I love supporting my local community, especially the area farmers. I am lucky in that the area I live in has a great supply of freshly-grown produce. One of my biggest decisions was to figure out how to get my hands on those tasty fresh fruits and vegetables. I had a few choices: I could pick them up at a store—either a specialty market or a grocery store; I could find a farm stand or a farmer’s market and get what I needed there; or I could join a co-op.

The problem with the grocery store or a specialty market is that I could never really be sure where the food was actually coming from. Typical grocery stores import foods from all over—it’s necessary in most places because most climates are not conducive to growing everything most people are looking for. However, their price tends to be lower, because they sell more of a variety of items and make their money elsewhere. Specialty markets often have more locally-sourced items, but the closest one is a bit farther away than I would like, and it also is more expensive. So while I could probably buy strawberries there that were grown a few miles away, I’m paying more for them.

The next option that is worthwhile is going to a farm stand or a farmer’s market. This idea appeals to me because I get to visit the farm which produced the food I am purchasing, and more money goes directly into the hands of the people who work so hard to make the food. That matters to me. I would rather buy my steak or apples from my neighbor than from some factory in another country. Of course, I won’t be able to get all of my grocery shopping this way, but the stuff I do buy will be of better quality. There is also the potential for it to be cheaper, as I am purchasing it directly instead of through a third party.

My other choice was going into a co-op. I had two big concerns regarding buying food in a cooperative situation: the first was that it can be more expensive (and in return, I would be receiving more food). The second is that most places do not tell you in advance what you are going to be receiving. Typically, you get whatever in-season produce was ready to be harvested at predetermined intervals. This allows farmers the most freedom, in that they can grow the things best suited for their lands and the time of year, and guarantees them a certain amount of funding as they go through the year. These can be pick up or a delivery service.

I ended up looking into all three, and I decided that I’m going to do the co-op. I found a farm nearby that supplies eggs as well as seasonal vegetables, fruits, and herbs. I am looking forward to getting creative with the ‘mystery box’ type ingredients I’ll be receiving every couple of weeks. It should be exciting!

Do you have experience with any of these options? Which do you like best, and why?