Buying Farm-Fresh Food

Shopping at one of the 2,500 farmers' markets in the US is an enriching experience.

Elizabeth Coleman November 26, 2010

Luminous pyramids of apples and pears are mounded precariously atop a rough hewn wooden table. Nearby, delicate stalks of asparagus, thin as my pinky finger, stand tall, bound in bundles next to the sleek, firm piles of baby zucchini and yellow squash. At a neighboring stand, bouquets of sunflowers and asters propped in buckets command attention. The aroma of freshly baked bread wafts down the aisle as I stop at each stand to check out the uncommon fruits and vegetables each has to offer and to chat with the farmer about her wares.

Yes, shopping at one of the 2,500 farmers' markets in the United States is an enriching experience. The produce is as fresh as can be—usually picked within 24 hours of when you buy it—and tastier than you'll find in a supermarket because it can ripen on the vine, not in a truck on its way to you from a far-off farm. Also, many organic farmers sell their crops at farmer's markets. And buying directly from the farmer supports the local economy and helps to preserve open spaces in your community.

Each market has it's own eclectic array of offerings and distinctive atmosphere.

For the best selection at a farmer's market, shop early in the morning. Make the rounds each time you visit to see who has what, and bring your basket or canvas bag. And if you won't be going straight home, bring a cooler to keep your purchases fresh.

They are sociable places where regulars are often known by name. The festive atmosphere at many farmers' markets recalls an earlier time when the local market was a neighborhood gathering place. Below you'll see some links to help you find a market near you and to immerse yourself in the sounds, smells, and textures of your local farmers' market.

 

You can also tap into your local organic food sources through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms and food co-ops. All three options actively build a sense of community, encourage stewardship of the land, and eliminate costly long-distance distribution systems. They deliver produce from field to table often within hours, as opposed to the days or even weeks supermarket produce may spend in transit. And they keep food dollars in the local economy.

Find A Farmers' Market Near You

USDA farmer's market directory
At the U.S. Department of Agriculture's web site, you can click on "farmers markets" and then on "find a farmers market in your state." This will take you to a map of the USA from which you can access a lengthy list of farmers' markets for each state including the U.S. Virgin Islands. How's that for comprehensive?

starchefs.com
In the section "Farm Fresh Markets" you can search by state for farmers' markets near you. Whether you live in New York City, Baton Rouge, or Anchorage, there are markets closer than you may think just brimming with fresh local produce for your table.

farmersmarketonline.com
If there isn't a market close to you, order online. Visit this site for a direct link to producers. It offers Produce, Health & Beauty, Meat & Fish, as well as Crafts & Gifts, Farm & Garden Supply items and more. Have your purchases delivered to your door.

Northeast Organic Farming Association
The NOFA Website has a list of certified organic farms in each state in the Northeast. It is conveniently broken down by county so you can quickly and conveniently locate a local source of organic produce. Pennsylvania residents, look under New Jersey where there are several PA farms listed.

Farmers' Markets in Ontario
If you live in or plan to visit Ontario stop by the Farmers' Markets Ontario website. This easy to navigate site provides information on the more than 100 farmers' markets in the region.

Pacific Coast Farmers' Market Association
If you live in the San Francisco Bay area, check out the Pacific Coast Farmers' Market Association for 60 certified farmers' markets. This site includes a list of local organic farmers and where and when to pick up their produce.

Southland Farmers' Market Association
Another option for Californians is to stop by the Southland Farmers' Market Association homepage where you can request a directory of its member markets.

Food Emporium
For New York State residents this site offers a fabulous variety of gourmet foods from cheeses to organic produce to organic free range poultries and natural and organic meats. You can call ahead with your order and it will be waiting for you.

Find a CSA Near You
Community supported agriculture

Joining a CSA farm is like buying a "share" in that farm's harvest. You pay in advance and you receive a weekly box full of fresh vegetables and fruit (and sometimes flowers, eggs, and meat), delivered from the farm right to your door or a convenient drop-off location. By paying in advance (average shares run between $300 and $600), shareholders help the farmer raise the cash for seeds and supplies, and they also share the farmer's risk. In good years the farmer grows more and the shareholders get more; in lean years, less. Some farms sell straight subscriptions; others ask customers to help out for a certain number of hours each month in exchange for a reduced subscription fee. There are now more than 1,000 Community Supported Farms (or CSAs) across the United States and Canada, many of which are completely organic.

Alternative Farming Systems Information Center
This site hosts acomprehensive database of national state-by-state CSA farms.

Local Harvest
This site has a easy access zipcode search as well as a newsletter which lists sources for farmers markets, family farms, food coops, and restaurants in your area.

Robyn Van En Center for CSA Resources
This site hosts a comprehensive listing of CSA farms across the USA. The information is broken down by state for quick and easy access.

Biodynamics.com
This site links to the USDA's CSA farm database and has lots of background information on CSA farms.

Find a Co-op Near You
Food co-ops

If you want reliable access to affordable high quality, fresh, local, organic produce and natural products, consider joining a food cooperative. A co-op is a buyers' club of sorts. Unlike a CSA farm, it is an actual store that stocks a variety of goods from produce to natural beauty products. Members buy "shares" of the business to provide the capital necessary to run the co-op effectively. Members are then granted discounts. Most co-ops also offer a greater discount to members who volunteer several hours a week or month. Since you—as a member—are a shareholder you directly influence the kind and variety of produce, foods and products available. You can help choose which farmers will supply the produce, and what sort of produce will be available. Co-ops give you the power to determine where your food comes from and the knowledge that it is the best available. Similar to the CSA they encourage and support local farmers in their production of high quality organic produce.

Prairienet
Extensive list of food co-ops in the USA and Canada. Search by state from Alaska to Wisconsin and everything in between. You can also click on "List of Co-ops on the Web" for either an alphabetical or location based list. National Co-op Business Association
Here you'll find everything you ever wanted to know about the world of co-ops. Little did we know, it extends far beyond the boundaries of the food co-op. From information on child care co-ops to health, energy and legal services and more.

Northeast Cooperatives
Not as direct as the other searches because it doesn't offer contact information for the co-ops. You have to email Northeast Cooperatives and they'll put you in contact with the co-op. The list however, is very detailed and showed some the others did not.

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