Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Methinks "The Farmers' Market Myth" is a Myth


Recommended Posts

The estimable Barry Estabrook over at the Atlantic has a piece up titled "The Farmers' Market Myth," seeking to debunk the idea that farmers' markets charge more than grocers:

We're all familiar with the accepted gospel: Only well-heeled food snobs can afford the exorbitant prices charged for those attractively displayed baby greens and heirloom tomatoes at farmers' markets, while those who can't afford such greener-than-thou food-purchasing decisions must paw through limp broccoli, wilted lettuce, and tennis-ball tomatoes at supermarket produce departments.

It may come as a surprise that there have been virtually no formal studies to support this widely accepted contention, and the few studies that have been conducted call its veracity into question. ... A report released earlier this year by Jake Robert Claro, a graduate student at Bard College's Center for Environmental Policy who did the study for the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont, found that prices at farmers' markets for conventionally grown produce items were lower than they were at supermarkets. For organic items, farmers' markets beat grocery stores every time hands down.

Call me skeptical -- and let me issue a challenge. Shall we all devote some time as the farmers' markets get going to seeking to figure out what's myth and what's reality? I pay pretty close attention to my grocery bill, and I cannot think of a single item, be it produce, meat, dairy, whatever, that is less expensive at the farmers' market I frequent.

Anyone with me?

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

Link to post
Share on other sites

Just went to one this past Saturday, absolutely every single thing was higher, and I DO keep track of my purchases and can state this emphatically. However, I shall also continue to go to the markets, as I do believe in helping the local farmers as much as possible. AND, the vegetables and fruits are as fresh as can be.

We talked with one gentleman who had picked his lettuce (beautiful) at five that very morning, and we were among his first customers at eight a.m., when the market opened.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I shop year round at a local farm that provides a CSA, grows its own produce, as well as selling produce from nearby farmers, and a limited amount of out of state stuff that is clearly marked (citrus, winter tomatoes, etc). They produce their own preserved goods (jams, jellies, salsas, pickles, etc), and baked goods. They also sell an assortment of dry goods similar to what you'll find in the "health food" or "natural food" aisle of your grocery store. Basically, I could do 90% of my grocery shopping there if I wanted to. Produce is definitely cheaper there, especially if I am buying only seasonal items. The dry goods are probably on par - 25% more expensive than the grocery store. But, this isn't the kind of place where people set up a booth once a week and truck everything in - this is a permanent store that's been set up in a store room under their main barn - not really the stuff of photo shoots. I've got to think that that has something to do with it as well.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I'll bite. This past weekend we went to the farmer's market and purchased pak choi, ramps ($4 per bunch), two heads of butter lettuce, salad turnips ($2 per bunch), French breakfast radishes ($3 bunch). The radishes and salad turnips also have some beautiful greens.

"Salt is born of the purest of parents: the sun and the sea." --Pythagoras.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Just went to one this past Saturday, absolutely every single thing was higher, and I DO keep track of my purchases and can state this emphatically. However, I shall also continue to go to the markets, as I do believe in helping the local farmers as much as possible. AND, the vegetables and fruits are as fresh as can be.

We talked with one gentleman who had picked his lettuce (beautiful) at five that very morning, and we were among his first customers at eight a.m., when the market opened.

Of course: I'm sure many among us are willing to pay more at farmers' markets. I am, certainly. But the key here is the "pay more" part. The extra cash leaving my pocket ain't riding a unicorn.

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

Link to post
Share on other sites

Our first local farmer's market was last Saturday. A few things I bought that I recall and know relative prices at the local grocery store:

Kale: $3.99/lb at market vs. $1.99 a pound at supermarket

Eggs: $2.99/dozen market, $1.50 supermarket

Pork roast, $3.99/lb market, ~$1.50/lb supermarket

Radish: $2.00/bunch market, ~0.79/bunch supermarket

So yeah, I can't think of anything I would buy at the market that would be cheaper than the supermarket a mile farther down the road. Low prices is definitely not why I go to the local farmer's market.

Edit--

Remembered one other item- Cucumbers: $0.79 each at farmer's market, also $0.79 each at supermarket

Edited by chriscook (log)
Link to post
Share on other sites

I will check my local farmers market next time I get the chance and write down some comparisons. The last few times I've been to the original farmer's market in Hollywood I've noticed some things cheaper, some things more expensive. I remember the dragonfruit was a ridiculous $8 each while you can pick it up even at Albertsons for $4 each. Granted that location is more of a tourist spot than actual market. I found really good prime boneless short ribs there a couple weeks ago for $4.99lb which I think was pretty good considering Costco sells choice for $5.99lb.

