Q&A: Garden, Market or CSA – How will you source summer produce?

It is snowing as I write today, but that hasn’t stopped me from gazing out on our future garden spot and visualizing the raised beds full of lettuce, zucchini, herbs and tomatoes. Winter still has many weeks to rage and blow before it gives way to spring, however, one can’t help but think about pending arrival of fresh greens and tender fruits.

March is a good time to start making plans for how you will source your summer produce. If you live in the city, now is the time to sign up for a  spot in the community gardens. If you are more rural, you should be putting in a seed order right about now. Not into gardening, but want farm fresh vegetables? Then perhaps you should be calling around and getting your name on a list for a CSA basket.

Seven ways to source your summer produce

The first crisp asparagus spears and strong rhubarb shoots will be poking up through the ground before you know it. Here are seven ways to source your summer produce that don’t involve a shopping cart and a supermarket. Which do you plan to use come spring?

1. Backyard Garden

We are planning to raise the majority of our produce this summer, although we will be starting a garden from scratch! When we moved last year I left behind my small, but beloved garden. One of our first priorities this spring will be to get some raised beds built and some soil delivered.

Whether you have a large plot or a few planters on a balcony, nothing tastes as good as home grown fruits and vegetables.

2. Community Garden

Are you an urban dweller with a penchant for getting your hands dirty? A local community garden might suit you very well and provide you with leafy greens and herbs all summer long. Act fast, though; the plots are usually snatched up quickly and there is often a waiting list.

3. CSA

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA): A “subscription” service of fruits and veggies, purchased directly from the farm on a regular basis, and sometimes even delivered to your front door. Hurry, farmers are gearing up for planting and some have a cutoff date to sign up for their baskets.

4. Farmer’s Markets and city open air markets

We’re lucky to have fantastic markets in Montreal. The closest is a mere ten minutes away from me, which came in pretty handy last June when I hosted my family reunion and we were going through a flat of strawberries a day.

5. Roadside Stand

There are at least three fruit & vegetable stands along the short drive to my son’s school. They are owned and operated by local farms and provide fresh-picked produce daily. I’m a frequent shopper from the day they open to the day they close. I don’t always have room in my refrigerator for a dozen ears of corn or a giant watermelon, so I like to buy what I need for the day and no more.

If you’re traveling out of the city, keep your eyes peeled for those handmade signs that boast ‘farm fresh eggs’ and the dusty kiosks that sell the sweetest strawberries. Ask for pointers from people who know the area well, and take the scenic route once in a while – you never know what you may stumble upon.

6. Farm/U-Pick

When time affords it, we head directly to the farms to get our strawberries, raspberries, apples and pumpkin. Produce doesn’t get any fresher and it makes for a fun family outing.

7. Urban Foraging

Nope, this isn’t dumpster-diving, but a recent movement to harvest the neglected fruit from public urban areas. You may be surprised at the bounty found in city parks, alleyways and river banks.

These sites have it down to a science.

Sowing a garden? Signing up for CSA? How will you source your produce this summer? I’d love to hear!

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites. Her first book, Brown Eggs and Jam Jars - Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites, was published in February 2015.

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  1. Two Chicks and a Hen says

    Almost all of the above! We’ll grow a few things that I know fare well on our balcony (greens, radishes, herbs, a few tomatoes). We’ll be joining a CSA. We volunteer weekly at a community garden, and each week the produce is split among the participants. In the beginning of the summer it’s not much, but towards the end, it can be quite a bagful. We have several farmer’s markets in Montreal that we go to, and we’ll probably get apples from the U-pick in the fall. The only options you’ve listed that we won’t do are roadside stands (there aren’t any in the city) and urban foraging (simply because I have no clue where to forage!)

    This post is making me so excited for the summer.

    • I’m excited for summer, too! Sounds like you’ve got all your bases covered…I can put you in touch with a local lady who is into urban foraging, if you want…

  2. Mmmm… I definitely am ready for the freshness to start pouring in! Living in Vermont we have a small plot in a community garden, visit U-picks, frequent several farmers markets, and are regulars at a local farmstand!

  3. I’ll be starting the seeds for our balcony boxes of tomatoes, peppers and trailing cucumbers in about 10 days. We get a veggie box delivery every week, all year (I’m looking forward to something other than spinach and root veg as the weather warms up!), and I go to our local market every week, sometimes twice. I fantasize about a garden plot but they’re very competitive and, honestly, I don’t think I’d manage it.

