My local CSAs (community supported agriculture or community shared agriculture) are finishing sign-up for the season this week. I’ve also heard local radio covering our farmers’ market preparations for the year, though my local farmer’s market doesn’t actually open until June. It’s a bit early for planting out in my climate, since we only finished having freak snow storms a couple of weeks ago, but I can hear all of the talk about local food building up to summer season.
With community supported agriculture, you buy a share of whatever is harvested by the farm in a particular week. There is not usually a guarantee that you will receive a minimum amount of produce. By buying a share in a season’s harvest you share the risk and the benefit. If there is a bumper crop, you share in that as well.
In the early sprint you buy shares, then each week from summer through fall you receive produce from the farm. Some farms have community events and shares in labor (you pick) while others have weekly home or central-location delivery. Some farms are veg only while others include fruit; some also include dairy and meat. Each farm is different in what and how it operates.
The best CSA I was ever involved in welcomed my family to not only pick our own produce but to take as much as we wanted when there was more produce than they could comfortably distribute. We loved picking apples and walking through the farm.
Like CSAs, farmers’ markets allow you, the eater, to get to know the people who grow the food you eat. The distribution chain is very short. You eat food that was grown locally and picked recently, often the day before you buy it at the market.
With a farmers’ market, though, you see the produce before you buy. The great benefit of a farmers’ market is seeing a big variety of produce available all in one place. If you want the best choice, you have to arrive early.
Some farmers’ markets also include non-farm products (crafts, for example) or entertainment. My farmers’ market is like a weekly festival.
Farmers’ Market Resources
Farmers’ Markets Ontario (Ontario only)
U.S. Department of Agriculture Farmers’ Market Search (U.S.)
When you build a relationship with a farmer through a CSA or a farmers’ market, you eat fresh food in season and, especially when you get much more of a crop than expect, you learn to preserve food. Focusing on local foods tends to encourage us to focus on seasonal foods, which keeps our food miles and the overall impact of our eating lower.
Local / Seasonal Eating Resources
Rodale Institute Farm Locator (Canada & U.S.)
Eat Well Guide to farms, markets, and restaurants (Canada & U.S.)
National Sustainable Agriculture Directory (U.S.)
Foodland Ontario seasonal availability guide (Ontario only)
Canadian Organic Growers Search (Canada)
Slow Food International (includes links to national organizations)
Natural Resources Defense Council Food Miles search