Farmers markets nationwide have seen a resurgence as communities increasingly want locally grown and produced (as well as organic) food. Farmers markets typically consist of individual vendors—mostly farmers—setting up booths, tables and stands to sell produce, meats and sometimes prepared foods directly to consumers. Crafts, flowers and other local products are often featured, too. Most markets are seasonal and usually take place during summer and fall months at set times, dates and locations (indoors and outdoors). Sizes can range from several stands in a parking lot to a festival-like atmosphere occupying full city blocks.
Buying from a farmers market provides a range of benefits for communities, farmers and consumers alike. Selling locally allows farmers to pick produce at the peak of flavor, giving consumers fresher, higher-quality seasonal foods than they would likely be able to find at a supermarket. Those selling meats, eggs and other animal products often have organic options (many markets encourage this). Farmers can set fair prices, remove middlemen and cut down on the cost of fuel by not having to transport their food great distances.
Farmers markets create closer social and economic ties between urban and rural farming populations that are often cut by predominant methods of centralized food distribution. Shopping at markets (and shopping locally in general) keeps more money circulating through a community's economy. Local vendors and farmers spend significantly more money making purchases from other local businesses, farms and service providers, resulting in higher incomes, additional jobs and a strengthened local economic base.
But aside from economic benefits, farmers markets can simply be a great place to spend part of a day out with family and friends enjoying the atmosphere—and returning home with some quality local food.
CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture)
While not as well-known as farmers markets, community-supported agriculture (CSA or CSAs) is becoming another popular alternative for communities wanting to gain access to locally grown organic food. Essentially CSAs are a membership system where a grower sells a set number of shares at the beginning of the growing season and once harvesting begins, members receive a weekly share of the proceeds. These consist mainly of vegetables and fruits, though many CSAs also offer eggs, meats, flowers and honey.
CSAs vary widely in size; some are small backyard farms in urban areas, supporting 30-40 members, while others are large family farms in rural locations.
This is how it works: CSAs typically have websites that tell you the terms and walk you through the process for joining. There are a variety of ways that CSAs get your shares to you. Be sure it's what works for you before signing up. Most often, members go to designated pick-up locations on specific days. Some CSAs deliver. Others you pick up straight from the farm—a great way to see where your food comes from but entails a drive.
What's great about CSAs is that it gives members the advantage of knowing exactly where and how their food is grown. Most use organic practices and avoid pesticides. And on the other end, growers benefit by receiving payment early in the season which helps the farm's cash flow. It's inspiring to see a growing popularity with CSAs across the country in both rural and urban communities. Better eating for everyone!
Not all CSAs may currently have shares available, but many of them turn over by the season. It's always a good time to get in line for your grower of choice.