The other day, I was reading an online discussion about the Farmers Market produce prices and Supermarket Prices. The discussion was both enlightening and discouraging. Let me explain.
The thread began with a consumer saying he was ‘done’ with shopping at his farmers market, because prices were too high; in some cases twice as expensive at the grocery store. He said that he wants to support local, but not at any price.
On the whole, the responders were supportive and equally frustrated that the prices of everything from tomatoes to eggs to chickens was too much of a budget buster to continue to support their local farmers markets. A few hardy souls defended the markets, but to be honest their arguments were more subjective and heartfelt than objective and persuasive. So, I’d like to address this important issue as dispassionately as possible (which could be difficult because I am a ‘local’ small farmer).
First, there are farmers markets that are very pricey and are aimed at a target market that doesn’t really include the average family trying to manage Dave Ramsey’s ‘baby steps’. There are also many misconceptions about ‘cheap food’ that are costing us dearly. I will address both those issues in coming weeks. For now, though, I will speak to subject at hand.
I loved the discussion comments about wanting to support local producers. It means a great deal that so many Americans see the big picture and want to be a part of a community based economy. Produce sold at these markets, is however, about much more than supporting local. It’s about quality, flavor and nutrition.
The produce at the Saturday (usually) Market, costs more to produce. For example, the seeds themselves are more expensive. This is partly because the mega farms can buy in larger quantities and get price breaks. It’s also related to the varieties grown. The seeds of many heirloom and open pollinated vegetable and fruit varieties are much more expensive than the ‘commercial’ varieties.
It is much more labor intensive for the small Market Farmer. Many of them are working alone, or with close family members, to amend soil, make compost, hand water and feed, etc. instead of using big machines to spit out large quantities of chemical fertilizers and hazardous insecticides.
It takes longer to get the local, organic produce to market, so fewer plants can be grown in the same space. Let me give you a quick example. Local, organic tomatoes are ripened on the vine, which takes weeks longer than picking them green, sticking them in the back of a truck and ripening them with gas canisters. Therefore, it’s harder to replace plants for a second, or different, crop.
And let’s not forget that there are no Govt. subsidies for the Market Gardener. That makes a huge difference in the cost of production and sale.
The Produce you buy on Saturdays at the Market costs more because it’s worth more. It’s worth more in terms of nutrition, long term health, and taste.
No one thinks all shoes, tires, or pickup trucks are created equal; but people continue to think that an egg is an egg and a tomato is a tomato. It baffles me, especially in light of all the information that is available out there.
It is well known that free range eggs are more than twice as good for you than are chicken house eggs. Free range eggs are high in healthy Omega 3 fatty acids from the chickens eating grass and spending their days out in the fresh air and sunshine. Chicken house eggs are loaded with artery clogging omega 6 fatty acids from living on a grain only diet and living a sedentary life. Do you think something good for you should cost the same as something bad for you? How much is your health worth.
Tomatoes and other fresh fruits and vegetables grown by local, organic and beyond organic farmers, are loaded with vitamins and minerals that are often missing from the supermarket varieties. And the Saturday Market ones are missing the toxic chemicals the supermarket ones are often swimming in.
Take carrots, potatoes and other root vegetables as an example. In a commercial environment, those vegetables are regularly bathed in a virtual chemical soup bath of toxins. They sit in it, soak it up and pass it on to you at low, low, prices. Your, Saturday market varieties have likely been grown in well composted, nutrient rich soils and fed only natural fertilizers from things like seaweed. The insecticides, if used at all, come from things like ivory dish soap, garlic juice, and water. Do you think those more safely grown might be worth more than the chemical soup kind?
Sometimes what you save on the front end by paying less at the checkout, you pay for down the road in health care. Produce may look alike, but they are not all the same.
The Farmers Market produce also tastes better. I can’t even begin to recount the number of people who have remarked on the superior flavor of our produce, eggs and chicken, as compared to what they get at the store. What is flavor worth? Only you can decide what it’s worth to you.
There you have it. Farmers Market produce costs more because it’s worth more, just like a Coach handbag is worth more than the knock off at Wal Mart or a BMW is worth more than a Ford. The big difference is that with handbag and car analogies is that cheaper purses and automobiles are not putting your family’s health at risk.
Coming Soon: Part 2, Why Some Farmers Are Driving Consumers Away From Farmers Markets