Are food co-ops better than farmers markets?
May 20, 2023 1:45 PM   Subscribe

Hi. I am curious to know if food co-ops are better than farmers' markets in someways or are farmers' markets better?
posted by RearWindow to Food & Drink (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I think the answer is going to be very, very specific to where you live, the time of year, even the individual co-ops and farmers markets that are available to you.

Ways co-ops are sometimes better: in my experience more likely to stock cleaning products, paper goods, other household stuff like that, plus pantry items. Generally have a wider range of open hours, while farmers' markets are often a weekend (where I live, also a spring-to-fall) thing.

Ways farmers' markets are sometimes better: more likely to have extremely local products and produce at peak freshness. Often more likely to have prepared foods. A better place to socialize, if that's something you're into. Prices are better in some cases.
posted by box at 1:53 PM on May 20, 2023 [8 favorites]

Can you share your definition of better? More financially viable? More environmentally friendly? More likely to stock heathy/sustainable/delicious food items? Etc

Tho I agree, there's likely no definitive answer. A farmers market in my region was revealed to be hosting multiple vendors who were reselling conventional grocery store produce so...YMMV.
posted by stray at 2:06 PM on May 20, 2023 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: @stray I mean better in terms of financially viable, environmentally friendly, community inclusive with social connection, and in terms of accessibility and healthy sustainable foods!
posted by RearWindow at 2:08 PM on May 20, 2023

Co-ops have more fun international foods and bulk products, like rice, couscous, quinoa, flour, cereals, nuts, herbs and spices - that you can't get at farmers markets.

Farmers markets are seasonal and local and you can often get eggs or beef, honey, maple syrup, that sort of thing, in addition to all of the fruits and vegetables. The fruits and vegetables are often cheaper.

Co-ops can have different character. Ours will sell red bell peppers for 6.99 a pound in February. I think that's egregious and sort of outside the boundaries of what food coops are supposed be - not like I'm so holier-than-thou I wouldn't buy a red pepper in February, but when I worked at a food coop thirty years ago, part of the mandate was that nutritious food should be affordable. So they wouldn't have given shelf space to something like that unless it was like the Feast of St Peppers day and everyone was willing to spend $15 on a bunch of peppers. They have had local eggs recently for $3, which is pretty good for our area.

Anyway, they're sort of like spokes on the same wheel but not comparable.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:10 PM on May 20, 2023 [2 favorites]

What coops sell will depend on their mandate. The coops I grew up with were not urbane purveyors of organic international foods, they were a way for people in a more rural area to access the same food as the chain supermarket at a moderate discount for coop members.
posted by stray at 2:14 PM on May 20, 2023

Saw your update -- coops usually have relationships with local farms and with each other. You can eat seasonally and locally, and buy chicken from local farmers (as you can at farmer's markets).

You can buy a lot of stuff free from packaging. Ours still hasn't come back from pre-covid days but in the old days you could buy liquid laundry detergent and keep reusing the same jug that you bring in forever. Same with honey, peanut butter.

Still, I like buying grains and such that I put into a paper bag and like knowing I don't have to throw plastic into a landfill to eat whole wheat couscous, which seems at best a net neutral in karma.

They are both worth supporting and depending on what is important to you you'll find products at both that feel right to buy.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:17 PM on May 20, 2023 [1 favorite]

A farmers market in my region was revealed to be hosting multiple vendors who were reselling conventional grocery store produce so...YMMV.

Came in here to say this. Farmers markets 30 years ago were different than a lot of them are today.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 2:19 PM on May 20, 2023 [3 favorites]

Research and visit the co-ops and farmers markets in your area to find out the best answer to your question. There's one co-op in my city and a host of farmers markets as well. My co-op is pretty good and sells local produce but local can mean up to 400 miles away. At the farmers markets I can find a small farmer who sells what they grow in their yard along with folks from up and down the state.
posted by AnyUsernameWillDo at 2:49 PM on May 20, 2023

Farmers markets support what the USDA calls “micro-farmers” - think 10 acres or less. Micro-farming allows hyper-local farmers to use undeveloped land close to where people eat — I know some farmers that have 2 or 3 smallish plots in a largely developed area, and using those vacant lots does a number of things: it keeps “roots in the ground” on untended plots of land; it drives out rats; it actively adds to carbon sequestration; it drastically cuts down on food transportation emissions..

