The Tragic Optimist

CSA and farmer’s markets

Gus commented that he and his wife were thinking about doing a CSA, but weren’t sure about how that would fit budget-wise with still going to a farmer’s market.  I was going to reply, but it felt like maybe a separate post.

Chris and I love hitting the farmers’ markets here in the cities.  There are a lot to choose from – from the tiny one 6 blocks away to the huge ones in the two downtowns.  I love wandering the stalls and looking at the beautiful produce, I love the serendipity of seeing a gorgeous piece of produce and finding inspiration for a meal.  I love that it’s not just producers, but bakers and cheesemakers and chocolatiers (ooooh, the chocolatiers) and butchers and plant sellers, and artists, and they’re all giving out samples.  I don’t love the happens only in the mornings on weekends thing, but Zoe’s not a sleeper-inner, so it’s less of an issue now.  But our trips to the farmers’ markets have dramatically dropped since starting a CSA for a couple of reasons.  The biggest reason was that our pick up day was on a Tuesday, and the farmers’ markets we go to are on weekends.  So Tuesday comes, we get our produce and start planning for using it.  If there is still produce we need, we were left either heading to the grocery store to pick something up, or waiting 4 days for the weekend.  And on the weekend, we were always a little gunshy about buying much produce at the farmers’ market.  Sure, we might need garlic right now, but what if the next delivery comes with 4 heads of garlic?  So we’d only buy a small amount rather than stocking up.  One of the things that tipped us in favor of the new CSA that we chose is that the pick up is on a Friday, so we can plan our menus to include a weekend farmers’ market trips much more easily.  (As an aside, our old CSA moved to Thursday, which would have made life easier, but since I have Fridays off, too, that makes the Friday pick up even better for us).

As for the financial side.  We never did a really close accounting.  It would be hard to quantify exactly how much we spend per week at a farmers’ market since we both tend to operate on a what-looks-awesome rather than strict money amount basis.  But in general, we didn’t spend more on the CSA than we did on farmers’ market purchases, but one thing with the CSA is that it made us try vegetables that we might not have tried.  And it was a bit more convenient to just stop by and pick up a box of veggies for those weeks that we really didn’t have time for shopping.  But I do think it could fit well in a family’s budget to do a CSA and supplement with produce from a farmers’ market.

The thing that really makes me a big supporter of the CSA model is that I can make sure that I’m investing in a farm.  I’m helping them with upfront money to do their farming, and I am sharing in their risk because I firmly believe that small farms are important to our economy and environment, and that they need financial support.  While I do have farms that I’m more likely to support at a farmers’ market, if they have a bad year and do not produce as well as they needed to, I’m honestly not likely to just hand them cash to help them cover their losses.  But with the CSA, I’m kind of doing that.

The add-ons for some of the farmshares sound pretty cool, too, though we haven’t done any of that.  Our farm offers add-ons for strawberries or flowers.  One of my coworkers raises chickens for eggs, so we just buy ours from him.

Has anyone else successfully combined CSA with farmers’ market visits?  It’s what we’ll be trying this year.  Oh, and anyone want to weigh in on “farmers market” vs “farmers’ market” vs “farmers’ market”?  I used the latter since the markets all seem to be there for multiple farmers, but it doesn’t look right.



  1. Gus

    Thanks! The other issue we’re balancing is how much production we’ll get from our garden. Still, the CSA we’re looking at has two levels: Family of 4 and Family of 2. I figure we go for the family of 2, and see what happens. Our pickup day would be Wednesday, so it’s split right down the middle.

    And I’m gonna go with Farmers’ Market as correct, even though I tend to spell it Farmer’s Market most of the time.

  2. I can’t say I have anything particular to add about how to balance the Farmers’ Market with the CSA basket…We used to have one literally one house over from us in a vacant/parking lot, and we tended to just buy whatever looked especially good and complemented our basket. Our CSA day was Wed. and the market was on Friday so we didn’t go to crazy purchasing since we’d end up with far too much all at once. Last year we just juggled our market visits with co-op shopping to supplement our CSA basket. Currently we just operate with whatever my FIL is growing here on the “farm”. 🙂 That means lots of cabbage right now!

  3. i wish the farmers market here was closer to us. there is only one and it is FAR away and it is hard to make it out there, so i don’t really go. i would love to though, maybe when Twinkle gets here we will do more farmers market shopping!

  4. Angela Heffernan

    Hi Ann — Toronto has been fabulous for farmers’ markets — I think if you live in the city, you probably have a market you can walk to — and there a many, many on the transit (not many of us have cars!) These are spread across the week and held at different times, so that you can usually find one you can get to — not just in the morning! Because there is so much choice, the markets develop their own personalities and reasons for going — they become small communities in their own right. As you said, one of the benefits is you can buy fresh eggs, and fresh cheese, and bread, and for us, meat — all to supplement the CSA. Sadly, we’ve had less luck here with the CSAs here — despite the potential of a decent agricultural community. Many of them miss the point and often act as distributors rather than small farmers (bananas from South America might show up in your box, proudly bearing an organic sticker.) While you find this at many urban farmers’ markets, as well, at least you have the choice to move on to the next stall. With a CSA, you’ve signed up and committed to support a group — and if I want bananas, I can go to the grocery store. Many have also gotten into the business of sending out order forms which allow you to choose which vegetables you want. I found one of the joys of the CSAs in MInnesota was figuring out how to cook all that kale! Now that we live close to several markets that have fresh, local veggies, in combination with the farmers’ markets, we may drop the CSA this summer.

  5. katherined

    I, too, go with the what-looks-awesome method of shopping at the market!

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