This is a piece that was published on our Eat Local for Thanksgiving blog, but it's something to think about all year long.
Did you listen to Janet McDevitt on KUOW's Sound Focus last Wendesday? She talked all about Eating Local for Thanksgiving: what to cook, where to buy, etc. One issue, though, both she and the host Megan Sukys mentioned that local food is more expensive. From the show description: "[Farmers Markets] also host large crowds, they don’t always have everything you need and there is a big cost difference from the grocery store."
Studies over the last few years show that when you buy local food in season, it is often LESS EXPENSIVE than at chain grocery stores. For the Eat Local for Thanksgiving campaign, we asked a UW student, Lydia Caudill, to conduct an informal price comparison between farmers markets and grocery stores
“The prices of produce in the farmers market not only were very comparable to conventional non-local produce, but they often were a better price.” She also made a case for the experience, poignantly adding, “The atmosphere of the farmers market was a mix of a festival and an exploration of the unknown as people asked questions about the vast array of unique produce sold, very often talking with the people who grew it themselves. If I ever doubted my reasons for buying local…this project took away my doubts. "
We found organic acorn and butternut squash to be more affordable by 79-cents a pound at the market than at the grocery store. And organic Gala apples bought directly from the farmer were more affordable by $1.29 a pound from their supermarket counterparts!
Another informal study conducted earlier in the year by the Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance found these numbers:
10/14/08 Organic at Safeway on Rainier Ave 10/15/08 at Columbia City Farmers Market
Butternut squash $1.79/lb. Butternut squash $1.00/lb.
Acorn squash 1.79/lb Acorn squash $1.00/lb.
Chard(medium bunch) 2.99/lb. Chard (med. bunch)2.50
Gala apples 2.79/lb. Gala apples 1.99/lb.
Romaine lettuce (med.) 2.19/head Romaine lettuce (med.) 1.50/head
Green beans 2.79/lb. Green beans 3.00/lb
Golden apples 2.79/lb Golden apples 1.99/lb
Safeway (Rainier Ave.) Organic Prices (10/7/08) Columbia City Farm. Market (10/8/08)
Gala apples $2.79/lb. Gala apples $1.50/lb.
Golden Apples $2.59/lb. Golden apples $2.00/lb.
Medium Tomatoes $4.19/lb. Medium Tomatoes $3.50/lb.
Red leaf lettuce $2.19/head Red Leaf Lettuce $2.00/head
large onion $1.89/lb. large onion $1.50/lb.
1 medium green pepper $1.79 each 1 medium green pepper $1.30 each
Blueberries 1/2 pint $4.99 Blueberries 1/2 pint $4.00
So, folks, don't believe the hype! Buying directly from the farmers is often LESS EXPENSIVE than buying from a chain grocery store. Plus, the money that you spend locally gets spent locally, meaning that the dollar that you use to buy potatoes gets recirculated throughout the local community. Whereas, if you spent that dollar at a chain grocery store, more than 2/3 of that dollar would immediately leave the state to pay for large company overhead costs.