Maybe most importantly, it keeps small farmers farming — someone with say 2 acres and a desire to grow. It helps address food deserts in lots of the country. It keeps food supplies hyper-local, which increases stability and security for the community.

Co-ops do but “local”, but it’s hard to know how they define that.

A lot of co-op also will not work with micro-farmers unless they can guarantee a certain quantity over the course of X number of weeks — again, edging out people how are trying to put small parcels of land into production. It also leads to a return to mono culture farming (think carrots, nothing but carrots) which is not the best for either the soil nor for the long-term heartiness of the crop.
posted by Silvery Fish at 4:08 PM on May 20, 2023 [2 favorites]

When using a co-op as their market, farmers have more time to farm. It saves them time that they would otherwise be at the farmers market or having to employ other people to run the stand. Co-ops are open more hours and days of the week, so more opportunity for shoppers. My co-op has ongoing relationships with farms, dairies, ranches and citrus growers all over the state of Texas. This allows us to offer a wide range of offerings which may not be grown within a few miles of the co-op. For instance we are in central Texas, where root crops, peaches, greens and eggs can be sourced very locally, but most dairies are about 100 miles north and that's where we get our local milk. A few ranches are within 50-75 miles, but many are just a bit farther, 100-200 miles. And we offer citrus grown in the Rio Grande Valley that does not grow in central Texas at all. Another service that co-ops can supply is as a pickup location for shoppers who who are signed up for box subscription from local farms, which means the farmer only has to make one delivery and the customers can pickup at their convenience.

My co-op has worked intensively with farmers to help them get started and increase the variety of crops grown. For instance if we have a large supplier of carrots, we may encourage another farmer to grow greens or plant on a different schedule to increase the season available. Having a guaranteed market takes care of some of the unpredictability. The co-op supports farmers communicating with other farmers so they can plan together. The co-op has also made financial contributions to farmers just starting up and fundraisers for farms that have had setbacks such as a tornado or flooding. Full disclosure — I worked for 36 years at my co-op, have served on the board, and am still an active member after retiring. I was a first hand witness to the impact my co-op made on the development of local organic farming.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 4:53 PM on May 20, 2023 [16 favorites]

You should be able to look up information about specific farmers' markets and see whether they focus on local produce or allow resale. (And up to a point, there's some logic to the resale - you can get all your stuff in one place rather than making a trip to the grocery store.) Do they accept food stamps and WIC, also?

And with co-ops, you can check to see whether they are worker-member co-ops (pretty rare now), whether they are union, how they fit into the neighborhood, etc. Ideally, you'd be able to find a union co-op with a worker-member option (that is, you don't pay to be a member, you do work hours, which renders it accessible to cash-poor people) but at the very least, you can avoid a big one that is a gentrifying force. You should also be able to find out what their goals are for their client base - are they focusing on affordable food, some of which may not be organic or local, or are they focusing only on the most upscale products?

Like, a good co=op is better than a bad farmers' market, and vice versa.
posted by Frowner at 4:56 PM on May 20, 2023 [5 favorites]

Another thing to look into is CSAs (community sponsored agriculture). We’ve been doing that for about 15 years with a family-owned farm. We pay in February (lets them plan and plant) for vegetables throughout the end of June to mid-October (southern Ontario growing season), delivered weekly. If the sweet potatoes do well we get 27 lbs in one week. If the carrots don’t we get a paltry few. It takes some sweat equity to freeze the extras etc. and my kids have come to see June as GreensFest lol, but I’ve come to feel connected to our farm and the people who run it, and the migrant workers (they built a new dorm over Covid). We don’t get much fruit, just strawberries and they trade for apples.

I’m not sure the carbon footprint works great with the delivery but it is a hybrid vehicle. Definitely it’s a win on packaging- it comes in buns that we return the following week. We don’t do the egg share but we save our egg cartons for them anyway (by request).
posted by warriorqueen at 4:57 PM on May 20, 2023 [7 favorites]

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