Are you an avid gardener with countless successful growing seasons under your belt, or a novice who just bought their first seed packets this year? Regardless, growing your own veggies, fruits, and herbs takes time, dedication, and space. You may not have the interest, the green thumb, or the outdoor space to garden. Even if you do, growing all the things you may want to eat takes, well, probably more time and resources than the majority of us have time for in this modern world. That’s where farmers markets and co-ops come in!
Many people think growing your own food at home, or on a rented plot of land (this is more common in Europe than it is here in the U.S.), is a less expensive option than farmers markets or co-ops. That may be true for seeds you sow directly in the ground during the growing season, as they take fewer resources to encourage germination and growth. However, starting seeds at home has unseen costs, including:
- Seeds (range from organic to traditional to heirloom to rare)
- Seed starting soil
- Seed starting trays and pods
- Compostable pots to transplant larger seedlings too
- Grow lights (to mimic sunlight indoors)
- Heat mats (to encourage germination)
- Liquid nutrients to feed the seedlings
- Watering can, small fan, and seed starting tools (you don’t need fancy ones)
- Cost of electricity to run the heat mats and grow lights
- Markers to identify seedlings (they all look the same when they first pop out of the dirt!)
You’ll also need an outdoor space with good light to grow your plants once the growing season has started. This includes additional costs depending on your space. Are you growing in raised beds, pots, or in the ground? You may need to amend the soil with natural fertilizers (dried chicken or cow manure work great and aren’t expensive), add soil to beds or pots, or mix in specific fertilizers for specific plants. The cost of watering and maintaining your plants throughout the growing season is often overlooked or not calculated. If gardening is a hobby or passion, that may work for you. However, if you’re time, resource, or financial budgets don’t allow for this investment, you may want to consider a local co-op or identify some local farmers markets.
Co-ops are a great way to get fresh, local produce and goods at a good price. It may be more expensive than the grocery store, but the produce and goods are usually of a better quality and last longer. If you’re researching local co-ops, we recommend asking the following questions:
- What kind of goods are included in the co-op membership? Some organizations provide just meat, dairy, vegetables, or fruits to their members, while others include a mix of some or all of these.
- Are there levels of membership? Can you sign up for just a season, a specific delivery amount (e.g. for two people or for a family of four), and are there discounts for signing up early or for multiple seasons?
- Do you need to pick up your order, or can it be delivered?
- Where do they source the items they are providing? Is it from their farm, local farmers, or a supplier who buys items from agricultural auctions?
Farmers markets can be a fun way to add variety to your pantry and meals. Local markets have gained popularity in the last decade, and many municipalities have a market on set days each week during the late spring, summer, and early fall. Some vendors will bring in items they’ve grown themselves, while other vendors are selling fruits and veggies they purchased wholesale early that day or week. These markets are also usually a great place to source local artisanal goods like honey, baked goods, cheeses, and crafts.
Last but not least, you can also find You Pick farms in your area where you can go and pick everything from blueberries to apples to veggies. You usually pay less for these items than you would at a farmers market or through a co-op. Good luck with whichever option(s) you choose!
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