More People Are Getting Their Food Straight From Farms

Farmers markets aren’t just for dirty hippies anymore. Everyone’s starting to catch on to food straight off the farm, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service.

From 1997 to 2007 direct-to-consumer farming shot up by 104.7 percent, outclassing 47.6 growth in total agriculture during the same period.

The food site The Packer writes:

“To me, what it shows is a recognition of value there is in having a relationship with a farmer,” said Miller, who works for an advocacy group that represents farmers markets on state and federal levels.

“It’s not just farmers markets, but also (community-supported agriculture), pick-your-own type of programs, that type of thing,” said [Stacy] Miller, [executive director of the Martinsburg, W.V.-based Farmers Market Coalition]. “People are starting to recognize the health aspects and social implications. There’s accountability in knowing where your food comes from Ö some inherent, built-in credibility and traceability.

“People just want to support agriculture in their communities. They’re getting disillusioned with big industry that they’ve invested their trust in. That’s also visible in the food chain. The model people have had faith in is not working. Direct marketing gives people much more power in the whole process.”

By the way, if I’m choosing one farm to buy direct from, it’s definitely Hickory Farms, home of cheese log yumminess.

Direct-to-consumer farm marketing growing rapidly [The Packer]
(Photo: saramarie)

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  1. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    I went to a farm last month for some fresh strawberries. It was a lot of good work to get a few quarts, and it was really expensive. I probably won’t by going back to spend a lot on strawberries, but I intend to go back for some veggies – in moderation, since they’re charging a lot for them.

    My only problem with farmer’s markets in my area is that they’re open only during regular business hours, which are 8 to 5. Hello? People work! They can’t go to farmer’s markets! So I’m stuck without a farmer’s market until I move, and the one near my new residence is open on weekends.

    How do you guys feel about Co Ops?

    • BreadBoy says:

      @pecan 3.14159265: We have the same problem–love fresh produce, can’t break away from work on weekdays. So a few years ago we decided to try a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscription. Our pickups are on Tuesday 4-7pm. Three years later we are still members. There is also a Food Coop (The Food Conspiracy) in town that we shop at too.

    • c_c says:

      @pecan 3.14159265:
      Find out if there are any CSA’s near you. The farmer I buy from sets in a parking lot at a gas station every Tuesday at 7pm, which makes it easy for most of his customers to come pick up their share after work.
      The nice thing about csa’s for me is you don’t have to figure out what to buy, you get what’s in season that week and figure out how to cook it!

      • pecan 3.14159265 says:

        @cc82: I did look into some CSAs, but a small box of veggies is too much for just the two of us (and Mr. Pi doesn’t like veggies as much) and we can’t split it with anyone just yet. By the time we move (closer to some friends) we’d be able to, but then there’s a farmer’s market on the weekends so I don’t think I’ll even need a CSA.

        • speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

          @pecan 3.14159265: We have a half share (a share is for a family of four) and I’m going to be down to a quarter share soon (long story). I did think about stopping my CSA deliveries altogether, but when I’m by myself I really need that incentive to eat healthier.

    • WorldHarmony says:

      @pecan 3.14159265: Farmer’s Market Co-ops are wonderful. I volunteered for one in southern California last Fall. Whether you volunteer or not, you can get a great variety of fresh, organically grown fruits, vegetables and herbs for prices that are not exorbitant. Sometimes you get about the same amount of food for your dollar that you’d pay in the grocery store, but the quality is so much better that it is worth the extra travel, if necessary, to support the local farmers by patronizing them.

  2. socalrob of the 24 and a half century says:

    This totally makes sense with the recent hike in grocery prices and the constant (insert disease here) scares that come from produce.

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see more people have, what was the term, victory gardens? like they did back during WWII.

