CSA or Farmers Market? (a small farm dilemma)

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We live in a little yellow house.  We rent from folks that don’t care that we started a farm.  This property envelopes two lots, two thirds of an acre total.  It backs to the fairgrounds, and I have lovely, like minded neighbors.  We love our little farm, it is a dream come true.  We call it our practice farm because we intend to move to more space next year.  We have successfully intensively planted a quarter acre, take care of six adorable goats, a plethora of entertaining chickens, and the cutest ducks I have ever seen.  We have a wonderful little homestead here.

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We intended, reasonably, to have the farm help pay for itself.  I sold two goats this year and I have milk share holders.  I cannot bring enough eggs to the farmers market.  They are gone in minutes.  The vegetables are coming up now and there are amazing nutrients to be had after a winter of preserved food.

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Crisp, peppery radishes line up in rows, nearly ready to harvest.  Waves of green butter lettuce tempt the palate.  Green onions, and small bulbs of garlic, herbs of every sort, oregano, basil, chives, ready to season the salads.  Collard greens, kale, and Swiss chard ready to be simply sautéed with olive oil and garlic, a touch of sea salt.  Delicious meals at the ready.  I have a bit to share.

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The farmers markets are not inexpensive to participate in.  The main one we do is quite pricey, actually.  We had two tents proudly held and filled them with our Apothecary items as well as canned goods, cooking extracts and homemade vinegar, eggs, and a table of produce.  I am the only farmer there with produce that did not get shipped in.  The larger farms have to bring vegetables in from California and Mexico in order to make a living in these early months.  A separation of knowledge.  Folks don’t know what is in season.  They demand fresh corn in May and peas in September.

My main industry is Herbology.  Farming is my passion and one I want to share.  To be able to assure chemical free vegetables picked at dawn and driven only two cities over is an amazing gift. However, without the large table of overflowing produce, I get little notice.  Bags of fresh salad go home to be eaten by us for supper.  Onions line my produce drawer.  I cannot sell all the produce I bring and that is a terrible waste.  I would rather harvest for those who will enjoy it and eat it.

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I love the idea of the overflowing tables of produce.  I may have that by mid-season.  I want to stand there in my overalls and serve up heirloom tomatoes, and brightly colored corn.  I want to be known as a farmer.  But am I a farmer?  Or am I a farmsteader?  Farms have to grow a lot to survive as a farm.  I would have to sell everything I grow in order to keep up at the market leaving nothing for my own family.

A farmstead is a place where a family tries to be as self sufficient as possible.  One tries to make, grow, and create what is needed to live.  And that is where we lie.  We have enough to share, eggs, milk, vegetables, fruit, but most of it has to go to us in order to have enough for the entire year.  We are a farmstead.

Last week we only did one tent (so half the price) at the farmers market.  The market manager was not happy.  I suppose though, if it were so important for them to have small farms present, they wouldn’t charge so much.  He really wants us to bring produce next week.

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CSA stands for community supported agriculture.  A co-op of sorts, a club.  One pays an upfront fee at the beginning of the season (which is now, here in Colorado) and every week the recipient receives a basket of fresh produce of what is in season, freshly harvested at dawn.  Mine would include a milk share and a dozen eggs.  All for less than $22 a week.  This helps me confront the exorbitant water bill, as well as getting more seeds, and helps me keep my farmstead running.  I offered two.  Half a bushel of really fresh produce, half a gallon of creamy milk, and a dozen pastured eggs.  One has dinner.  It truly is a great deal and it helps me immensely.  The CSA holder is a part of the farm at this point.  They own a share of the goats, the gardens.  If a hail storm or coyote attack occurs, we are all at a loss.  We pray for good weather.  We pray for a wonderful harvest.  We pray for an invisibility shield from predators.  The families can visit the farm, see what actually is in season at any given time, help out if they like, let their children see what a farmstead looks, smells, feels like.  What warm soil feels like, a chicken’s feathers against the skin feels like, what the ducks sound like as they march across the yard, what a fresh raspberry tastes like.  Enchantment thirty minutes from the city.  Priceless.

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The answer seems obvious. Offering families CSA’s helps share the extra harvest, assures that I have enough to preserve and enjoy, and makes two families a part of our farm family.

4 thoughts on “CSA or Farmers Market? (a small farm dilemma)

  1. We aren’t on our farm yet so it is difficult for me to make any suggestion. On face value the CSA seems like the more popular and reasonable solution. The only “fear” I would have is if something happened on my farm and I lost my harvest. There would be some unhappy folks if they didn’t receive the promised goods. That is just the pessimist in me though. There is no farmer’s market in the immediate area where we are moving so perhaps we could start one with an emphasis on educating the customers so they have a better idea what to expect (ie, produce in and out of season).

    1. This is a very real concern. We, as farmers, are playing a game of total faith and a faulty sense of empowerment as we cannot control how much rain we get, how much hail we get, or a drought! But, a waste of vegetables (not to mention my time tending these live things) seems a worse risk. It is a hard call and I think easier based on how much produce one can feasibly raise. On our small plot, I am indeed limited. What we will do next year is anyone’s guess! Good luck on your farm!

  2. I suppose I have a difficult time understanding why one would travel to a farmer’s market only to purchase produce shipped in from another state. Isn’t the purpose of a farmer’s market to purchase fresh, locally grown produce? Many of the farmer’s markets around here have very specific rules. One such rule is that everything sold at the market must be homegrown or homemade. Sorry to hear those rules don’t exist at your local farmer’s market.

    1. We have a short growing season, and sadly, a terrible lack of real artisans. So many things are prepackaged, big bread companies acting as if they are local and small, meat companies shipping in meat, and market managers after the booth price. Virtually no one is turned away at most markets. There are a few good ones but overall, I think folks would be surprised at the masquerade markets vendors put on. Definitely ask questions! On the flip side, in the markets that I have been in that only allowed local produce early in the season, the market was not frequented much because folks will just go to the grocery store. It is a sad disillusion on both sides. I feel overwhelmed by it. I believe in farmers markets. But, I also know that we have to reach and educate just one person at a time.

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