- Author: Leda McDaniel
Are Farmers' Market Prices Really More Expensive?
That was one of the questions we set out to explore this year with the Eat Local Placer-Nevada project. Why are we concerned about cost when it comes to local produce? One of the goals of the Eat Local Placer-Nevada project is to encourage people to buy and eat more locally grown fruits and vegetables. In our consumer surveys, cost is often cited as a barrier to purchasing local produce. Also, with Americans spending a notoriously small percentage of their income on food (an estimated 6.6% as reported by the USDA Economic Research Service in 2012), it is no wonder that consumers are price sensitive when it comes to buying locally grown fruits and vegetables.
The common perception is that farmers' market produce is more expensive than grocery store produce. We wanted to test that hypothesis by collecting and directly comparing prices. So, starting in January 2014, we recorded produce prices from 4 farmers' markets (some markets started later) and 6 grocery stores in Placer and Nevada Counties. We want to thank the Nevada County Public Health Department for collecting the majority of the data in Nevada County!
ARE Farmers' Market prices more expensive? Looking at the price data that we have collected thus far this year (January 2014 through July 2014), it appears that organic produce is priced similarly at markets and grocery stores. For 5 of the 10 items measured, farmers' market prices were cheaper or equal to that those of grocery stores.
For conventional produce, grocery stores may have cheaper prices on some common produce items (in our survey results below: 6 out of 11 items). However, there are certain items like butternut squash and sweet potatoes where prices are nearly identical and items like red apples, beets, and chard, where prices are, on average, cheaper at farmers' markets.
The produce you can expect to find at farmers' markets is fresher (usually harvested that day or the day prior) and may last longer than what you can purchase in the grocery store. This quality difference is important given that the price does not reflect produce that goes bad before you can use it, which may be more likely with store-bought items. Freshness and quality contribute to better tasting fruits and vegetables, something we all love!
This information might make you question how true the price perception is about farmers' markets. Why not check out a local market and see for yourself? You might be surprised by just how competitive the prices really are at farmers' markets. We hope that this price comparison may convince you to give farmers' market shopping a try and that the taste and quality of the fruits and vegetables you find there will keep you going back for more!