    • Robobot says:

      @socalrob: The victory garden phenomenon is already very popular again. Here is an interesting little article about the rising demand for seeds: [www.washingtonpost.com]

      I love to buy food from farmer’s markets and my school’s food collective whenever possible. It’s socially responsible and definitely forces me to eat better. A lot of the time their prices are competitive, but unfortunately there are some products I just can’t afford to buy anywhere but the grocery store. $6 for a loaf of (amazing and hearty) bread? $3.50 for a dozen (cruelty-free, farm-fresh) eggs? Ouch.

    • cmac says:

      @socalrob: It’s so easy to have a little urban garden bed or two and there’s nothing like year round (at least in Florida) fresh herbs from the garden. I’ve been quite happy with my foray into gardening. Though it’s definitely not cheap to get started. At least I know where my food came from and what it was sprayed with.

  3. leastcmplicated says:

    not to mention it’s a LOT less expensive. Only reason i go to the grocery store is for things I can’t get at the farmers market. I get all my herbs (fresh and dry), veggies, fruits, meats, fish, eggs etc for a MUCH lower cost.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      @leastcmplicated: Is it really that much cheaper though? The farm I went to was charging $5 a quart. I can usually get a pound of strawberries at the grocery store for $3.

      • Ubert says:

        @pecan 3.14159265: True, though farms are most likely to dictate price if there is not another farm near by. On the other side of the coin, at my farmers market there are several people selling fruit and veggies so they are all competing for my money, which is great because it becomes a game of how low can you go. I can usually get a box of organic strawberries for under $5.

      • leastcmplicated says:

        @pecan 3.14159265: Ouch! that is expensive! In my case, the farmers market is loads cheaper. Well, take strawberries, for my daughters birthday I made one of those cupcake cakes and she loves strawberries so i decided to slice them up all over the top and around the platter. so we went to the farmers market and got 6 qts for $11. the dried herbs come in 1/4lb or 1/2lb containers and depending on what it is, is usually between $0.75-$1. I guess it just depends on where you are?

      • kaceetheconsumer says:

        @pecan 3.14159265: yeah, the market near us is considerably more expensive than Costco for in-season fruit. And Costco carries marked organic stuff but at the market it’s just their word about being organic.

        When we do buy at the market -which is rare because the hours are insanely early on Saturday mornings and it’s picked over before we’re conscious – it’s more for the benefits of being local ( ie freshness, picked ripe, less carbon used for teansportaion, etc) than for cost.

        Plus even if there was a savings, the one here has tons of stuff being marketed at my kid that would eat up the savings and more if I wasn’t such a mean and stingy mommy!

      • Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

        @pecan 3.14159265: Are you going to an agritainment farm? If it’s like a U-Pick, you pay that kind of premium.

    • Trai_Dep says:

      @leastcmplicated: If there are ethnic stores around your area, try them out. My jaw drops at what common grocers charge for fresh basil, cilantro, etc., literally 10x what my local Asian place charges. The range is much larger, as well.
      And my eyes well up with tears of sympathy for those who’ve not scoped out the salsa aisle in a bodega versus what they offer at the traditional supermarket. (And, oh my gawdz, are some of them hot. Even for me. Hot. It burns, it burns!)

      • redskull says:

        @Trai_Dep: I second trying the Asian market. Fresh garlic cloves from the grocery store are $3 for a pack of 2. At the Asian grocery it’s 5 cloves for $1.

      • WorldHarmony says:

        @Trai_Dep: You are so right about ethnic grocery stores. Asian import stores are a great source of cheap vegetables. The only problem is that if you want local foods, these are usually not it. Still, sometimes money is most important, and you get great deals there. 99Ranch is scattered around part of the country – check them out as an example.

    • atashida says:

      @leastcmplicated: It depends.

      Here in Hawaii, the eggs you buy at the farmer’s market are twice as much (free range), but they are PREMIUM eggs. Crack one and fry it and you’ll notice how great the consistency is and what great omelettes they make.

      Everything else is either cheaper or the same, though.

