Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Eating Local: Farmers Market or CSA?

Chestertown farmers Market 2012Our region offers a plentiful range of opportunities to buy locally produced food.  Every May I write about the opening of the farmers markets in Northern New York. Each year Adirondack Harvest spends the better part of a week tracking down all the farmers markets in the North Country. We update days, times, locations, market managers, websites, and contact information.

For 2013, we’ve compiled a list of 65 markets across 14 counties. That’s up a bit from 2012, but not a lot. The market numbers are leveling off, probably due to a couple of factors. One reason is that the farmers are already selling at as many markets as they can handle. The other may be the rise in community supported agriculture (CSA) farms.

Both farmers markets and CSAs have been gaining in popularity as the local food movement continues to grow, but which one is right for you and your family?

There are pros and cons to each. Farmers markets offer the convenience of many vendors and an excellent variety of products. In addition to all the delectable edibles, there are usually local crafts, bedding plants and other items for sale.

The market is a great place to hang out with your neighbors and support the local economy. If you have access to at least one, or, better, several great farmers markets each week, and you have time to shop and gather everything you need, farmers markets might be your best bet. You also get to choose only what you like so you are less likely to throw out unwanted produce. And, because you are not paying the farmer ahead of time, farmers markets may feel like a less risky option.

That said, many CSAs are functioning more like farmers markets with free choice of whatever is in season each week. The growers really listen to what their customers want and expect in their shares. CSA lets the farmer do less marketing in the busy summertime, setting up accounts during the slower winter months and planning to keep your weekly basket filled all summer long (and possibly spring, fall and winter!)

Busy families may prefer the convenience of a CSA: o trying to schedule in a visit to the market when life gets hectic. It may just take a quick stop by the farm on pick-up day, or, even better, a delivery to your worksite or other nearby location.

I know, too, that many people really love the variety of produce they get in their CSA share, saying it has forced them to try new foods: pleasant, delicious discoveries. When you’re a member of a CSA you can feel like you’re a part of the farm, becoming friends with the farmers, really learning their growing methods and possibly even doing some work to help out. Last week I heard the children of one member refer to their CSA as “their farm” – what a great experience for the kids!

All in all, both are terrific, and some people never completely choose one over the other. CSA members often supplement with trips to the farmers market. You need to find what works best for you – and we hope that involves making local food a mainstay at your table.

Visit www.adirondackharvest.com for a complete current listing of North Country farmers markets and CSAs.

Photo: The Chestertown Farmer’s Market. Established in 2012.

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Laurie Davis

Laurie Davis is an Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Essex County and is the Coordinator for Adirondack Harvest.

For more information on agriculture in Northern New York, visit the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Northern New York website at www.ccenny.com and www.nnyagdev.org or call 518-962-4810.

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