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Grocery Store vs. Farmers Market – Prices

May 14, 2011

 Farmers Markets have an unfortunate reputation of being expensive and out of reach for a portion of society. Admittedly I can see where some of it comes from, there are often specialty food and goods purveyors that hawk some pricey items – gourmet pasta, chocolates, candles, soaps etc. While I love the artisan work of these folks, they can definitely be on the more pricey side. But when you get down to the nitty gritty of a farmers market, the raw, in-their-natural-state types of food, surprising facts immerge.

The Atlantic recently released an article about a study done by a student at Bard College’s Center for Environmental Policy which examined the cost difference between fresh items sold at the farmers market vs your conventional grocery store. The full study can be found here. 

The basic premise of the study is to compare prices of a list of 10 fruits and vegetables between farmers market and conventional grocery stores. The study compared conventional produce (non-organic) at both venues, organic produce at both venues, and the price of organic at the farmers market vs conventional at the grocery store.

With a few exceptions, the non-organic produce was cheaper at the grocery store than at the farmers market. The biggest discrepancy being between potatoes and eggs,  mainly because of the economy of scale mass producers have to their advantage on these products.

For organic produce, however, the opposite was true. In EVERY category, with the exception of potatoes, the organic was cheaper at the farmers market – sometimes up to 40% cheaper!

The study as a whole was intriguing, while somewhat cumbersome to get through. I would love to do a similar study on my own, given that this study was done in Vermont, I wonder how the Nashville market would compare. There are a few key thoughts that I had as I read through the study….

1) The study was done in Vermont which has “the greatest number of certified organic farms and acerage per capita” – I wonder how this effects the results of their study. Are their organic items then cheaper than the rest of the country because of supply and demand?

2) Being certified organic is a big undertaking for a farm. Many local farms operate organically but have not gone through the lengthy process and expense of being certified. So although your “conventional” farmers market cucumber may be more expensive than the conventional grocery store one – you are likely lucking out and getting an organic cucumber anyways

3) The variety and supply of organic items is much more plentiful at the farmers market. While most grocery stores now have a designated Organic section, the selection in them is typically pretty limited. As if price wasn’t a good enough reason to encourage you to get your organics at the market.

4) Eggs – non-organic eggs do not exactly wage a fair fight when comparing those that you get from the farm down the street and those at the grocery store. The economy of scale that leads to higher prices on the farmers market side, also lead to a better product in the end. While these chickens may not have been given organic feed, they likely still lead a better life, perhaps roaming field to eat the bugs they pleased, and producing eggs with better taste, higher vitamin content and better overall nutritional value. Not exactly comparing apples to apples in my opinion

So, moral of the story, if you need another excuse to get your produce locally, odds are it will be cheaper! Time to spread the word and break the stereotype of farmers market. Heck some of the markets around here are even starting to accept Food Stamps. Two thumbs up for that!

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