Monday, July 27, 2009

Are the Farmers Markets really more expensive?

This post taken from The Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance Blog :

Are the Farmers Markets really more expensive?

While it is true that our markets offer many specialty items and unique products that might fall in to the category of splurges or special treats, the vast majority of the fruits, vegetables, herbs and berries are actually cheaper at the farmers markets, especially with organics. Additionally, the quality and variety of the products at the farmers markets often far exceed what one gets in a conventional grocery store. Berries are one example: there are more varieties at the markets (look for blueberries, tayberries, golden raspberries, numerous varieties of strawberries and red raspberries, blackberries, gooseberries (both red and green), marionberries, huckleberries, red currants…). Berry pints are nearly always cheaper at the markets - and, you can buy whole or half flats (which means if you don't gobble them up before the next week, you can freeze several pints to use for smoothies or pies when berry sesason is over).

Below are a number of price comparisons conducted from 2003 to the present, showing the Farmers Markets to be more cost-effective than regular grocery stores. We will continue to monitor this issue closely and publish new comparison studies.

Remember, too, that there are other ways to save at the markets. For eg., if you're buying large quantities for canning, most farmers will give you a discount; and many farmers also sell seconds.

Photo by M_J_M

First study, conducted in 2003: we compared identical bags of 10 items purchased the same day (items selected were a mix of fruits and vegetables such as a family of four might buy). This study was done three times, over a period of three weeks, to compare three different stores to the University District Farmers Market. Some items cost more and some were less but the total balance weighed heavily in favor of the Farmers Market:

Week one was Whole Foods vs the Farmers Market (the bag of groceries at Whole Foods cost $30.75, vs the Farmers Market bag of identical fruits and vegetables for $22.12). Week two was PCC ($38.11) vs the Farmers Market ($32.00). Week three was QFC ($35.83) vs. the Farmers Market ($22.98).

Testimonial (unsolicited) from a shopper:

Fall 2004: "Last week I headed to the U district market to stock up on fall vegetables and fruits. Most of the items I purchased store well so I purchased in larger than normal quantities. The farmers were quick to offer a "deal" and many offered to carry the boxes to my car. I spent a total of $76 and went home with the following:

50 pounds of organic Yukon and Russet potatoes ($30)
10 pounds of organic rutabagas ($8)
10 pounds of organic mixed beets (8)
2 organic celeriacs ($4, $2 each)
! pound organic German Red garlic ($5)
23 pounds of organic apples (mixed varieties) ($17)
4 fat bunches of leeks ($4 not organic)

"When I got home, I calculated the pounds and price of each vegetable that I purchased. I then calculated how much everything would have cost if I bought it at PCC. Overall, I calculated a remarkable savings of nearly $90. I love PCC and am always grateful to have a coop like that in our community. But when purchasing in large quantities for my family of five and the upcoming holidays, I was truly impressed with my recent U-District market experience. Thanks." -Missy Trainer

June 4, 2007: article in the Seattle Times: "Farmers-market food costs less, class finds"

Spring 2008: study by Stacy Jones' SU statistics students found that the average cost per pound of all organic produce at QFC was $2.98, at Whole Foods is was $2.53, and at the Broadway Farmers Market is was $2.36. A few items were more expensive at the Farmers Market, but most items were more expensive at the grocery stores, so the total average was less at the Farmers Market - which means that a shopper's grocery bill would average lowest at the Farmers Market.

Comparisons by a market volunteer in early fall with the Columbia City Farmers Market:

First week:

Safeway (Rainier Ave.) organic prices 10/7/08

Gala apples $2.79

Golden apples $2.00/lb.

Medium Tomatoes $4.19/lb.

Head red leaf lettuce $2.19/head

Large onion $1.89/lb.

1 medium green pepper $1.79 each

Blueberries 1/2 pint $4.99


Columbia City Farmers Market organic prices 10/8/08

Gala apples $1.50/lb.

Golden Apples $2.59/lb.

Medium Tomatoes $3.50/lb.

Red Leaf Lettuce $3.00/head

Large onion $1.50/lb.

1 medium green pepper $1.30 each

Blueberries 1/2 pint $4.00

Second week:

Safeway (Rainier Ave.) organic prices 10/14/08

Butternut squash $1.79/lb.

Acorn squash $1.79/lb .

Chard (medium bunch) $2.99/lb.

Gala apples $2.79/lb.

Romaine lettuce (med.) $2.19/head .

Green beans $3.00/lb

Golden delicious apples $2.79/lb


Columbia City Farmer's Market organic prices 10/15/08

Butternut squash $1.00/lb.

