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.


BiteSizeGreen said...

Farmer's markets make me feel like a kid in a candy store. So I take what I'm willing to spend, and leave happy with full tote bags and empty pockets.
And I always get a great value - everything is fresh and local; and I can ask the grower anything (do you use pesticides? v. is it organic?) Arriving near the end offers less variety (all but 5 sad ears of corn were gone this Saturday) but often huge discounts, as the vendors don't want to truck perishables back home again. Eating well is always a good investment.

Kristen's Raw said...

I am crazy in love with my farmers' market. I'm a part of a CSA there where the farmer grows certified organic produce. It just doesn't get any better than locally grown and organic. I'm in heaven with every bite of the delicious goodies.

Supporting my farmers' market with pride,

Dana said...

Good info. Farmer's markets can be more expensive, if you're not an educated consumer and this helps make us savvy!

Guests at our vacation rental in Sedona love the new farmer's market for the atmosphere, but it is more expensive because we're in the middle of the wilderness. I encourage people to support the local health food store and buy what seems to be a unique, value product at the Farmer's Market. Resellers should not be permitted, but at this one, because it is new, they're allowing people to come who buy produce at Safeway and resell it.

2Shaye ♪♫ said...

We love our farmer's market. It's a very small place with only 4 small booths set up, but we can usually find what we need. Prices aren't bad at all and the food quality is MUCH better than what we can find at our local grocer. Because we're so far north, so much of our fruits and vegetables are shipped a very long way to arrive here. Not only are they chemical-ridden, but they're often bruised or banged up by the time we buy them.

Overall, we love giving back to our community. And it's fun to converse directly with the farmer who grew our vegetables. We're learning tons...and just found out that one of the farmers would be willing to sell us some whole grain pre-ground wheat. He grows it and sells it to bigger companies and said he never even considered that someone at the FM might be interested in purchasing some. Amazing what you run into and what connections you can make!


Anonymous said...

This is a great post.. Very informative... I can see that you put a lot of hard work on your every post that's why I think I'd come here more often. Keep it up! By the way, you can also drop by my blogs. They're about Vegetable Gardening and Composting. I'm sure you'd find my blogs helpful too.

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Anonymous said...

i love going to farmers markets they just are so happy! however i cant find any since my husband got stationed in Georgia we were told there was one close by but when we went there was not much there and the fruit was icky. Is there a way to find a good quality one?