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.
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?
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?