Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Is the Farmers' Market more expensive?

As I promote our local farmers' market at festivals and fairs all over town, I get a variety of questions from the community. For instance, two weeks ago I posted about the safety of buying at the farmers' market after having spoken to a concerned citizen. But the question I get more often than any other is: Is the farmers' market more expensive? 

Well, that's a tough question. And my typical answer starts with "Yes and No." We touched on this briefly last month with actual costs, but not so much from a philosophical point of view. For that, we're going to need to delve a little deeper into the market to answer this completely.

Prices

First, let's strictly talk prices. Comparing dollar for dollar, some things I've found are actually cheaper at the market, some are more expensive, and some are about the same. And of course it all depends on what's on sale at your local grocery at any given time. 

Cheaper - at our market, the eggs are WAY cheaper than what you'd find at the grocery. We're running $2.50 for a dozen free-range eggs. Last time I looked in the grocery, it was anywhere from $3.50 a dozen or some are that much per half dozen.

About the same - Veggies, I find, are about the same price (again strictly dollar for dollar) as you'll find in the grocery stores. I'm guessing vendors shop at the grocery occasionally or check out local ads to gage prices. 

More expensive - Fruits are generally more expensive at our market because they are such a rarity, but then it's only certain fruits. Melons are about the same price, but peaches, plums, and berries are definitely pricier dollar for dollar.

But does "dollar for dollar" really account for the true cost of the items we buy, whether from the grocery or from the local farmers' market?

True Cost

I recently read a blog post challenging readers to determine if local/organic foods are too expensive, or are conventionally-grown foods too cheap. I'm a firm believer of the latter. Since the 70's and for good reason, our food system has pushed an agenda of making lots of food available at cheap prices. I mean that's great, right? Well, unfortunately, we've only swung the pendulum to the opposite extreme. Because what we're getting is not just inexpensive food but the quality is seriously lacking as a result. In other words, that cheap food is nutritionally cheap. 

And not only do we have to buy (and eat) more of a conventionally-grown product to get the same nutrition (because conventional growing depletes the soil of nutrients), but we "pay" also (though indirectly) for the damage these monocultures and pesticide-laden crops do to our environment. And this doesn't even take into account the "price we pay" as a community when we give our dollars to big-box grocery stores instead of local farmers, an unfortunately dying breed. We may not pay the price at the check-out counter, but we do eventually pay the price.

What is the true cost of our food? I'm not sure anyone can give you a concrete answer, but you can bet that food grown sustainably and naturally, food grown locally by area farmers is closer to a real price.

So back to our original question: is the farmers' market more expensive? From time to time, you may pay a little more money out of pocket, but if you take into account the rewards to our health (instead of health care costs), to the Earth (instead the cost of depleted resources), and to our local economy (losing local businesses to the mega-cheap big-box stores), then eating locally from your area farmers' market may just be the smartest financial decision you can make. 

What about you? Do you find your local farmers' market more expensive dollar for dollar than the grocery store? Are you willing to pay a little extra for quality, a cleaner environment, and support of the local economy? 

19 comments:

JAM said...

Our farmers' market, which is a 20 week market starting in mid June, is definitely more expensive than the store. Eggs, veggies, fruit, specialty items, you name it - all more expensive. I shop there as much as I can anyway, to support the farmers and get great local stuff, but it's an indulgence for sure, which is why it's hard to get people around here really fired up about eating from markets or other local sources.

fearlesschef said...

There are several farmer's markets in the area and I have found that some are so dirt cheap that when people come, they can't control themselves. And yet there are some that a dozen eggs are 5 dollars. I have just learned to shop in advance and check things out before I buy.

Carter said...

I think this is a very interesting topic. I have just graduated from college and I am heading to get my Masters. Needless to say, I do not have a lot of money, but I try to do all the shopping I can through my CSA and the farmer's market. I find that some stuff is more expensive, but like you said, some is not. I feel that it is all worth it because I am supporting the local economy and I know what I am putting in my body. Also, I think I eat less (only what I need) when I focus on shopping at the market. I am less tempted to get things that I don't need and don't serve a nutritional purpose and in turn, I find that I spend less money overall. It's a win win for me.

Beany said...

The thing I found is that everyone I've spoken to who complains about expensive farmers' market produce has different priorities than me. They're okay with droppings hundreds of dollars on shoes or shirts, but don't want to spend more than pennies per ounce on what they're putting into their mouth. That is just insanity. Is it really that important to watch some dumb reality show and pay money over it instead of eating something grown a few miles away? There is just a lack of long term thinking in this country that drives me mad. The cost isnt' just a one time deal, it's something that should be considered over one's lifetime. I haven't gotten sick in nearly a year (shingles aside - which was caused by stress).

So my answer is that it's a stupid question. :)

Beany said...

