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Q & A: Community Gardens, CSAs & Farmer’s Markets

Happy May! It’s hard to believe that we’re entering the heart of spring and already starting to think forward to summer and the bounty that is to come.

We’ve talked quite a bit about home gardening in the last couple of months, and now I want to switch gears and think about the other ways that we can get fresh produce, especially this time of year, such as community gardens, CSAs and farmer’s markets.

This month we’ll be talking about some of these topics and today I wanted to tap into our amazing community to hear about your thoughts and experiences with these venues. If you have experience with any of these ways of buying produce, I’d love to hear how it has impacted you and your family (and your kids if you have them).

Photo by daquellamanera

Community Gardens

Last year, Stephanie Langford wrote an awesome overview of what community gardens are and why you might want to consider joining one. This year, I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments if you’ve been a part of a community garden.

Here are some questions to get you thinking about your experiences:

  • What made you look into joining a community garden?
  • Was it expensive to join?
  • Did you need to get on a waiting list?
  • How much space did you get?
  • What did you grow?
  • What were your experiences with the gardeners?
  • Have you continued using the garden?
  • What impact did you see the garden having on the community?


We’ve mentioned CSAs quite a bit on Simple Organic already, including Katie Fox’s great overview, CSA: Community Supported Agriculture and my own experiences talking about farm visits.

I’m looking forward to sharing a little bit with you this month about what I’ve learned being a CSA member for the last few years, but today I’d love to hear your experiences about things such as:

  • Is your CSA year-round or seasonal?
  • How has belonging to a CSA impacted your eating/cooking?
  • What’s the most unique item you’ve received in a box?
  • What’s your relationship with the farm like? Have you visited it?
  • What have you learned about produce and farming by being a member?
  • How does the price of belonging to a CSA compare to grocery shopping for you?

Photo by empracht

Farmer’s Markets

Ever since I joined a CSA, I spend less time at farmer’s markets, but I still thoroughly enjoy them, for the face-to-face contact with the farmers and also for the full experience that they offer.  I love this nostalgic post written by Katie Kimball last year and this helpful guide by Amy Thompson on getting the most out of your farmer’s markets.

Here are some questions to get you thinking about your own experiences with farmer’s markets:

  • Is your local farmer’s market seasonal or year-round?
  • How are the prices compared to supermarket produce?
  • Do you have access to other local goods besides produce?
  • What else do you enjoy about farmer’s markets besides buying produce?
  • Can you find organic produce grown locally?
  • Do most of your farmers come from the local area?

Keep in mind that my questions are just some kindling to get you thinking. I’d love to hear about any of your experiences with community gardens, CSAs and farmer’s markets. If you have a more lengthy comment on your experiences, feel free to send me an email instead of leaving a comment here!

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  1. Kristen T.

    We are members of a CSA here in ABQ. My husband and I do a workshare, so we are at the farm together for 1-1/2 hours every Saturday doing a variety of farm-y things. In exchange, we get half off the weekly price of the “harvest box”. I love getting delicious, organic, local produce for our family. As far as how we eat, I’ve learned to eat more “simply” and just enjoy the flavors of our veggies without feeling the need to add in a bunch of extra “stuff”.

  2. Kristen T.

    Oh, also…our CSA is year-round. I also wanted to add that actually working in the fields pulling weeds with your bare hands brings a whole new appreciation for the food you are eating! 🙂

  3. shenna

    I joined a CSA early this year because of a Groupon promotion. I like this CSA for several reasons: it is all local and organic, they deliver TO my door, I can schedule the deliveries as often as I need them (I do every other week and can cancel a delivery without payment penalty if I’ll be out of town), they have several different styles of boxes to choose from (small family, large family, mostly fruit, etc) and I can see a few days ahead on their website what will be in the box to help with my meal planning. I find that the CSA box prompts me to eat a greater variety of fruits and veggies – rather than just buying the familiar things at the Farmer’s Market. We used to have a Farmer’s Market about 1 mile from our home. I went to that often. Then it moved to another location – about 10 miles away – I haven’t been there since the move. With my busy lifestyle – convenience is more important than cost savings – so this organic CSA box is really fitting our needs. I do have a nice backyard garden – so when it is producing well this summer, I’ll put my CSA deliveries on hold for a couple of months.

