had to go to the farmers markets anyway. I'm looking into it again but am thinking of just sticking with farmers markets. What do you do?

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  1. I'm not a morning person, so often farmers markets don't work with my schedule. My CSA pickup is later in the day, so that works out well. I like the challenge of the CSA - the items I usually wouldn't gravitate towards cause me to try new recipes and flavors. Helps push me out of my regular habits. Also, since the CSA p/u is at a specific time I go - it is an appointment. The farmers market often gets pushed to "later" since it is more accessible. Some days later just doesn't happen.

    OTOH, the farmers market is a feast of color, texture & scent. I love experiencing the bounty of it and being able to touch, sniff, fondle and make my choices. I also enjoy the rubbing elbows element to a crowded market - there is something very connecting in a tribe sort of way knowing that each of us is there doing our own gathering with similar intent. Like walking through a neighborhood in the evening and smelling dinners cooking and seeing windows warm and glowing. Makes the world feel happier!

    1. Our farmer's market is tiny and I often don't get over there on Saturday mornings early enough anyway - they close by noon and since I work full time, Saturdays are usually really busy for me. The larger markets in the area are too far away and inconvenient to get to. Things will improve in my area when the market cooperative opens up their new branch in my my town - looking forward to that.

      I'm trying a CSA for the first time this year to see how that goes. I know I'll get some things that I won't be likely to want or use (I was bit alarmed to see how looong eggplant season is here, lol) but I've got neighbors and co-workers so I expect I'll find someone who is delighted to have some fresh produce for free. I work with quite a few vegetarians, so that will help.

      And the dogs'll eat anything. :)

      1 Reply
      1. re: romansperson

        I've got a cat who loves grilled eggplant. *G* I am longing to try a local CSA but with my schedule I just can't get there for their pickup schedule. I do love our farmers market. We have a booth there with fresh breads and pastries, and running out to give the clerks change and help set up gives me a great opportunity to buy produce while still working. The varieties are amazing - who knew there were so many types of peppers? And oh, those freshly picked cucumbers... heaven.

      2. Why not both? We have a half-share at our CSA that we treat as a sort of base for the week, and we supplant that with other things from the various farmers markets around the city.

        1 Reply
        1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

          i second this idea! this is what we do... and we're planting a garden this year! we fully hope to have too much produce - we can always share with friends and family. :)

        2. I haven't done a CSA and don't think it's for me. Firstly, I like to be able to pick my produce. I'm a bit choosy and don't like to take stuff that I haven't inspected first. That's why I don't do mail-order deliveries like Fresh Direct or call a market and have stuff delivered. Secondly, I'm not really into the odd selections of produce that I get. Some people like that (got a friend who loves airline food because you're forced to eat what they put in front of you). But if I'm in the mood for a potato, I want a potato and don't want too hope that the CSA will give me a potato.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Miss Needle

            a note on produce delivery... i totally agree with you about wanting to chose my food for the same reasons. however, we've used delivery (webvan in the past and more recently, peapod), and we've always been bowled over by the exceptional quality of the produce. in talking with the peapod guy, he says that for the very reason that the customers cannot chose each piece of produce, they work very hard to ensure that all produce delivered is the freshest, highest quality. otherwise no one would be happy!

          2. I did a CSA here in Phoenix last summer. I liked the concept a lot and enjoyed the challenge of cooking what I was given rather than what I chose.

            But...summer was the wrong time to try this out and there wasn't tons of variety(summer isn't prime growing season in the desert obviously). we got REALLY tired of spaghetti squash and armenian cucumber which we were given lots of each week. Also, the quality was a bit hit or miss...again to be fair this was not the best time of year ot be growing things here. I should join for a spring or fall session to better judge on that aspect.

            We don't ahve a great farmers market near our house either. I love good farmer's markets and given the choice would probably stick with that over the CSA. But a good CSA would also be a great way to go. I think you have to think about if you'd be frustrated not having a say in what you're receiving each week.

            Try it for a season and see what you think!

            1. I've always considered doing a CSA in NYC, but haven't pulled the trigger for the reason some people mentioned, I dont want to get stuck with vegetables I dont want or have too many of. Plus, with my work schedule, I don't want to pay for with loads of produce that I can either not pick up or won't be able to use if I have to travel. I like going to farmers markets and get what I want, when I want and when I can use it.

