Farmers Markets vs. CSAs: Which Is Better?

published Jun 18, 2015
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(Image credit: Cambria Bold)

This is the time of year vegetable lovers have been waiting for. When it comes to summer produce, there is certainly no shortage of it. The big question that looms today isn’t what to buy, but where to buy it.

For those who favor fresh, seasonal, local fruit and veggies, farmers markets and CSAs are the answer. But which one is the best way to go? It’s a kitchen throwdown — which side are you on?

I talked to some of our contributors (all of whom have both shopped at farmers markets and participated in a CSA at some point) to get their opinions on the absolute best way to score great summer produce. There were some strong opinions. Some people were firmly in favor of one over the other, and one person — who once adored her CSA — found that after having kids, the farmers market made more sense for her family.

So, does joining a CSA totally trump the farmers market? Or is it the other way around?

(Image credit: Jayme Henderson)

The Throwdown: Farmers Markets vs. CSAs

1. Farmers markets forever!

Here were the comments from the people who love farmers markets way more than they could ever love a CSA.

It’s a more manageable amount of food.

The nice thing about farmers markets is that you buy just what you need. Some CSAs offer the option of a half- or quarter-share, but even that smaller amount can still be a lot of produce. And if you live alone, it can prove a daunting amount of food to eat every week.

Being a single dude, I could never master the amount of produce delivered by my CSA versus how much I ate. It was usually way too much, meaning my worm composting bin had the best-fed worms ever! Or it wasn’t enough … so I ended up at the supermarket produce aisle anyway. This was always easier with a farmers market. – Jerry James Stone

You’re definitely keeping it local.

But my biggest issue with CSAs came down to eating local, something I am a big supporter of. Unless you get your box directly from the farm, it isn’t uncommon for those CSAs that deliver to supplement with non-local ingredients based on demand. – Jerry James Stone

You get to choose from a bigger variety.

Not only do you have complete and total control over what you buy at the farmers market, but there’s a big selection to choose from that often goes beyond produce.

Holy guacamole, there are Mexican avocados in my CSA box! Um, I live in California … I think that’s illegal here.

And I admit, I love the variety you get at the market. It’s great meeting local cheese makers and honey farmers, and sampling all of the different foodstuffs — an experience I have yet to find with a CSA. – Jerry James Stone

For my purposes now, market shopping is the way to go. First, we now have two six-year-old boys whose appetites change and whose curiosities factor into our decision-making processes for meals; cooking with the same items week after week isn’t going to fly. – Carrie Havranek

(Image credit: Cambria Bold)

2. CSA all the way!

Here are thoughts from people who loved their CSAs and would choose those over the farmers market on a regular basis.

It’s the best way to learn about new ingredients.

You don’t get to choose the items that come in your CSA box, which is really part of the beauty of joining a CSA! It forces to get a little bit outside your comfort zone, where you get introduced to new-to-you ingredients, and find new ways to be creative with your vegetables.

Joining a CSA really forced me to become a better, more versatile cook when confronted with things such as kale and radishes in the early spring, week after week. Not to mention all those zucchini! – Carrie Havranek

You really know where your food is coming from.

When you join a CSA, you pay a fee upfront many months before you actually receive any produce. Your money goes into producing the food you’ll eventually collect week after week during the summer. Plus, in getting your food from the same farm for months at a time, there’s a nice connection that’s formed and there’s something to be said for knowing where your food comes from.

CSA all the way! You get to know your farmer on a personal level and your money goes directly into the seeds, soil, and materials that go into the food you’ll be enjoying all season. I think it’s pretty special. – Andrea Bemis

I fell in love with farmers markets a while ago, and one of the first things we did when this happened was to join a CSA that was also a vendor at our farmers market in Easton. It was convenient, I learned a lot from the farmers, and we felt good doing it. – Carrie Havranek

Pick Your Side!

I’ve long wanted to be a part of a CSA. I like the idea of being surprised by what’s inside the box. It’s sort of like being on a vegetable version of Top Chef, and every week is the challenge of a new mystery box. Maybe it’s filled with ingredients I know, maybe I get lucky with something totally new to me, but either way, the idea of finding creative ways to use everything up has always sounded really intriguing.

But at the end of the day, CSAs are a big commitment, and I haven’t been able to break away from my farmers market. I like having the option of going to the farmers market when I want, and buying just what I want. And if there’s a week when I’m away or am too busy to spend time in the kitchen, I don’t have to worry about what to do with all that food in my CSA box. Instead, I just skip going to the farmers market for a week.

Which do you prefer? Can you not imagine life in the summer without your regular CSA haul? Or are you a lifelong devotee of the farmers market?

Pick your side, make your arguments, and Monday morning we’ll count up your points and announce a winner!

Farmers Market vs. CSA Throwdown

CSA all the way: Vote by Monday
Farmers markets forever: Vote by Monday