Are Farmer Markets Cheaper
Do Farmers Markets Save You Money?
With nearly 5,300 farmers markets scattered around the country, there's no shortage of luscious fruits and vegetables. So here's a question for the frugal shopper: Are farmers markets cheaper than grocery stores or does buying farm-fresh produce bite into your budget?
Unfortunately, there's no hard and fast answer. Two recent studies concluded that consumers may get a better deal by shopping at a farmers market, especially on organic produce. Anecdotal evidence supplied by people we know, however, suggests that buying local may cost a bit more, but the quality and variety is often superior.
Photo by NatalieMaynor
A report from the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (PDF) (an organization that promotes local agriculture) priced out a standard basket of eggs and produce -- blueberries, corn, peppers, string beans, squash, tomatoes, head lettuce, and potatoes -- purchased from farmers markets and compared the numbers with the cost of the same items at local grocery stores.
This study found that five of the 14 products tracked were cheaper at farmers markets, while three cost just about the same. Grocery stores offered two items, eggs and potatoes, at considerably cheaper prices. The researchers speculate that this reflects economies of scale.
The study also compared organic produce from both sources, and here the advantage was considerably on the side of the farmers markets. Only organic potatoes were cheaper at the grocery stores. One example is particularly revealing: The average price for a pound of organic cut-leaf lettuce at the farmers' market was $4 while the same lettuce at nearby grocery stores sold for as much as $12.77 a pound. In some instances, organic produce at the farmers markets cost even less than non-organic produce at the grocery stores.
Another study, done in Iowa in 2009 by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture's Marketing and Food Systems Initiative (a supporter of local agriculture), compared the price at peak season of a basket of locally grown vegetables for sale at farmers markets to the same vegetables from non-local sources for sale at the local grocery store. The basket, which included zucchini, summer squash, cucumbers, string beans, cabbage, sweet onions, tomatoes, and sweet corn, sold for $1.25 a pound at the farmers markets compared with $1.39 a pound at a local grocery store, such as the Walmart Supercenter.
Photo by gmtbillings
Certainly, there are factors neither study considered. What is the price difference at the tail end of the growing season, for example? Or the dollar value of rewards toward premiums such as gasoline discounts that grocery stores give out in return for purchases? How do you account for units of measure? Some farmers markets require buying in bulk to get a good price, and farmers markets, to our knowledge, don't offer extreme couponing (or couponing of any kind, for that matter).
Nevertheless, from what we hear, even consumers who are sure that a farmers market basket carries a higher price tag than an identical haul from the local grocery often say they don't mind spending a few extra dollars. The season is short and the just-picked freshness is a treat that's hard to resist.