    • WorldHarmony says:

      @leastcmplicated: It’s not always cheaper at the farmer’s market! Depends on where you live, for one thing. We’ve had little sun this Spring, so farmers are hurting a bit in my NE Ohio location. Don’t know how this will affect summer harvests. Also, many farmer’s markets allow non-local vendors to set up shop, or allow local vendors to sell produce they order from other regions- these raise costs. I always ask vendors if their PRODUCE is 1)Local, and 2)Organic. I will patronize the local ones who use organic farming methods for both environmental and health reasons.

  4. farcedude says:

    As one of these people, I have to say that the food is just plain better. It tastes better, is better for you, and as they said, you can look at the fields, or look the farmer in the eye, and know that it’s good stuff.

  5. maddypilar says:

    I just started my second year with a local CSA group. I love getting my veggies every week and knowing that they were pulled from the ground less than 24 hours ago.

  6. farcedude says:

    My girlfriend also participates in a community supported agriculture gig at work, and it’s always great when the bag of food comes home on Monday, because you’ll never know what’s going to be in it, but you know you’ll like it.

    • speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

      @farcedude: I got a humungoid, gigantous bottle gourd in my share this week. Now I’m going to have to go walk down the block and make friends with a random Pakistani so I can learn how to cook the thing. See, CSAs help you make friends!

  7. U-235 says:

    I think the value in going to a farmer’s market largely depends on where you live. Farmer’s markets are a great option in Tennessee since there are a lot of local farmers who can get a higher profit margin from selling locally, while the cost to the consumer is still less. The produce is also way fresher too.

  8. HIV 2 Elway says:

    Mostly hippies goes to farmers’ markets, mostly.

  9. HIV 2 Elway says:

    I’m going to have WAY too many tomatos and peppers this year, I’m banking on making some heady trades at my local farmers’ market.

  10. Gene Miller says:

    I knew that photo looked familiar. I went to Rasmuessens a few weeks ago, but there wasn’t much going on. I also went in September of last year and they have this awesome flower garden that you can pick as many as you’d like for $2.50. Best deal of the trip!

  11. vdragonmpc says:

    I would love to buy from local farmers but they are god awful expensive.

    Guy up the street is selling watermelons (small) for 6$ and large for 8-9$ They are 3.99 at the store. I understand the freshness and cost involved but at least match the local price (especially when you can see the stickers on the watermelons tsk tsk)

    • PixiePerson says:

      @vdragonmpc: That’s why you want a legit market. My FM vets all the sellers to make sure what you are getting is fresh and local. They also only allow sustainable farming which, yes, is more expensive.

    • WorldHarmony says:

      @vdragonmpc: Well, remember WHY the grocery store can sell them so cheaply. They buy in bulk, and they buy from subsidized farmers. Our food supply is cheap in this country because the government subsidizes it. Most Americans do not understand or appreciate this. You could never grow the variety of vegetables and fruit that you find in one place (grocery store) at such a low cost, and neither can independent, organic farmers. The more that you and I support the farmer’s market (particularly vendors who grow organic, non hybridized foods) the more that will help us as customers in the end.

  12. chiieddy says:

    I joined a Coop because I wanted fresh vegetables and didn’t have space in my condo for a full garden. The farmer’s markets around here aren’t as convenient but I do like helping out a particular farm.

    I’ve been considering looking up local farms to see if there are any CSAs for pigs or chickens.

  13. chai_tea says:

    Back when we still had a car, we hit the farmer’s markets every week.

    But now that my household is car-free, we’re finding the markets’ limited hours and locations away from reasonable public transportation to be a huge deterrent.

  14. I Love New Jersey says:

    I love the greenmarkets. However, the quality is variable and they are not always good for bang for buck.

  15. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    Something to keep in mind also is that if you go to farms or farmers markets to avoid produce with pesticides, you’re going for the wrong reasons – unless a farmer specifically says that he/she does not use pesticides, your produce may have the same stuff that produce in the grocery stores have. The only difference may be that the stuff you get directly off the farm won’t have that waxy sheen like they put on apples at the store.

