5 Sources for Produce When You Don’t Grow Your Own

The following post is from Jessica of GoodCheapEats and LifeasMOM:

I was born into a family of subsistence farmers. My dad, my grandparents, my great-grandparents and all those before them were born and raised on farms. My dad was the first to leave the rural life for college and never returned.

While I’ve lived my life in the ‘burbs, I’ve always been fascinated with fresh produce and growing things. When I was a child, my dad held onto his agricultural roots by planting our entire backyard with sweet corn, bell peppers, tomatoes, radishes, and fruit trees.

Over the years I’ve had seasons of growing my own and seasons of finding it elsewhere, depending on our budget, our backyard, and the busyness of my life. Quite honestly, summers with a newborn baby are summers when I have a very brown thumb. And I’ve found that rental homes don’t always lend themselves to great backyard gardens.

If you can, explore the world of backyard gardening. It is a wonderful way to get the food you want, the way you want. Now is a perfect time to plan for next summer’s growing season. Check out some of Shaina’s tips for preparing for next year.

While I would hold that growing your own is the best for a number of reasons, it’s not what I currently do, nor is it necessarily the option you might choose for your family.

But you have so many choices! Let’s review them.

1. Buy a share in a CSA.

A CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture, is a way to buy local produce directly from the farmer. Growers offer a certain number of shares to the public for purchase. Each week you receive a box of whatever’s in season in exchange for your subscription.

There are benefits to both the purchaser and the farmer. You get fresh produce, often delivered to your home, and he knows that he’s sold a certain portion of his produce before the busy growing season begins. LocalHarvest maintains a directory of CSAs throughout the country and can connect you with one near you.

Since no one can perfectly predict the weather or the growing conditions of a given year, you also share some of the risk. If a storm wipes out the crops, everybody weathers the loss. However, you’re investing locally and developing community, for better or for worse, which in itself is a good thing.

2. Get to know your local farmers’ market.

While not all farmers’ markets are created equal, they are generally a great source of fresh, organic produce. Chances are there is at least one weekly market being held in your area, if not more than one, if you live in a metropolitan area. But, you may need to do some homework.

Know what you want and start asking questions of each of the vendors. Inquire about the produce, the pesticides and fertilizers used (if any), the time of harvest, and anything else you want to know about the food you’re going to feed your family. Don’t be intimidated.

Over time, you’ll be able to determine which growers are the best fit for you, when to arrive to get the best selection (usually early) and when to get the best prices (usually right before closing).

3. Find great deals at your health food store.

My local health food store is my current favorite choice for fresh produce. While the packaged items at these stores (like Sprouts, Henrys, or Sunflower) are grossly overpriced, the produce is almost always a steal.

I regularly stock up on whatever is on sale, paying less than $1/pound on almost everything. Often the organic variety is less expensive than the standard. Last year, I bought bushels of organic apples for less than $0.50 a pound.

4. Enjoy more organic produce and good prices from club warehouses.

Costco and Sam’s Club are catching up with the times and regularly offering more organic produce at affordable prices. While they may not always be locally grown, their price and convenience is often unbeatable. If you’re a regular club shopper, then this might be the right fit for you.

In my neck of the woods, organic greens, lettuces, carrots and peppers are an exceptionally good deal.

5. Stick close to home at your neighborhood grocery store.

While grocery stores vary greatly in their selection, price, and quality, they are also the most readily available sources of food. Great deals and great products are to be had. You just need to know your store.

Talk with the produce manager and ask the same questions you would ask a grower. Usually grocery store employees want your business and will do what they can to accomodate you. They may even be able to order a certain product just for you. It never hurts to ask.

Whatever you choose, just remember you’re doing food your way.

What’s YOUR favorite source of fresh produce?

A gourmand at heart, Jessica Fisher has learned to reconcile a tight budget with her love for great food. As a busy mom of six voracious eaters, she regularly shares healthy, delicious and budget-friendly recipes at GoodCheapEats. She also writes at her parenting blog, LifeasMOM.