Heather (and anyone else interested): did you know about Rebecca Blood's Food stamp budget?

Heather @ SGF said...

JAM - That's a shame. Because once you get someone hooked on local food (and it's not hard :) they tend to come back, knowing how good it is (both in taste and in supporting the community). Glad you're going the extra mile for good food!

fearlesschef - I hear the same thing about the Houston area. That some of their markets are considered upper class. How silly. Eating local is about as basic as it gets...

Carter - Exactly! I feel the same way. It's definitely doable, even on a very small budget, but it requires mindfulness, which you obviously are doing. Great job!

Beany - I agree. We coupon clip and haggle over change then turn around and buy frivolous stuff. I hadn't thought of that perspective when I wrote this post. Thanks for bringing it up. You're absolutely right!

PS I hadn't heard about the food stamp challenge. I'll go check it out... Thanks!

Chile said...

Well, from what I've seen at our Farmer's Market, the produce is probably about the same as organic produce in the store. However, compared to conventional produce on sale at the grocery stores, it's much more expensive.

While this may not be a factor for you or me, it is for folks on a very tight budget. As I wander around the Farmer's Market, the shoppers I see are all nicely dressed, came in nice cars or are walking nice bikes, etc. They are obviously not struggling with poverty.

Heather @ SGF said...

Chile - we have some of that at our market, but we also have people who come with their WIC coupons. Those are my favorite customers because despite the hardships they must face, they are still at the market every Saturday morning looking for healthy, tasty foods.

Chile said...

The Food Bank has a small farm stand at their pick-up location one day a week. Quite a few folks pick up fresh veggies there, priced cheaper than my Farmer's Market, after getting their food box.

I have not seen these folks at my Farmer's Market but that may have as much to do with location as anything else. The Food Bank is closer to the more poverty-stricken areas and my Farmer's Market is on the edge of the wealthier part of the city. (I think there are at least 3 different Farmer's Markets locally on different days.)

Heather @ SGF said...

Chile - are they all run by different groups? We have two different groups, but one is very small (broke off from ours years ago due to a disagreement). Ours is currently pretty big (for us) and we run three different markets during the week (all the same people, but some go to one market and not the other). It's fun to hear about what the market are like in other places...

Chile said...

They seem to be run by different organizations. Here is the Local Harvest page with them all. (Green Valley is an hour away so it doesn't count. Oro Valley and Rincon markets are on the far outskirts of the Tucson metropolitan area, too.)

Chard Lady said...

Our local farmer's market is more expensive than the local health food store, except for oranges. They are about the same price. I don't purchase much at the farmer's market because it is inconvenient and much more expensive than growing food myself and trading with other backyard growers.

Beany said...

I told my husband about this, and he suggested making a pamphlet and having it available stating benefits of farmers' market (cost differences included). Perhaps about factory farming, about GM food, about health benefits, keeping money in the community, etc, etc.

He also mentioned how a Mercedes costs more than say..a Pinto (or the equivalent), a rolex more than a swatch. Don't Americans have the view that you pay for what you get?
Not that you need anymore work.

Chile said...

Beany - that's a great idea. We have a brochure like that for the CSA.

Heather @ SGF said...

Chile - Thanks for the link!

Chard Lady - I agree. The best way to go is to grow your own (although now I don't buy much at the farmers' market and feel bad that I'm not supporting them as much). But the market is the next best thing for those who can't grow their own.

Beany - That IS a great idea. One of the Friends of the Market volunteers offered to adapt some of my posts for handouts at the market. I'll suggest we delve deeper into this issue...

Anonymous said...

There is no way we could afford to shop at the farmer's market on a regular basis. In Vancouver it is INCREDIBLY expensive ($11 for 4 onions expensive).
Maybe when I've graduated from college we'll be able to afford it, but for now we stick to a semi local all organic diet.
My daughter and I go down every weekend during the summer and pick up some cheese and berries but that's about it.

Heather @ SGF said...

Anonymous - That's CRAZY! Do you think the market there is meant to be trendy? I hear some of the Houston markets are like that and the prices are higher because it's the fad for rich people. That's so disappointing. Perhaps there are nearby farms where you could buy the produce directly for less...

Anonymous said...

maybe but I don't own a car so getting to farms would be quite a hassle on bike w/ toddler.
The CSA's are also extremely expensive....
Almost $600 for a box from June-October.

Farmer's markets are extremely trendy, I don't know how anyone in Vancouver could eat a fully local diet (who knew the 100 mile book came from the area...haha)

Heather @ SGF said...

Anonymous - That's what I like about farmers' markets - one stop shopping without having to visit each of the farms every week. Of course, the markets then need to "keep it real" and not expect to gouge people on price just because it's the current cool thing to do. I hear that's a problem in Houston...