Several recent studies have shown that it’s cheaper to shop at the farmers’ market than it is to shop the produce section at the grocery store. With the economy still working its way out of the recession, saving money is important to most of us. According to a new study, shopping at the farmers’ market instead of the grocery store will save money.
The Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont sponsored a study comparing costs for fresh produce at ten grocery stores and nine nearby farmers’ markets. The grocery stores and farmers’ markets were visited during July, August, and a few dates in September. All locations were visited on the same days.
The team stuck to popular fruits and vegetables and the forms most likely to appear in grocery stores. In other words, when comparing prices of cucumbers, they used only slicing cucumbers and not pickling varieties or miniature cucumbers.
The produce compared was: blueberries, cantaloupe, corn, cucumbers, eggs, peppers, lettuce, potatoes, peas, string beans, squash, and tomatoes.
For conventional produce, the costs were pretty close. Some differences stood out. Cantaloupes at the farmers’ market costs less than half what the grocery stores charged. Lettuce mixes were also quite a bit cheaper at the farmer’s market. On the other hand, eggs and potatoes were more expensive at the grocery stores.
Certified Organic Produce
For certified organic produce, the farmers’ market won easily. The prices were significantly different for most of the vegetables with an average of 38.8%. The exception was the potatoes. Certified organic potatoes were still cheaper at the grocery store.
The authors of the study made a note of the fact that a lot of farmers who sell through farmers’ markets use organic farming practices, but don’t bother to get certified. They talk directly to their customers about their growing practices. Farmers who sell through the grocery stores don’t have that face-to-face communication with their customers and need a seal so that customers will have an idea of the growing practices.
Organic Farmers’ Market Produce vs. Conventional Grocery Store Produce
An interesting observation from the study is that some organic items from the farmers’ market were cheaper than the same conventional items at the grocery store. Organic cantaloupe, lettuce, and snow peas cost less at the farmers’ market.
From the report:
Examining the percent differences in which the prices of conventional grocery items at grocery stores were less than the organic items at farmers markets, excluding eggs and potatoes, reveals an average percent difference of 31.2%.
Wow. Even though many of the conventional items at grocery stores were cheaper, a shopper would still save a bundle by purchasing the organic items at the farmers’ market.
Since many farmers’ markets accept food stamps, this could help low-income shoppers eat better for less. Locavores will also be able to point to this study to show that local food is affordable.
This study reflects my experience in shopping at farmers’ markets. I started shopping at farmers’ markets more than twenty years ago when I had very little money and I found that farmers’ markets were much cheaper. There are no certified organic farmers at my local farmers’ market, but the produce they sell there is still cheaper than the produce at the grocery stores. The quality is better, too, and I think that’s probably the number one reason people shop at farmers’ markets. However, this study should help to dispel the myths that only wealthy foodies can afford lettuce at the farmers’ market.
Image by Natalie Maynor, used with Creative Commons license.