Link to post
Share on other sites

My impression, backed with no hard data, is that it depends. Today a pint of strawberries was down to $2 a pint. Pretty sure that beats the grocery store. Meat and chicken is way more at the market. Local shrimp is probably a wash at roughly $6/lb.

I'll keep track the next few weeks and try to get some hard numbers.

Estabrook says the best deals at the farmers market can be found on organic produce. Do your market have much organic produce? Mine doesn't.

Perhaps that price difference says more about how corporate chains realize they can charge on organics.

Todd A. Price aka "TAPrice"

Homepage and writings; A Frolic of My Own (personal blog)

Link to post
Share on other sites

The local farmers markets around me are not manned by local farmers. More often it'd people that go to the wholesale market in Tampa and pick up produce to sell at farmers markets. Not really different from what we see in the grocery store but at higher prices.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I got a HUGE bunch of basil at the Farmer's Market for 1.25. I couldnt even find a bunch that big at the grocery store, let alone for that price. I also bought a bunch of tops on Carrots for 2.00 and a giant leek for 1.00. The leek might have been cheaper than the grocery store price.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I live just north of Milwaukee, and our city's market runs end of June-Oct. It's a tiny market starting with about 6 stalls, and peaking around Aug with 14 stalls. Things I remember purchasing last year

eggs $2.75 market 40 miles, $2.99 grocery store 100 miles

red bell pepper $.75each market (maybe $1.50-2/lb?), $4.95 pound grocery

green leaf lettuce $1.50/3heads market, $1.50-1.85 pound grocery

sweet corn $6/dozen market, $3-4/dozen grocery

apples $13/half bushel market ($1.85/3lb?), $2.00/3lbs grocery 10mi

Things I've purchased at the market but do not purchase in grocery stores

raspberries $5-6/pint market

broiler $3/lb

stewing hen $1.75/lb

edit - not organic either, most advertise as IPM

Edited by cookingofjoy (log)
Link to post
Share on other sites

The local farmers markets around me are not manned by local farmers.

This is a good point. I was previously quoting prices from my local farmer's market which requires that the food be grown at the actual farm, so it's all local enough that they can transport it on the morning of the market.

However, there is another St. Louis market, the Soulard Market, which has been around since before the Civil War, and actively touts the fact that its produce is up to 50% cheaper than what you can get in the supermarket. Which for many things it actually is. If I need a whole lot of lemons or limes, I'll drive down there to pick them up. But of course, no one is growing lemons or limes locally in Missouri. So it's less of a farmer's market than just a vegetable wholesaler discount outdoor warehouse.

The Atlantic article didn't specify the criteria they were using to define "farmer's market," so it's possible that if you took samples from a mix of various types of markets you could find the overall prices cheaper than supermarkets.

Link to post
Share on other sites

This may be more a function of how ridiculously expensive the grocery stores are around here, but in season the farmers' market is way cheaper on vegetables and fruits. In summer a baseline price at the farmers' market is $0.79 a pound for things like peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, green beans, squash. My grocery store had a special this week of bell peppers 2 for $5.00. Things like limes and lemons are ten for a dollar at the market instead of two for a dollar (or in the case of large lemons, 79 cents each!) at the store. Of course there are specialty items available at the farmers' market like grass-fed, pasture-raised meat and eggs that cost more than the industrial stuff at the grocery store, but I'm happy to pay extra for that.

"There is nothing like a good tomato sandwich now and then."

-Harriet M. Welsch

Link to post
Share on other sites

I think it really depends on the market. In San Francisco for example, I often shopped at the Alemany market because it general, the prices are good. Many of the vegetables I got were cheaper than supermarkets. There were items that were more expensive, but they tend to be more specialized produce like Early Girl tomatoes that isn't easy to find at supermarkets. I also love the Ferry Building market but I purchase very few things from there. I know the farmer who charged $4-$6 a pint for berries barely make any profit, but I couldn't afford to pay that on a regular basis. Also, I could get the same berries from another local producer for half (or less) the price at the Alemany market.

Now in Australia, I find that somethings are more than the supermarkets while others aren't. Generally, I'm able to get good prices on produce. Sometimes it's better than or same as regular supermarket prices (but not sale prices). Meat is usually more expensive (~double), but the quality is so much better than the supermarkets. Also, there are cuts of meat available at the markets that I have not seen at the supermarkets. Because there are only 2 of us, the unit price of the meat doesn't have as much impact. We're still able to stay within our weekly grocery budget.