Acorn squash $1.00/lb

Chard (med. bunch) $2.50

Gala apples $1.99/lb.

Romaine (med.) $1.50

Green beans $2.79/lb

Golden Delicious apples $1.99/lb

Winter study by SU statistics class, November 2008 at the University District Farmers Market:

Stacy Jones' 2008 fall quarter statistics class conducted a price comparison study between the U-District Farmers Market, Whole Foods and QFC. They summarized their report as follows:

"According to the FDA, the average family should spend about $330 a month on groceries. At the Farmers Market, $330 will get you 152.25 pounds of organic produce; at Whole Foods you can get 131.80 pounds, and at QFC a mere 118.6 pounds for the same $330. I.e., the average price per pound is lowest at the farmers market."

January 2009 study by Seattle Central student: U-District Farmers Market vs. Whole Foods and QFC. Note: all produce at the market was local, everything at Whole Foods was from CA except apples from WA, and QFC simply said from "USA"

Squash $1/lb at market, $2/lb at Whole Foods, n/a at QFC

Potatoes $1.60/lb at market, $2/lb at Whole Foods, $1.99/lb at QFC

Fuji Apples $2.50/lb at market, $3/lb at Whole Foods, $2.99/lb at QFC

Braeburn Apples $2.50/lb at market, $2.50 at Whole Foods, $2.99 at QFC

Whole Chicken (free range) $4.50/lb at market, $3.29/lb at WF, n/a QFC

Chicken breast (fr. range) $11.63/lb at market, $5.99/lb, $7.99/lb QFC (WA)

Cabbage $1.00/lb at market, $2/lb at WF, $1.99/lb at QFC

Artichoke $2.49/lb at market, $2.50/lb at WF, n/a at QFC

Beets $2/lb at market, $2/lb at WF, n/a at QFC

Carrots $1.99/b at market, $1.29/lb at WF, $1.29/lb at QFC

Brussel Sprouts $5.50/lb at market, not available at WF or QFC

Eggs (xl, free range) $7 doz at market, $4.50 doz at WF, $4 doz at QFC

Arugula $3 bunch at market, $3 bunch at WF, n/a at QFC

Kale $3 bunch at market, $3 bunch at WF, $3 bunch at QFC

Average savings at market: $.62

Average miles saved by buying local: over 900

Main points to consider (as presented in class report): Farmers market offers largest selection of organic local produce, greater varieties unavailable outside of WA. Farmers at market take home 100% of their sales (vs grocery stores buy cheaply and mark up - the longer the item can sit on the shelf, the lower the wholesale price given to the farmer). Farmers sell based on their inventory - are also sometimes able to bargain! Many say pricing is the hardest part of the market job. We all benefit by shopping at the markets: putting $$ directly back into the local economy, produce is fresher, lowering carbon emissions from farm to table, learning about how your food is produced, soil quality, preparation ideas, meet the grower.


The real cost of cheap, mass-produced foods: higher taxes, more health problems, worsening environmental conditions.

With large, well-stocked grocery stores dotted throughout our urban and suburban landscapes, our modern food system appears efficient and effective, enabling most of us to buy an abundance of food for a relatively small percent of our paychecks. Americans, in fact, spend a smaller percent of their paychecks on food than nearly every other country in the world, even in our current economic climate. Unfortunately, while we save pennies at the checkout counter, we’re spending more on taxes for large farm subsidies ($114 billion between 1995 – 2002). Additionally, when we buy products shipped in from long distances that are also locally available, it adds to our carbon footprint and increases our dependence on foreign oil.

Our main-stream food system also depends upon 500 million pounds of pesticides annually, resulting in $8 billion in environmental and health costs, and 300,000 farmers with pesticide poisoning. Furthermore, some pesticides banned in America are still widely dumped into developing countries, providing us with cheaper produce yet causing terrible environmental and health problems in those countries. Runoff from overuse of synthetic fertilizers also ends up in our lakes and rivers, killing fish and other wildlife, and costing us more tax money in cleanup. Small, diverse, local farms do not depend on mass amounts of chemicals, packaging and long-distance shipping - instead, they produce smaller and more varied amounts of high-quality fruits and vegetables. Buying directly from these farms enables shoppers to support a more sustainable, healthier food system, with more diversity of products and far less waste and depletion of resources.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Waste Free Lunches

My guilty green conscience pricked up whenever I threw away plastic baggies and juice boxes from our bagged lunches. All that non-recyclable garbage, generated in one sitting! I knew there had to be a better way to serve my kids lunch on the go that didn't involve mostly pre-packaged items. But I also knew I couldn't afford hours of my time spent every day on such a task. Simple and Waste-free....could there be a solution? I'm happy to report that there are MANY solutions, and I'd like to share some that have worked for us.