  4. Living the Balanced Life

    I am so glad you posted this. I had heard of CSAs but couldn’t remember that they were called. I definitely want to look into it. We have actually planted some container gardens this year but would love ways to find some other locally grown stuff.
    Local farmer markets are becoming more and more popular so I am going to try and see what they have available this year.

  5. Krissa

    I’ve been using a CSA for the last year… (CA). I love it! I’ve been introduced to so many new vegetables that I would probably never have tried on my own, but have loved! I think our family eats way more fruits and veggies due to being in a CSA. It’s also taught my kids more about different types of produce, and it’s a fun outing each week (or every other week) to pick up our box.

  6. Aimee @ Simple Bites

    We’re putting in raised beds on Saturday! Our new home came with 1/3 acre, but no garden plot. I’m so excited!

    The plan is to grow lots of herbs, salad greens, a few roots vegetables, peppers and tomatoes. Food that takes up much more space (squash, corn, potatoes) we will continue to get at local markets.

    Bring on the summer!

  7. Christine

    We used a CSA the past two years. I’m sad to not be able to do it this summer, but we’re moving.

    Ours was seasonal, June through Sept and we paid ahead. It was great. The kids loved coming with me to pick up the box and then would haul out all our “treats” – not that my 2/3 year old ever tasted any of them, but he’s just picky. My 1 year old loved it and ate most of the strawberries before we would get home.

    Belonging to a CSA made us center our meals during the summer around vegetables often and also helped us to learn to cook new things. My caution is that it takes a lot of time to have a CSA. Not the pickup/dropoff, but the meal planning and recipe trying. Jerusalem artichoke? Not on my usual grocery list. Beet greens? Didn’t know what to do with those either. so there’s a lot of experimenting and trying new things and looking up recipes, but this also means that cooking and prep and cleanup take more time. It’s just not something to sign up for during a major life change (don’t plan to give birth and then cook from your CSA 2 weeks later). It also means it’s hard to just have a week where you don’t cook. Then your veggies go bad. No fun.

    It’s about the same price as the grocery, but you get what you get, so that’s not a direct comparison. I still had to go buy fruit every week at the store.

    We got to know our farmer really well. She’s very sweet. We never went to her farm per se, but grandma and grandpa live on land, so we go to farms all the time. It made for a great relationship.

    All in all, I think it’s a great way to cook, eat, relate to people. I will miss it this summer. Maybe next summer we’ll be able to start again. Oooh!! I just remembered I’m moving to california, I bet they have strawberries in February! Sorry – I live near Canada right now.

    • Nicole

      I’m in Southern California and our strawberries started showing up probably in late march or early April. But the great thing for us is, our CSA is year-round!

  8. Anne

    Love this topic. We live in Louisville, KY which has tons of farmers’ markets and CSA options–and we’ve done several CSAs over the years.

    On CSAs:
    Everyone should participate in a CSA at least once! It stretches you to try new things and makes you branch out in ways you wouldn’t have otherwise. Kohlrabi, swiss chard, garlic scapes and purple carrots are foods we now love, but we never would have sampled if they hadn’t appeared in our CSA basket.

    BUT–I will never do a CSA again during any season when we have an infant! Fresh food has to be tended to immediately, and there are some weeks when I do not want to spend the time shucking peas, or cleaning and trimming greens, or putting up salsa before my 6 pounds of fresh tomatoes go bad.

    My market opens this weekend–can’t wait!