              3 Replies
              1. re: ESNY

                That's pretty much where I've ended up on the issue - I like the idea of a CSA, but my husband pretty much put his foot down on the possibility of ending up w/ loads of vegetables that he doesn't like. Plus, we enjoy going to the farmer's market on Saturday mornings.

                1. re: MMRuth

                  I have never tried a CSA and do all my shopping at a not-so-local, Farmer's Market. Gives me a chance/reason to leave the city.
                  I buy much more than produce there and I am always amazed by how long everything stays fresh, especially things like baked goods and dairy products. Of course, it makes me wonder how old things are that I occasionally have to buy locally.

                  1. re: Tay

                    I've wondered the same thing. I was purchasing eggs from the Union Square Farmers market a few weeks ago and was leaning towards the 6 pack because we were going to be out of town for a few days. The lady steered us towards the dozen eggs because she said they can stay good for up to a month.

                    And just because it's at a farmers market doesn't automatically mean it's high quality stuff. I've seen some really sad-looking fruits and vegetables.

              2. I must say that I very much like both farmers markets and the CSA. I've done both too.

                As for the CSA ... I understand why people wouldn't want to have someone else "choose" their produce for whatever reason. But I think that if you are in with a reputable farmer, you won't get anything that's past its prime or spoiled or damaged or what have you. I always got top quality produce in very good shape. As for getting things you wouldn't necessarily purchase yourself, yes, I agree with many other posters. It was a challenge and sometimes we'd groan "beets again!" But we always chalked that up to part of the learning to live seasonally. By the time we were sick of beets, we stopped getting them. The absence of certain produce has made us yearn for, say, strawberry season and will make those berries taste extra special. My only "complaint" with the CSA is that we got WAY TOO MUCH food for 2 people. When I do it again, I will try to find someone to split it with (our farmer doesn't do 1/2 shares).

                As for the farmers market ... We love our farmers market. The browsing is wonderful and the many farmers represented give us a lot of variety and choices (produce farmers, dairy farmers, pork, eggs, beef, cheese, bakeries, honey, etc.). We can choose more of what we like; on the down side we aren't forced to try anything new this way.

                So in the end, I agree with Barmeyfartheringayphipps -- do both!

                1. I did a trial of the CSA once and while I generally prefer to pick my own veggies, I loved the CSA b/c a) it introduced me to new veggies that I never used before (green garlic, fennel, orach, celery root and other heirlooms. I was just out of grad school, so hadn't done much cooking w/ green garlic, fennel before, even though now they are part of my standard rep.)
                  and b) the box came with recipes, so I also tried a lot of new recipes, which was cool.

                  That said, I have an excellent farmer's market that I go to weekly, and I usu. do a combo of "buying for pre-selected recipes" and "buying what looks good on a whim".

                  With the CSA, it was a lot of food, and required meticulous planning in terms of cooking. I typically cook maybe 2 or 3 times a week-- weekends, and then 1 or 2 nights during the weekdays. But the CSA pretty much means cooking every night. Even the half share is typically too much for 1 person. Also, I would do it if I could do maybe 1 month at a time (like in the summer months when I have more time to be adventurous), but most want an upfront 9 week to 6 month commitment, which is totally reasonable.

                  So I guess for me, I like the farmer's market. I also like getting a visual representation of the subtle gradually changing seasons, and with the FM, even if the weather feels the same almost year-round around here (Bay Area), I can go to the FM and see stuff like green garlic and hail the advent of spring. :)

                  1. I don't even know if they have CSA's around Toronto; I've never heard them advertised. And I love going to farmer's markets. One of my favourite set of photographs was taken at a market in my wife's hometown of Zamboanga in the Philippines. The brilliantly coloured fish and crabs, the wide variety of exotic fruits and vegetables - such a treat. Every vendor was immensely proud of their produce, and they are all beaming in the background. That was a fun day.

                    1 Reply
                    1. If I've correctly understood what a CSA is in America, then we have similar organic "box deliveries" in the UK. There are a couple or so national suppliers. Many more local schemes. We used to get one from a local company but stopped.

                      There were three main issues. First was that it became predictable, particularly in the winter months. I do not necessarily want beetroot every week, for instance. But when I do, I need the right quantity (which was issue 2).