  4. Jan @Family Bites says

    We do a little bit of everything. Being urban dwellers means not a lot of space for large raised beds, but we do grow some things. We also shop at the Farmer’s Market weekly, visit farms and purchase from the wonderful roadside stands that are just outside out city.

  5. I’ve never gardened before and I have an 8 month old so we are starting small! I’m planning to grow lots and lots of tomatoes. I decided on tomatoes for several reasons: We use a ton of them, I hate buying canned tomatoes because of BPA and nothing has a bigger garden vs. grocery taste difference (to me) than our little red friend : )

    Otherwise, I’ll be getting our produce from the farmers market, roadside stands and sadly, the grocery store. I find myself running back to the grocery store for 2 big reasons: it can be hard to find organics in certain things outside of it (maybe I need to change my eating to be more seasonal…hmm…) and because they buy in bulk it’s usually kinder to my budget. However, I’ve been learning more about commercialized organic, especially when it comes to meat and eggs and it’s making me want to buy from farmers only. Time to rework the budget again….

  6. I usually rely on farmer’s market but I might look into CSA boxes this year.

  7. Trudy Garvey says

    I operate a small CSA so I will have fresh veggies for myself straight out of the garden plus be sharing the wonderful produce with my members, delivered direct to their doorsteps.

  8. Fantastic info!! We definitely garden every year and I love knowing there are so many other resources and links I can reference when needed!

  9. Great topic! This summer, I’ll use several of the sources you listed above. I plant herbs in my own container garden, and this year I am SO pleased to be participating in a CSA. I have been trying to get in for a couple of years and they finally have an opening!!! We bought a family share so I think that’ll be most of our produce.
    I’ll supplement with my local farmer’s market (for small quantities) and u-pick (when we need a LOT of a particular item). We always pick our own apples, strawberries, and tomatoes at a local farm because we eat OBSCENE amounts of both those things.
    Can’t wait for summer!!!

    • Rivki, how fun that you’re in for a CSA box! I have a soft spot for u-picks, as well. It’s so fun to get out in the field!

  10. I do many of the above. We get a CSA box year-round, I shop at the farmers’ market at least every other week, and we have an expanding vegetable garden. I would love to be able to produce enough food in my yard that I could stop either the CSA or the market trips! Right now we have lettuce, carrots, chard, spinach, and peas growing, and I have transplants waiting for seven (!) kinds of tomatoes, three kinds of peppers, and an eggplant. I am going to be busy keeping up with it but I hope it will be worth it!
    We also go to our local berry farm to load up on strawberries and blackberries. Every year I convince my husband we need to buy even more!

    • Seven tomato varieties? Yes, I see why the market visits are still needed….that is nowhere near enough selection! 😉

      Good on you, sounds like a perfect system, though.

  11. Amber | Bluebonnets & Brownies says

    I absolutely adore our town’s farmers’ market, but it doesn’t open until JUNE. Apparently that’s the norm in this area, but it still makes me sad. In San Antonio, the markets open in April (warmer weather = sooner crops).

  12. Nothing to shake up a gloomy end of Winter day like dreaming of Spring 🙂

    We have an organic foods delivery service which we love and we’ll be making a few trips to the Farmer’s Market, I’m sure. We also have a small raised bed backyard garden (which exists mostly for my fresh tomato fix!)

  13. Reading this got me SOO excited for summer produce. I positively live and die for rhubarb. Bring it on! The cool thing is that my husband’s company is promoting a CSA that delivers to their offices. How cool is that!

    • Kelsey, I hear you! I’ve been thinking about my tiny rhubarb patch, out there under three feet of snow, and I get so excited for spring.

  14. This is a go-to resource Aimee. Wonderful info!

  15. This will be our 4th year getting our CSA farm share. We also grow: thyme, rosemary, sage, tarragon, chives, garlic, raspberries, artichokes, leeks. We’re planning on trying potatoes again (last year we started too late), cucumbers, strawberries and cauliflower. To supplement all of these veggies, we buy local fish, grass fed beef & pork, and local cheeses at our YEAR ROUND farmers market. We are very, very lucky.

