CSA vs Farmers Market: How to know which is best for you

This was a big question for me when I got interested in eating better during college in my early twenties.  I lived in an apartment and couldn't have my own garden.  Then, I learned about local food, and thought, 'Hey, I want to do that!  I want to support local farmers and get fresh, healthy veggies from them.'

But, how? 

Easier said than done in the slow-recovering atmosphere of Lewiston/Auburn, Maine in the early 2000's.  At that time, there was a small local Farmers Market starting up and two small organic CSAs on the outskirts of town. 

Okay, CSA vs Farmers Market?  How to figure out which was going to meet my needs best?

My goals were:

  1. get more veggies into my diet,
  2. have them be the freshest and healthiest veggies I could get, ideally organic,
  3. and feel like I was really helping farmers by being a customer. 

Sound familiar?  Maybe you are like me, wondering what is best for you. 

Remembering how I felt, I wrote this blog to lay out what I learned to help you figure out what works best for you.


Farmers Markets

Farmers Markets are the best way to...

  • Pick out exactly what you want.  Many farmers display their wares and you can shop around for quality, quantity, variety, etc.
  • Come when you can.  If you travel a lot or are very busy, you can come to the Farmers Market whenever is possible for you and skip it when inconvenient.
  • Buy a little from everyone.  Farmers Markets often have many vendors to choose from so you can spread around your purchasing.
  • Spend what you can when you have it.  Come and spend what you have that week on what you want.  No prior commitment necessary.

Drawbacks to Farmers Markets

  • Unpredictable quality and quantity.  You may need to get their early because specific produce might sell out or get wilty due to sitting out for a while.  Or your favorite vendor may not be there that week.
  • Requires time and decision-making each week due to the availability of many options and the possibility of waiting through lines of customers. 
  • Confusion.  Not every vendor at a Farmers Market is organic.  You need to ask every farm about their practices.


Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)

CSA is the best way to...

  • Eat more healthy veggies.  You get to take on the exciting challenge to eat all the veggies in your share every week.
  • Get to try new things AND not need to make decisions.  The farmers pick what goes in your share.  You get a lot of standard fare items as well as occassional new things.  Some farms even help with recipes and cooking tips!
  • Get the freshest veggies.  The veggies are all harvested fresh for you so you can eat them raw without processing if you wish.  They never just sit out!
  • Get to know your farmer.  From weekly newletters to posts on social media to face-to-face conversations, CSA members build a relationship with the farm they support and get to know where their food comes from.
  • Get your veggies quickly without lines, payments, or sorting through produce bins.

Drawbcks to CSA

  • You don't get to pick what veggies go into your box.
  • The veggies keep coming no matter what is happening in your life.
  • Upfront payment is often required to participate.


CSA vs. Farmers Market: My Decision

I picked to join a CSA in Sabattus, outside of Lewiston, called Willow Pond Farm.  I did what they called a "work share" where I worked off a portion of the cost of my veggies during the summer months.  And I LOVED it! 

But, how did it stack up against my goals?

  1. Get more veggies into my diet: Definitely!  I liked it because it forced me to eat more veggies.  I knew I was going to receive more fresh ones every week.
  2. Have them be the freshest and healthiest veggies I could get, ideally organic:  Check!  Willow Pond Farm is a MOFGA Certified Organic farm.
  3. And feel like I was really helping farmers by being a customer:  Yes, I felt it was the best way I could support a farm by putting my faith in them and being excited about what they could give me. 

I was at a formative point in my life in my early 20's, and my first experience with a CSA got me hooked.  I went on to be a customer of another CSA in southern Maine, then to work for a few years for a CSA farm in Winterport, and finally to start my own CSA in 2011. 

And from being on the other side of the equation, the farmer's perspective, I love the CSA just as much!