Questions for the Farmer's Market

One of the best things I have ever done is join a farm share. My co-worker Carrie asked me to join her one day when she was picking up her produce. I met the farmers and signed up for the Fall season the very next day. I have been part that same farm share, or CSA, for the past six years and have gotten to know my farmers very well. One of the things that continues to surprise me is how many questions I still get about how a farm share works. Here is a bit of info to get you started next time you visit the farmer's market or if you are researching farm shares.

Where is the farm? This question is important because it usually leads you to whether or not the person selling the produce is the actual farmer. At many farm stands, the produce is picked up from various locations by a middle man who takes a cut of the profits. In some cases this hurts the farmer who grew the produce. In many cases, it hurts the actual farmer set up at the table next to them.

At a farmers market - are they he farmer growing it? If not, you have a middle man making money and you aren't necessarily supporting the farmer. The boom in the farm fresh movement has actually made things harder for farmers. Go to the same market table repeatedly - if you spread out your shopping, then none of the farms really make enough to cover the cost of being at the market. Be loyal. I you invest in one farmer, you can help them to continue to serve you. They often have to pay a flat rate (plus sometimes a percentage 6-10%) to be there. If you have the option, farm stands or picking up at the actual farm are better for the bottom line. 

Do they offer more than veggies? Milk, cheese, eggs, fruit? Does the produce come from one farm - my CSA contracts out cheese and corn from neighboring farms. I don't mind this because I know that this model supports neighbors and offers greater variety in the share.

If you are looking to join a farm share or CSA, you might notice some cost significantly more. If you are curious, ask. Don't just rule out a farm share based on price. The vast majority of shares are just vegetables. Mine costs more than most, but it includes fruit, and occasionally baked goods, homemade honey, and dairy.  The basket above is roughly $40 worth of produce - this is a far better price than what I could get at the grocery store or individually buying things from separate farm stands.

Fruit is a hot topic. A CSA with fruit costs more because fruit costs a lot more to grow. A farmer needs to make a 5-10 years investment in trees before there is enough fruit to bring to market.  Also note that most tree will be sprayed, since trees are such a huge investment and are susceptible to disease. If you don't want spray on your produce, you should probably avoid most fruit.

What is their favorite thing to grow? This tells you a great deal about your farmer. Oliver works the farm stand when I pick up my CSA. His favorite items to grow are heirloom tomatoes and eggplant.  When I have a question about either of these, I am not much more inclined to ask Oliver since I know this is an area of farming where he is more passionate.

Is it too late? No, Fall is one of the best season's for farm shares, vegetables are hearty and plentiful. If you haven't joined a farm share, fall is a great season to test the waters.

Do you participate in a farm share?
Do you buy produce from a farmers market on a weekly basis?
Or are you lucky enough to purchase onsite from the farm directly?

I would love to hear your thoughts.
Do you have any other questions?

I post about my farm share experience using the hashtag #CSAinspired.

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