                      The third issue for us was that it was not possible to know country of origin. For moral/political reasons, there are some countries that we do not economically support in any way.

                      So, now, I buy most produce from the village greengrocer. It means I can usually buy fairly local produce (occasionally travelling only a couple of miles) and I am supporting a very local business. It has meant we've had to reduce the amount of organics we buy as they dont carry much of a range.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: Harters

                        With a CSA you buy a share in a farm so the country of origin shoudln't be an issue. In the case of the one we joined we were able to tour the farm anytime we wanted in fact. CSA is the acronym for Community Supported Agriculture so by definition should be a local purveyor. This is different than the commercial boxed produce deliveries which are also available here in States.

                        The way ti should work is how the farm's harvest goes so goes your share. Which reminds me of something that put me off of the CSA we joined...I received an email midsummer that they were having a very abundant season with tomatoes...and if any members wanted extra tomatoes to let them know...with a price for the additional tomatoes.

                        this was my only experience with a CSA though so maybe that's normal. I was just surprised as that wasn't how I understood the concept of the shares.

                        1. re: Harters

                          This is a good, in depth look at the history & practice of CSA's.


                          1. re: Harters

                            Ah. Thanks to both. I hadnt properly understood the concept - and, no, we don't have similar in the UK

                          2. I do both. As others have mentioned, I love the "surprise!" factor of not knowing what will come in the CSA box every week, and I enjoy using the weekends (my CSA pickup is on Fridays) to figure out new things to cook. If I get tired of something or get something I don't like, I share it with friends and neighbors. Participating in a CSA, though, doesn't keep me from going to the Farmers' Market - I still love going there and picking out the veggies and herbs that I know I need and didn't get in my CSA.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: Suzy Q

                              Yes, there's a certain Iron Chef quality to picking up the CSA share that I really enjoy.

                              1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                                I love love love my CSA. It's both a source of joy (I'm always so excited to find out what's in the box this week!) and--believe it or not--a source of stress (worrying how I'm going to use up all that produce so it doesn't go to waste).

                                If you have a CSA, it really helps to have a couple of good cookbooks--like Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone--to help you figure out how to put all your vegetables to use, even the familiar ones. I get a bag of carrots a week during CSA season--at some point, I need NEW ideas for what to do with carrots. And, I do find I spent a lot of time googling for recipes for using unfamiliar vegetables.

                                Also, it helps to have a strategy for dealing with your produce. Just like having an abundant vegetable garden, you have to figure out ways of using up your excess. About half way through our CSA this year, we decided to shred and freeze (in 2 cup increments) the 5-6 zucchini/week we were getting. It doesn't sound like a lot, but after week 5 or 6, trying to use up 5-6 zucchini AND 5-6 cucumbers per week on top of everything else in the box was overwhelming.

                                The frozen zucchini was such a delight to use all winter (we put it in soups and stews and pasta sauces etc.) I wish we'd done more of it because we ran out of it in mid-winter.

                                Same with onions--we were getting 5-6/ week, so, I chopped them and frozen them in half cup increments. Again, I wish I'd done more.

                                Next year, we plan to shred and freeze our carrots and use them the way we used the zucchini. And we plan to shred and/or dice our potatoes and freeze them.

                                The one thing that bums me out about my CSA, though, is we don't really have a need to go to farmers markets for produce anymore. Sure we can go for eggs and cheese and such, but it's not as much as shopping for produce.


                                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                  Do you do a winter CSA as well? We did this year and we got PLENTY of onions, shallots, cippolini, carrots, potatoes (several varieties), along with all the roots, squash and such. So there was no need to save the stuff from over the summer/fall.

                                  1. re: LNG212

                                    The CSAs here all stop when the ground freezes--November'ish. They all resume again in late May/early June about 6-8 weeks after the ground thaws (which is about now.)

                                    So, there's no real point to a "winter" CSA here unless you'd rather they store the produce in their basement instead of you storing it in yours... Either way, it was harvested in fall.


                            2. I tried a CSA last year, but ended up wanting alittle more variety each week and supplementing it with trips to the farmer's market. Since I live in the country, and work in the city, I was picking my share up in the city. This year I decided just to go with the farmer's market, and farm stands near my house, and save the CSA shares for the city folk....the CSA I had joined sells out shares every year, so now someone else can enjoy a share!