And folks, you really haven't seen ridiculous in the US. Banana prices as high as $9/lb and people still buy them here! :wacko:

Link to post
Share on other sites

And folks, you really haven't seen ridiculous in the US. Banana prices as high as $9/lb and people still buy them here! :wacko:

I saw a woman hesitating in front of the 69 cent per pound bananas the other day and mentioned your prices- she gasped, thought I was kidding, realized I was serious, and she then picked up a bunch with a smile. It is all relative.

Link to post
Share on other sites

In NYC the same vendors may charge different prices in different neighborhoods. I often go to Union Square, because it has the best selection, and the hours and location are less inconvenient for me than other options, but I know that it's more expensive than, for instance, the market in Washington Heights, where many customers can be seen paying with EBT cards (public assistance).

Link to post
Share on other sites

Well ... I've gone to USGM and spent $20, and there are times when I've spent three times as much.

It depends on what you get, as well as the season.

There's a vendor that sells hydroponic tomatoes all year round. I guess I could buy them at $5 a pound this weekend if I really wanted to, or I can wait until tomato season and pay half that, and choose from a wider selection of goods.

Link to post
Share on other sites

The local farmers markets around me are not manned by local farmers.

This is a good point. I was previously quoting prices from my local farmer's market which requires that the food be grown at the actual farm, so it's all local enough that they can transport it on the morning of the market.

However, there is another St. Louis market, the Soulard Market, which has been around since before the Civil War, and actively touts the fact that its produce is up to 50% cheaper than what you can get in the supermarket. Which for many things it actually is. If I need a whole lot of lemons or limes, I'll drive down there to pick them up. But of course, no one is growing lemons or limes locally in Missouri. So it's less of a farmer's market than just a vegetable wholesaler discount outdoor warehouse.

Chris, I used to shop at Soulard market too, for much the same reasons--and the fact that you could buy morel mushrooms in season! On my last few visits, I've stopped by the excellent Tower Grove Farmers' Market. The prices are higher than Soulard but still seemed reasonable to me. Of course, I haven't shopped in a StL grocery store in a long time.

Farmers markets will get started around Boston in the next couple of weeks. But I've (informally) done this sort of price comparison before and found prices at our farmers markets to be comparable to those in grocery stores such as Whole Foods, more expensive than lower-priced chains. For quality, though, worth it, if you can afford it.


Link to post
Share on other sites

Linda, Yes, Tower Grove market is my local farmers market. I live right across from the park.

I like your idea of comparing the prices to Whole Foods. I may have to do an investigative run out to Whole Foods later and make note of the prices there.

Chris...

Link to post
Share on other sites

This may be more a function of how ridiculously expensive the grocery stores are around here, but in season the farmers' market is way cheaper on vegetables and fruits. In summer a baseline price at the farmers' market is $0.79 a pound for things like peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, green beans, squash. My grocery store had a special this week of bell peppers 2 for $5.00. Things like limes and lemons are ten for a dollar at the market instead of two for a dollar (or in the case of large lemons, 79 cents each!) at the store. Of course there are specialty items available at the farmers' market like grass-fed, pasture-raised meat and eggs that cost more than the industrial stuff at the grocery store, but I'm happy to pay extra for that.

When we lived in NJ we had the same experience. The Saturday "farmer's market" had much cheaper produce than the highway robbery supermarkets, although I don't think much of it was from small farms.

In Toronto, there are a lot of farmer's market but so far we've only been to the St. Lawrence Saturday morning market. Some of the organic produce is higher than standard supermarket fare, but a lot of the in season stuff is very competitively priced. The organic meats, eggs and cheeses (fantastic cheese and grass fed sirloin, yum) are quite a bit cheaper than Whole Foods or the health food stores. Obviously, the grass fed sirloin is more expensive than the weekly special sirloin at Price Chopper.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I got a HUGE bunch of basil at the Farmer's Market for 1.25. I couldnt even find a bunch that big at the grocery store, let alone for that price. I also bought a bunch of tops on Carrots for 2.00 and a giant leek for 1.00. The leek might have been cheaper than the grocery store price.

This is one area where I know my farm beats the grocery store. The farm sells all their herbs for $1.00 per package, for roughly the same amount as you get in those mini clamshell packages at the grocery store. The clamshells usually go for $2.50 ea.

Other items vary more, so I'll have to check, but I think per pound cost may be key, as most of the stuff at my farm is portioned and bought by the portion, rather than loose and by the pound.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...