  16. Princess Leela says:

    Interested to hear from happy CSA customers, ’cause I joined a weekly CSA delivery (in DC) last summer and it just wasn’t a good deal. For what we were paying, they really skimped on the quantity of veggies, IMO. Maybe I just had bad luck, but the thing is that the farm seemed really popular. As a country girl, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the guy who ran the place was pulling a fast one on all these clueless urban dwellers. (Especially when I peeked in the back of his van one day and saw piles of delicious-looking squash sitting there while we were lining up to get our measly two tomatoes and a couple handfuls of basil.)

    Now I just stick with the farmers’ markets near my hood … better deal cost-wise and we’ve got good ones all weekend long thru the summer.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      @Princess Leela: Which farmers market do you go to? I’ve heard good things about Eastern Market, but I’m afraid that it’s so busy it just gets picked over unless you’re awake to greet the first metro car.

      • Princess Leela says:

        @pecan 3.14159265: I’m across town from Eastern Market, so it’s not that convenient for me either … I mostly hit the seasonal weekly ones. On Saturday mornings there are two nice little ones at 14th and U and in Mount Pleasant. Avoid the Sunday Dupont Circle market like the plague unless you want to be steamrolled by the stroller patrol.

    • Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

      @Princess Leela: We loved our CSA. It was more food than we could possibly eat, too (and we had a half-share). She changed her drop-off points and we got our own backyard garden going, so we don’t do that CSA anymore, but we were very happy with it.

      I’m considering a local fruit-and-eggs CSA, but I’m not sure if it’s worth the drive to the nearest drop-off point.

    • maddypilar says:

      @Princess Leela: That’s unfortunate. I love my CSA. Last year I had half a share and it was more than enough. The only time I ever had quality issues was when I arrived at the very end of the pick-up time slot and got what was left over after everyone else picked up that day. The shares start out smaller at the beginning of the season but once summer is in full swing I look like a tree walking home. You should see if there is another CSA in the area that deals with a different farmer. I know there are at least 3 jut in my corner of Queens. I can’t speak for the other CSA’s but the one I am with has a “meet the farmer” day or days and has lots of information about the man and his farm.

      • WorldHarmony says:

        @maddypilar: That’s very interseting, Maddypilar. The CSA I volunteered for divided up baskets of produce for every member – each member paid for that share ahead of time, and was guaranteed the same quality of food whether they arrived first or last to pick up their basket.

    • veg-o-matic says:

      @Princess Leela: Aww, that’s sad. I’ve always been a bit suspicious of the urban-delivery operations.. you may have been onto something there.

      We started our CSA a few weeks ago and it’s been fantastic (admittedly, we’re in a somewhat more rural part of MA where there are a number from which to choose). We bike out to the farm itself and we’re allowed to pick as much as we want of whatever they have that week until our 1/2 bushel tote bag is full.
      OHH the rainbow chard! So much of it!

      We had to lay down a good chunk of change to buy the share, but it’s carrying us through our very cash-poor summer and fall. With the amount of food we bring home every week, it’s always worth it.

      a’course, we eat tons of vegetables, so it might just work well with our rabbit-like diets.

  17. JGKojak says:

    A lot of the stores here (in Kansas) have stickers saying “Kansas Product” on things that are obviously grown around here (i.e. corn).

    If we stopped subsidizing the transportation of ag products, we’d increase consumption of locally grown food.

    And people who decided to move to the middle of the frickin’ desert WHERE THERE IS NO WATER! (Phoenix, Vegas) can just eat cactus leaves and salt pork.

  18. bdsakx says:

    The reason I stopped going to the farmers market near me was due to the prices. They were either slightly more expensive, or ridiculously more expensive than the supermarket. Quite unfortunate…

  19. JulesNoctambule says:

    Our state farmer’s market doesn’t allow produce that wasn’t grown within the state and the city market has a limit on the area in which it was grown. We can get local eggs, cheeses, meats and dairy products, too, which is nice. Prices are either close to or much lower than those at the grocery for food that’s of much higher quality; we rarely buy produce anywhere else.

