Individuals with commitment issues, or those who want to eat locally but don't have a family to feed, might consider a buying club.
Not a club like Sam's or Costco.
We're talking about the much more intimate shopping experience of buying from local family farms that are committed to sustainable agricultural practices, including organic farming and pasture management.
For example, the year-round buying club at Mug Shots Coffee House and Cafe in Fairmount.
Unlike a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture program), in which you pay a couple of hundred dollars up front for a season-long weekly portion, individuals can buy farm-raised local vegetables from Mug Shots weekly, monthly, or from time to time, depending on their needs.
The coffeehouse offers a $10 Veggie Lovers box, four pounds of seasonal fruit and vegetables; the $20 Farmer's Delight with seasonal produce, plus a dozen brown eggs from pastured, vegetarian-fed hens, a half gallon of hormone-free milk, and a half pound of Lancaster Jack cheese; or the $30 Family Harvest box, which has the produce, eggs, milk, and cheese, plus a pound of ground turkey and a loaf of sliced multigrain bread.
Extras can be added at a la carte prices. There's sustainable seafood from Otolith (frozen); grass-fed beef; double-smoked bacon the regulars are accustomed to at Mug Shots; and cloudlike pastry flour from Daisy Organic that chef Valerie Erwin uses to make her fabulous biscuits at the Geechee Girl Rice Cafe in Germantown.
A la carte selections vary with the seasons too, but last week the list of offerings featured French breakfast radishes, long and thinner than the standard, but with an earthy crunch.
Orders must be placed online by 2 p.m. on any Tuesday and picked up after 4 p.m. the following Friday or before 2 p.m. Saturday.
The beauty of the club is that you don't have to order every week, says Carlos Walkup, who handles the buying club at Mug Shots.
"The club was started by the owner about six years ago, just as a convenience for customers. The owner, Angela Vendetti, was buying locally for the coffee-shop menu, so she decided to let customers piggyback on her farm orders.
"It's not a huge source of income for Mug Shots," Walkup says. "Just something we do for customers."
Mug Shots' home base is at 2100 Fairmount Ave., but produce orders can also be picked up at the Manayunk and Girard Avenue locations.
Bear in mind that these are coffee shops, not grocery stores. Customers can't just breeze in and buy a bunch of purple carrots.
Still, the buying club has advantages over a trip to a neighborhood farmers market.
Ordering in advance gives some assurance that you'll get what you want; it saves time, controls costs, and cuts down on impulse purchases so that you don't end up blowing your food budget on chocolate chip cookies or four pounds of shallots to eat all by your lonesome.
On one recent Friday, for example, the four-pound, $10 basket contained sweet potatoes, Jonagold apples, butterhead lettuce grown hydroponically at farmer Glenn Brendle's Green Meadow Farm, Norwiss potatoes (similar to Yukon Golds), and the last of the purple carrots.
Walkup says February is a difficult month for locally grown produce.
"But March can be even leaner," he says. "There's little left to the farmers' harvested produce in storage. You'll see mostly greenhouse goods until new growth comes in April and May."
More Local Winter Produce
Mug Shots isn't the only winter buying club around.
Philadelphia Winter Harvest is a November-through-April club with 22 pickup sites that include Ambler, Elkins Park, Media, Rydal, and elsewhere. Members pay $50 to join for the season and there is no minimum order.
Sweet Stem Farm (formerly Meadow Run Farm) is a year-round buying club with monthly ordering and pickup spots in Mount Airy, Center City, West Philadelphia, West Chester, and Wynnewood.
For details about Philadelphia Winter Harvest and Sweet Stem Farm, go to www.farmtocity.org and click on "buying clubs."
LocalHarvest.org also lists farmers markets that are open year-round. Among them is the Glenside Farmers' Market, whose winter location (January through March) is in the greenhouse at Primex Garden Center, 435 W. Glenside Ave., on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. through March 12. Details at www.theglensidefarmersmarket.com
Fair Food Farmstand in the Reading Terminal Market is open year-round, offering produce from a 150-mile radius.
- Dianna Marder
For information about the Mug Shots buying club, go to: www.mugshotscoffeehouse.com/buyingClub.asp