  16. I’m doing a double garden this year. A big garden at my in-laws in South Carolina and container gardening on my patio in suburban Atlanta. I will also be visiting farmers markets and roadside stands every once in a while. I really wanted to do a CSA this year, but just couldn’t afford it. I’m growing food with two goals in mind. 1. Grow a significant portion of what we eat myself, and 2. Grow for canning and freezing to keep us going throughout the year. Wish me luck! This will be my biggest gardening endeavor by far.

  17. I cannot wait for all the fresh produce! We have a vegetable garden, a separate herb garden right out the back door, and a good size raspberry patch. We like shopping at the various farmer’s markets, roadside stands, and picking strawberries at a nearby U-pick. I want to get to a blueberry U-pick this year for the first time. I like the term “urban foraging”. Reminds me of growing up on the farm and searching for wild asparagus with my mom in vacant groves – it was soooooo good!

  18. We are hoping to have some raised beds at home, but we also joined a CSA (wooohooo!) this winter so I can’t wait for that! So between the CSA, our beds at home, & then going to pick our own fruit – I’m hoping we don’t have to buy much, if any, at the store!

  19. I’m planning to do some container gardening (hopefully, not killing everything this year), shop at the farmers market, and possibly sign up for a CSA.

  20. Alison Cromie says

    We’re growing what seems like every vegetable under the sun this year! We’ve ordered our seeds (heirlooms mostly) and have already started a few! I am so excited for the snow to melt. Plus, we’re starting out apple orchard this year. We’re putting in at least 4 if not more apple trees (and maybe a pear if we’re crazy).

  21. This makes me ache for summer! At first I thought, “CSA” but then realized that we do a little of almost everything:
    – Our CSA this year is just blocks from my kids’ school, so looking forward to sharing the pick-up days with them.
    – Can’t decide if we’re going to stick with our containers or try a small raised bed at home.
    – We love our weekly farmers market trip and this year I it looks like my son will be able to ride his bike, so we can go without the car, and I can get some exercise pushing the toddler (and veggies) in the jogger.
    – There’s a big roaside stand one our drive home from school that I looked longingly at all last summer while frantically trying to drive two cranky, tired, hungry kids home for dinner. This year, everyone’s old enough to endure the short errand – especially with the promise of berries!

  22. Definitely growing one! Last year was my first attempt ever…my dad built me a raised bed, my then 2 yr shoved a bunch of random seeds in and the sun and rain did the rest! I barely did anything as I was nearing the end of pregnancy and it flourished, hopefully it works as well when I put some effort in! 😉

    Definitely want to try a CSA and my daughter is old enough that a u-pick should be fun.

    Farmers Market and Roadside are already my friends 🙂

  23. I dream of starting a garden! As it is now though, we participate in a CSA and I supplement with produce from the public market as much as possible so I don’t have to buy it from the grocery store!

  24. Great suggestions. I personally feel Orlando (where I live) lack a proper farmers market. A qualm, but I promise it’s a hopeful-for-a-better-market qualm 😀

  25. I so wish we had access to a local farm to pick up fruit and veggies, but since we don’t we will continue with our CSA that ships to us in Alaska. I hope I can grow some herbs and that will be it for us; we don’t live anywhere near where huge veggies grow here in AK, so we must take what we can get on the islands!

  26. Ooh, urban foraging catches my eye! That’s a new one for me to try. And we have quite a few U-Pick farms that I have been wanting to visit. You have given me some great ideas for field trips this summer!

  27. What a great post! I love how you’ve honored all of the ways to get fruits and vegetables. I’m lucky living in the San Francisco Bay Area that I can go to my farmers’ market and get fresh, local, organic produce year-round. I’ve been growing my own fava beans every winter (saving seeds for the next year’s crop), but that vegetable bed is too shady in the summer. My only summer spots to plant vegetables in my garden are on a sunny garden wall (we plant 13 different chile varieties in pots) and a tiny strip by our driveway (last year was my first attempt–successful!–at growing yellow, chocolate, gold, red, and green cherry tomatoes there, so I’ll be doing that again this year). Now is a great time of year to be talking vegetables (thanks again).

  28. As someone with no green thumb, I think CSA’s are the BEST thing ever. Great post, Aimee!

  29. We have a fabulous year-round CSA, but this spring/summer I also want to do berry picking locally, and I also love hitting the farmer’s markets on occasion. We’ll plant a few things, but won’t be doing too much gardening this year since I’m growing a baby instead. 😉

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