CSA Versus Farmer's Markets in Fairfield County [moved from Tristate board]
What would be the difference if you are buying from farms at all the farmer's markets from the local areas versus being a part of a CSA? I love the farm fresh thing but for $20 per week with the CSA for two people sounds like a little bit more than I might need but I want to be more informed. Please let me know what your thoughts are please. Thanks
A CSA isn't for everyone. As others have pointed out, you may not have choice over what you get (my fruit/veggie CSA allows some choice, and some items are required parts of your "take" - my meat CSA gives no choice, although I can buy "extras" in addition to my prepaid share - some CSAs let you go pick in the fields... my friend in Vermont can basically take whatever she wants if she'll go out and pick it.) For me, this has been more of a benefit than an obstacle- for example, I've been forced to eat more leafy greens than I'd ever been exposed to and now I really enjoy chard, kale and kohlrabi and look forward to the times they are offered in my take. But when the season is going hot and heavy, I'll admit some things end up in the compost pile because I can't always keep up with it.
With a CSA, you share the farmer's risk. You pre-pay, up front, for your share. If it's a bad season because of weather or other conditions, you're going to get less than you had expected. Particularly in those situations, you'll probably not be realizing a savings. Conversely, if it's a great season, you'll get more than you expected.
If you are a supporter of small farms, though, you should give a CSA serious consideration. Because the farmer has a guaranteed income stream that comes in before most of his/expenses, he's in a much better position to be able to meet expenses and continue farming. He's also more able to take risks and plant crops that he's not sure of a market for... this is one of the ways that heirloom produce has come back into the foodstream.
Overall, I don't think a CSA is the right choice if your #1 concern is keeping your costs down, but if other factors are as important to you, then it's worth a try for a season. I think I'd be wary of a CSA from a farmer who has a large farmer's market presence, unless I was assured that the CSA shares got the best produce and the rest went to farmer's market. You can see a great listing of CSAs at www.localharvest.org
re: Chris VR
There are some open CSAs in Fairfield County. Westport GVI has one, farmshare.com delivers to Greenwich and others I posted about in my comprehenhsive CSA guide might still be open. Southport is now closed with a waiting list. If a CSA doesn't allow you enough choice, try ctffe.com where you place your order online and it's delivered to your home on Friday. You pick what you want each week from local farms and Deb picks your order and has a driver deliver it for $15 extra. I get my first order on Friday, which includes grass fed meat, cheese, organic eggs and produce, and pasta sauce. My CSA from Southport (Stoneledge Farm) starts in June and I'm told we're getting emails from the farm so we know what's coming along with recipes to help us get more creative.
We've been part of the Fort Hill Farm CSA for three years. I think IrishNYC called it pretty close to how we see it.
In terms of value, the CSA is a better deal than the farmer's market. The difference is that with a CSA you get what you get. Sometimes you get something that you're not sure how to handle, but you've got to figure it out. This has expanded our horizons a bit. I consider myself expert at ways to cook Kale, for example, which I couldn't say before joining.
The thing we like the best about our CSA is the surprise of seeing what's in the box. I bring it home and our kids tear through it, trying stuff. Some of their friends make a point of coming over on delivery day for dinner.
I shopped at farmer's markets a lot before we joined, but I find that we're eating much better now with the CSA, both health-wise and in terms of creativity. I couple of times a week I try and make something with just whatever is in the box and some grains (loaf of bread, couscous, noodles, rice, etc.) and some cheese or dairy.
I also wonder if there is a CSA that has open shares right now. I think Fort Hill has at least a 3 year wait, last I checked.
I'm not in Fairfield, but your post caught my eye. I used to be a member of a CSA here in NYC, and it was very worthwhile for us. I could easily spend $50/week at a farmers market vs. the cost of the CSA. It's as simple as figuring out what you spend. The downside is that you don't get a choice of what you get every week, which often left us overloaded on summer squash, or with a vegetable we didn't know what to do with - but we learned, and we learned to like a lot of things we'd never tried before because of it. We also found that we got a lot more for our dollar with a CSA than from the farmer's market.