  20. sponica says:

    so something that us rural/suburban people have been doing forever (no joke) is now cool? come harvest time my mom has always bought fruits and veggies from the local farmstands…for a couple reasons A) it supports the community B) while the strawberries might be slightly more expensive, they don’t go bad in 2 days resulting in you buying more strawberries
    what’s next, buying ice cream from the local dairy farmer? oh wait, we’ve done that in these parts for years as well…
    i don’t mean to be snarky, but there are certain areas of the country where people have been doing this not because it’s trendy, economical, environmentally safe, etc but because it’s the way of life

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      @sponica: I don’t know about you, but I live in the suburbs right now and it’s a good hour away from the nearest farm. So it’s really not feasible for some of us suburbanites to get to a farmstand, or to get to a farmers market (when inexplicably, they’re all only open during normal business hours).

      • speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

        @sponica: i don’t mean to be snarky, but there are certain areas of the country where people have been doing this not because it’s trendy, economical, environmentally safe, etc but because it’s the way of life

        Yeah, it’s a good thing you aren’t trying to be snarky, because I rule that mess. ;)

        Anyway, I happen to live in the city, so you can take your superior earth-mama pose and stuff it up a pig.

    • WorldHarmony says:

      @sponica: Remember, this is a huge country with the capacity to support many types of lifestyles depending on economic health, so many, many people have long left the rural life and any traces of gardening- and thrived. Times are different right now; it’s not due to “trendiness” and “coolness” that people are rediscovering the benefits of farmer’s markets and home gardening- it’s economics. The more people who get into CSAs and co-ops, the more the news picks up on it. The more the news reports it, the more new people get into it.

      I hope the trend continues, but I’m quite sure that when the economy picks back up, many new farmers and city co-op members will go back to their previous life of grocery stores and restaurants. Still, I hope that suburbs and big cities retain the idea of community gardens, farmer’s market co-ops and the like, since they help the local economy and public health.

  21. Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

    There’s a local restaurant that buys just about everything from within 100 miles ( [online.wsj.com] — try to ignore the incredibly rude and condescending tone), and we buy direct from like half those farms. We were amused when we went to June and saw all the farms listed that they buy from and we were like, “Oh, that’s totally where WE get our chicken TOO!” We had a nice chat with the owner about all the farmers we turned out to know in common.

    Some at the Farmer’s Market, some you can just go out to the farm and pick stuff up or arrange to have them drop it off.

    • Shivved says:

      @Eyebrows McGee (now with more baby!): What was condescending about that article? I found it to be fairly interesting, even if most of the food they mentioned is outside my normal tastes.

      Were you just trying to be trendy and take a dig at the WSJ or did you really find fault with the article?

      • Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

        @Shivved: “would have bypassed Peoria’s grim downtown” — it’s not particularly grim, the downtown is fairly healthy. It’s the manufacturing areas that are suffering.

        “For those with disposable income, June is the only first-rate place between Chicago and Kansas City to spend it on dinner.” — demonstrably untrue

        “That would have been true even in happier days for the economy, when Peoria was, despite the dramatic views of the Illinois from the bluff-top mansions on Grandview Drive, not exactly Paris on the prairie.” — no purpose but to make another dig about the backcountry hicks

        “What Peoria has always had is a vast agricultural hinterland.” “Hinterland” another deliberate choice to cast us as rubes.

        The article that ran in the paper itself was actually quite a bit ruder and went much harder with the whole “Oh, lookit, there’s REAL FOOD out here where them hicks live!” angle. It raised a lot of hackles — including the restaurant owner’s, who wasn’t sure if he should do the “frame and hang on wall” thing because it alienated so much of his customer base. (The word “assholic” played a prominent role in the conversation we had with him about it, since it had run just a couple weeks before we ate there.)

        (And since when is it trendy to take a dig at the WSJ? Maybe I live too far in the hinterlands to have picked up on that trend.)

