I asked Kansas City-based Gen X Mom Sarah Krause, frequent contributor to the Fresh Talk blog, to look at the topic of farmer's marketers and community supported agriculture. Interviewing more than a dozen of her friends plus a retail source or two, Sarah delivers a honest commentary that describes the wide spectrum of attitudes about this hot topic.

The trend of eating local hits home

By Sarah Krause

In the spring and early summer, consumers’ interest in farmer’s markets and community supported agriculture (CSA) kicks into gear, as local fruits and vegetables begin to emerge. Moms, especially, want to shop local. We are concerned about what we feed our families and want to teach our children about healthy food choices. Local supermarkets begin displaying local produce to entice shoppers. This always catches my attention, especially if it’s designed to look like a farmer’s market with wooden crates, awnings and hand-drawn signage. I’ve been known to buy the entire basket of small pickling cucumbers to make bread and butter pickles all summer long. A favorite Saturday activity for my family is to visit farmer’s markets – bonus if we happen upon one during a day trip in the area. One cool find last summer: white heirloom cucumbers.

One long-time produce manager recently told me that the local food trend is strong, and he makes local produce available to his customers all summer. The store displays the local goods -- such as tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, squash, melons, greens -- outside as much as possible to attract customer attention. He said people want to know where the fruits and vegetables come from, so he and his team get as much information as possible on each locally-grown item to display alongside. “Customers really like it when produce has the exact place it’s from,” he said.

The local food movement is attractive to many “green-thinking moms,” as one mom refers to herself. Erin, mom of two boys, said she began looking for local foods so her kids would know where food comes from. “What I like is that you’re supporting local enterprise and often seeing and interacting with the person growing your produce. It helps you appreciate food and be connected to it.” Another mom of two, Christy, agreed. “I like to strike that balance between supporting local farmers along with eating (produce) and serving it to my kids.”

While most of the moms had their favorite farmer’s markets to visit, many were either unfamiliar with the term “CSA” or knew of them but gave various reasons to not use them. “I don’t do it because it seems like a big commitment, like I’m committed to having to go to the grocery store to pick it up every Saturday,” said Courtney, mom of one. “Also, I don’t like to be surprised, so I wouldn’t want foods I’ve never heard of or don’t like,” she added. Vacations or forgetfulness would get in her way, mom of two Jeanne said. “I think (CSAs) are a great idea, but we would end up never using it.”

That element of surprise is what I actually like about belonging to a CSA! I plan my meals after I see what I’ve gotten. I have participated in several CSAs over the last few years and can hardly wait to see what goodies await me when I’m handed my bag. One local farmer’s co-op brings in whatever is harvested in season and you get to make selections – I’ve had produce such as, okra, blackberries, corn, a pumpkin, soybeans, and greens I’ve never heard of. Love it! I also like the Hen House “Pick 5” CSA program. Participants go each Saturday and pick any five items from the great selection. If I want five cartons of peaches, I can get five cartons, or I can mix and match, which is fun. It’s not a chore to me … it’s a culinary adventure! Jenny, mom of two, agrees with me. She’s participated in Peacock Farms CSA for three years (it’s delivered to your door and it’s organic!) and enjoys the unknown. “You don’t know what’s coming and I like that surprise,” she said. “It forces us to try different things.” Even if her kids turn their noses up at times, Jenny still wants them to be exposed to different foods. Rhubarb was the unique item delivered in her last order, and she made a delicious rhubarb cobbler for her family.

Many of the moms I talked to claimed to be spontaneous shoppers, saying the CSA option didn’t fit:
“I go when I need something, and I just look around to see what looks good.”
“I don’t spend a lot of time grocery shopping – I just grab and go.”
“I’m always last minute shopping!”
“I just forget about (farmer’s markets/CSAs) and shop for produce at my grocery store.”

Some moms said the commitment all summer long, coupled with the “surprise” element, were cons to using a local CSA. “I’d be interested if I could pick and choose what I like and when I’d go pick it up,” said Courtney. Wendy, mom of three, agreed: “I don’t use all the things included. I’d want to pick and choose my items.” Chris, mom of two boys, said she’d like to try a CSA but she doesn’t know where to go. “I haven’t pursued it … lazy! Maybe I would if it were right under my nose.”

I think it’s important to find a CSA that fits your needs and availability. But if that’s too much of a commitment, then shopping the many area farmer’s markets is a great option, and one that most moms use and enjoy. “The produce (in a grocery store) never looks as good as at the farmer’s market,” said Liz, mom of three. “And I will drive to the country if I hear there’s a good heirloom tomato! I eat a tomato a day in the summer!” Tasha, mom of two, grew up in France and is used to fresh produce being readily available and served at each meal. She recently moved here from NYC and looks forward to trying out the KC markets. “I like to take my time and look around at all the choices,” she said.

That’s the draw of farmer’s markets to busy moms – you can pick and choose exactly what you want, how much you need, when you want it. “I like farmer’s markets better than the CSA option because you can pick and choose,” said Jeanne, who likes the downtown and Overland Park markets. Lori and her mother used to check out the local markets together each Saturday, a tradition that she tries to continue on her own now. “It’s what I learned from her,” she said. “I like to pick and choose my own stuff.” Lori also likes to check out the local markets when she travels abroad. Chris also uses farmer’s markets as her Saturday ritual, especially before doing her regular shopping for the week. “I look for what’s local, fresh for the season and a good price, like zucchini, peaches or strawberries,” she said. “I will pay more at the farmer’s markets to get good stuff.”

Moms said they often bought less produce during their regular shopping when they shop the local markets. “I would definitely choose the local produce over the other. I wouldn’t buy it at the store if I’m going to a farmer’s market,” said Christy, who grew up going to farmer’s markets with her family. “I like to get to know the farmers.”