    • Sarah G

      I love this advice! I have a 10 month old and was feeling like participating in a CSA would just be too much right now (my parents used one, so I’m pretty familiar with how much work it entails). So we’ve been going to the farmers market instead. It’s a great mommy/son outing and I still get lots of fresh produce : )

  9. Larissa

    Hi Nicole,
    I personally started doing my shopping at the local farmer’s market. Haven’t got the chance to join neither the CSA’s nor the community gardens, but I would like to some day. Our farmer’s market is a quite expensive compared to the supermarket produce, most of the produce is organic and the smell of it is amazing!!!! it smells real 🙂
    Thank you!

  10. priest's wife

    We are blessed to have a community garden within walking distance and a CSA! Veggies, je t’aime!

  11. Kim

    I am part of a co-op of families that buys from our state farmer’s market (in SC). We buy certain staple items year round (onions, potatoes, grapes, peppers, carrots, lettuce, etc.) from wholesalers and we get a great price plus the produce is much fresher than in the grocery store. Sometimes it is local, but not always. We also have a changing seasonal list. These items are almost always from local farmers, and we get great prices on those too. I always buy a large quantity of strawberries and peaches when they are in season locally and freeze them.

    Last year I supplemented my co-op produce (we meet every 3 weeks) with produce from several smaller farmers markets around town. I loved meeting the farmers and learning about their methods. Not to mention that some folks are willing to cut you a deal when you are a friendly, loyal customer. My favorite items to get from the local markets are tomatoes, corn, and peaches, because I like to pick them out myself. There are also farmers who sell free range eggs, grass fed meat, and local honey – score! As far as I know all of the farms are local and some of them are even organic (even though some of them are not certified as such).

    • Nicole

      I’ve never heard of a state farmer’s market– your co-op sounds really neat!

  12. Anita

    We haven’t found a CSA near us yet. Although we talked to a farmer who was interested in starting one. I am actually starting a small garden in my own back yard this year. I live in a small farm town and just about everyone around me has a garden going in their backyard.

    We have a seasonal farmers market, it goes from April to October. I love going because it’s small and I get my eggs there.

    Also because I live in a small farming town, our MFA has a lady who sells her fresh free-range eggs year round and our local grocers also sell local in season produce, which is sweet.

  13. Hannah

    I’ve just restarted my farmer’s market habit after reading Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.” I’d fallen off the wagon a bit, but am now freshly resolved to organized our eating more around what’s seasonal for our area.

    For several months, we’ve subscribed to a service that’s a little like a CSA, but it draws from a bunch of area farms and delivers to us a weekly (or biweekly) “local box,” with whatever is fresh and in season that week. This forces me to get out of my “veggie rut” (at the grocery store, I tend to buy the same 4-5 veggies all the time) and experiment with produce I never knew existed! Fortunately, the company provides recipe ideas on the packing list. The sauteed bok choy we had with dinner tonight was truly scrumptious!

  14. Kristen M.

    Hi Nicole,
    Weve never met in person but not too long ago on twitter we determined that we belong to the same CSA. One positive outcome has been that my picky sweet-toothed 7 year old has become increasingly willing to try new foods from the CSA box and farmer’s market. We sometimes give each family member $10 to purchase lunch. Last time we did this my son purchased a “green” smoothie. Crazy!

    • Nicole

      Hi Kristen! Maybe we’ll see you at the annual farm visit this year! I love hearing about your picky one becoming a better eater. It still trips me out seeing my daughter devour a serving of sauteed swiss chard. 🙂

      • Kristen M.

        Hi Nicole. The farm tour was a family highlight last summer. We will definitely be attending next month.

  15. Elle

    This is our first season and we’re already noticing a difference with how meals are arranged. It used to be we planned the meal and worked backwards for the shopping list. Now we look at what we have in the pantry and refrigerator and try to figure out how to incorporate as many ingredients as we can.

    We’re pretty low key when it comes to cooking so it’s interesting to receive our box and look online for recipes to try out. While it’s a bit more work preparing meals for the the week, it’s more enjoyable as well.

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