        I just find it super-awesome when certain coastal people who envision themselves as quite worldly but in fact suffer from an extreme level of provincialism have pre-emptively decided there’s no civilization between New York and LA come out to the Midwest and then just write their preconceptions in a condescending, obnoxious way. At least the ones who are shocked — SHOCKED! — to discover we have things like the internet and minorities here took the 30 seconds to actually look around.

        There was one article during the Obama campaign about how there was no “natural constituency” for Obama in Iowa because it was all white straight conservative uneducated people that made me actually grind my teeth it was so ignorant, stereotypical, and offensive. It ran in either the NYT or the WaPo, I forget which. And what state has gay marriage, New York and metro DC area? OH THAT’S RIGHT. THE BACKWARDS LAND OF IOWA.

  22. shepd says:

    I don’t bother with farmer’s markets. Too expensive. For some reason it is cheaper to ship strawberries from California to Ontario than it is for me to buy them at the major (they even have special bus trips!) farmer’s market here. And that goes for most everything there. We’re not just talking pennies, we’re talking half the price cheaper.

    I could understand it if they were competing against, say, Chinese imports. But this is stuff grown in a place with some of the highest housing prices on this continent!

    • Princess Leela says:

      @shepd: Except that those strawberries from California also have half the flavor, since they’re bred more to withstand said shipping process than to taste good. (I did a taste comparison just last night, so I’m not talking out of my ass.)

      • mm1970 says:

        @Princess Leela:

        You’re right about that. I am lucky to live in So. Cal, so I have a CSA (local, organic) and the farmer’s market. The CSA is about the same price as what I’d pay for the non-organic items at the grocery store. And it tastes SO much better.

        But still we have migrant farmworkers. At least the CSA provides housing to theirs.

    • veg-o-matic says:

      @shepd: You do know that the people paid to pick them get like… nothing.. right? That goes a long way to making them dirt cheap.

      Most things that are “cheap” are the result of poorly paid labor. Especially food.

      • shepd says:

        @veg-o-matic:

        It’s no different in Canada (or at least Ontario). We also permit migrant workers and have a special minimum wage for them. The employer is also allowed to dip into that already small minimum wage if they provide room and board.

        There’s nothing that stipulates the farmer’s market strawberries weren’t grown locally and picked by “slave” wage labour.

  23. John Streeter says:

    Here is a great CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Farm in Colorado:

    [www.stonebridgefarmcsa.com]

  24. henwy says:

    No, it’s still mostly just for dirty hippies and their evolved form, the yuppie.

  25. cete-of-badgers says:

    The farmers market I go to in Urbana, IL can be a bit more expensive with some things, and cheaper with others. If you tend to buy organic food, it’s way cheaper. I can feed my salad/day (leafy greens+tomatoes) habit for a week for $5. I buy honey for 2/3 the usual price (I go through that quickly as well). Baked goods and handmade things (furniture, jewelry) are pretty jacked-up, though.

    If you want cheap vegetables, go to a local farm and pick it yourself. It takes a few hours, but it’s kinda fun to go with friends, and the food is ridiculously cheap. For about 10 dollars, I picked enough berries to last 2 people 4 months (with freezing), and we had berries almost every damn day.

    People are too far removed from their food. If you live in a place where you’re able to grow a few things 10 feet from your house, or live in farmy area, you too can experience the dirty-yet-satisfying journey that food makes from the soil to your belly.

  26. grapedog says:

    I like in central Texas and there are a few good farmers markets, but with my job I only get to go on the weekends and if I don’t get up super early, I’m screwed. Oh well…

  27. cwlodarczyk says:

    I’ve just started my first year with a CSA here in Denver. [www.grantfarms.com]

    The reasons:

    *All locally grown – the money that I spend is staying in my local economy AND environmental impact is reduced by not moving my veggies halfway around the world

    *Organic

    *Appropriately seasonal – a huge reduction in the amount of inputs to grow a crop that is not suited for the season/locale

    I’ve just had my first CSA eggs for breakfast this morning – let me tell you they were a lot better than anything I’ve had from the supermarket.