Equipment: Avoiding plastic baggies, aluminum foil and prepackaged items were my primary concern. So the first step was to replace them. My kids love sandwiches and wraps, so we do lots of variations on these. The Wrap-N-Mat is a perfect solution to eliminating plastic baggies, and works well for other snacks as well. We also use our Laptop Lunch boxes with mini sandwiches & wraps. Our newest favorite lunch aid is the LunchBots. I love that there is no plastic at all in these, they are 100% stainless steel. This makes them very durable, and stylish enough for my husband to take to work without feeling like a school child!

What to Eat: Sandwiches are the easiest thing for me to pack. Along with this, I generally mix up some sort of almond/nut mix with popcorn & raisins. Carrot sticks, celery sticks & other veggies work well to pack for on the go lunches. Cut up fruit is easy and you can do it in bulk for the week. If you are using a Laptop Lunch, applesauce or yogurt can be made or bought in bulk and packaged without the waste. For more ideas visit:

It's all about habit. At first it will be an extra thing to think about that can be quite annoying. But after a week of consistent packing, you get more creative, and fall into a groove of things. The best part for us....our wallet is fatter! Stopping for a quick snack because I am caught unawares happens much less frequently. And DON'T FORGET YOUR WATER BOTTLES!! We refill ours whenever we see a water fountain so we don't get in a situation where we need a plastic water bottle. Having a lunch tote hanging by the back door is super convenient for me, I just throw our stuff in and grab it with my purse on the way out the door.

According to "It has been estimated that on average a school-age child using a disposable lunch generates 67 pounds of waste per school year. That equates to 18,760 pounds of lunch waste for just one average-size elementary school." More and more schools are switching to waste free lunches, a great step in the right direction. I hope to feature one of these schools in the future. Please share your successes or problems with packing a waste free lunch!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Menu Planning-Frugal, Green & Simple!

More Menu Plan Monday found here:

Menu planning is one of those skills that kills lots of birds with one stone! My biggest vice is eating out, which is not only bad for the environment, it's bad for my wallet, the local economy, and family time. But when I plan my menu, our family life goes so much smoother, not to mention my local farmers get my support rather than Taco Bell (hanging my head in shame). With 4 kids, I have found great benefit from planning even our 2x a day snacks. Less arguing, no scrambling for something to eat. Simplicity at its finest! Here's what we're eating this week:

Photo courtesy of: dexter_mixwith

B: Cereal & Milk
L: Sandwiches & fruit
D: Quesadillas with grilled veggies
Snacks: Homemade Trail Mix & apple slices with honey

B: Homemade Blueberry Muffins & Milk
L: Grilled Cheese & Soup
D: Chicken Cacciatore (this is a Slow Cooker Recipe that I will double & freeze the extra portion. I work on Tuesday evenings, so Tuesday is always Crock Pot day!)
Snacks: Granola Bars, (snack at sitters)

B: Eggs & Cheese, Bacon
L: Sandwich & Carrots
D: Garden Veggie Pasta
Snacks: Crackers & Cheese, Apple Slices w/ honey

B: Yogurt, Fruit & Toast
L: Leftover Pasta
D: Hamburgers & Sweet Potato Fries
Snacks: Trail Mix, Bananas

B: Pancakes
L: Chicken Nuggets & Apple Sauce
D: Baked Mac N Cheese & Veggie Sticks
Snacks: Choice of Fruit & Cheese, Popcorn

B: Eggs or Oatmeal (I work, this will be hubby's decision)
L: Sandwiches
D: Spaghetti & Meatballs (Triple meatballs will be made & frozen)
Snacks: Popsicles, crackers & cheese

B: Cereal & Fruit
L: Chicken Nuggets & Sweet Potato Fries
D: Honey Maple Pork Chops, New potatoes & farmers' market veggies
Snack: Granola Bars & apple slices

All of this is pretty simple stuff, easy to make and double. All the veggies will be in season from our farmers' market, and almost all the meat, eggs & milk from there as well. I made a huge batch of blueberry muffins with in season blueberries, and froze them, I'm trying to do this 2x a month. Sandwiches are generally planned on days we will be out and need to bring lunch with us. They will be tuna/chicken salad, ham & cheese or pb&j. I'm certainly not the most homemade cook I canning experience or homemade yogurt here! But you can eat in season, locally and healthy even if you're busy!