Buying food, flowers, and other household products from local sources is better for the environment and the community. Yet, people often aren’t sure how they can purchase what they need from local farms. March is a good time to explore options and get the details on farmer’s market schedules and available subscription services so decisions can be made in advance of the busy growing season. Here are several ways to support local farms.

Farmer’s Markets

In the United States, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, is believed to be the first municipality to formalize the concept of a farmer’s market. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 1730, city planners included space in the center of Lancaster for an outdoor marketplace. In the centuries since, farmer’s markets have grown in popularity, with over 8,000 active markets across the country today.

Vendor MetroMicro Saorsie. Clarksville Commons Market. (Photo credit Kerry Lenny)

Farmer’s markets offer a fixed location, day, and hours for farmers to sell directly to the public. They are a reliable way for customers to purchase fresh fruit, flowers, vegetables, meat, eggs, and dairy products directly from the farmers who produced them. Many also feature vendors with baked goods, prepared foods, cheeses, soaps, candles, and more.

Did you think farmer’s markets operate only in the summer? Think again. Some are year-round markets, and others operate monthly during colder months and weekly from May to October. You can find the markets near you that fit your schedule at the Maryland Department of Agriculture website.

https://mda.maryland.gov/maryland_products/pages/farmers_market_dir.aspx

For markets in other states, find information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture: https://www.usdalocalfoodportal.com/

Larger markets often have their own website that lists their vendors, so you can plan your purchases in advance. Some markets are “producer only,” which means vendors can sell only products they produced. Others allow vendors to sell from several farms.

Sharrah’s Orchards. Clarksville Commons Market. (Photo credit Kerry Lenny)

Many markets are authorized by the USDA to participate in the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), and you can find that list here:

https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/farmers-markets-accepting-snap-benefits

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)

Nearly 40 years ago, two U.S. farms began inviting the community to support their farms by agreeing to pay preseason for regular allotments of fresh fruits and vegetables. According to the Rodale Institute, the CSA Garden at Great Barrington in Massachusetts and The Temple-Wilton Community Farm in New Hampshire based their model on ideas first conceived of by Austrian Rudolf Steiner in the early 20th century. Over time, more and more U.S. farms began offering their own version of a CSA.

So, what is a CSA? Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, forms a relationship between farmers and community members. CSA’s offer an easy way to support a local farm while also ensuring you get the freshest produce available. Purchasing a CSA means you pay for an advance subscription for fruits and vegetables that are ripe each week during the term of your subscription. Paying for the season up front provides income to the farmer during the winter months, allowing them to purchase seeds, fertilizer, and other items needed for a successful crop.

Individual farms offer different durations, often three or six months. Price points vary depending on the pickup location, how often, and what is included. These subscriptions are available now, and often sell out, so don’t wait to sign up if you know you want to participate.

CSAs vary as to when and where pickup is; sometimes on farm, sometimes at a farmer’s market or other location, so be sure to read all the details to find one that fits your schedule.

Here are some links to help you find a CSA that is right for you:

reFRESH this New Year with a Produce Subscription!

CSA Sources

You can also check the websites for local farms to see if they offer a CSA.

Bouquet Subscription

Similar to a CSA, a bouquet subscription means purchasing in advance for a bouquet of fresh, seasonal, locally grown flowers. Individual farmers set their rates, dates, and pickup or delivery days. Some offer these only for certain flowers, such as tulips, peonies, or dahlias, and others offer mixed seasonal bouquets. It’s a wonderful way to support local flowers and reduce the negative impact on the environment of imported flowers, which are often harvested and flown thousands of miles to the U.S. where they are then trucked hundreds more miles to retail outlets.

You can find a bouquet subscription by checking with flower farms in your area. Find a list of Maryland flower farms here:

http://www.marylandgrownflowers.com/flowerfarms

A similar list for the United States and Canada is here:

https://localflowers.org/find-flowers/

Have you found a great way to support local farmers? Send me an email and tell me all about it at [email protected].

Lisa Derx is a member of the American Daffodil Society, Membership Chair for the National Capital Dahlia Society, President of Chesapeake Flower Exchange, Local Flowers Liaison for the Independent Floral Designers Association, and a member of the Association of Specialty Cut Flowers and the Maryland Cut Flower Growers Association. Her home is in Dayton, Maryland, where she lives and grows flowers with her husband Dan and cat Sebastian.

Please support OutLook by the Bay with a subscription.

OutLook by the Bay magazine and this website are made possible through the support of our advertisers and subscribers. We guarantee you’ll learn something new each issue. Please subscribe today.