Understanding Pricing at Your Local Farmer’s Market

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We have been buying local fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry, eggs and cheese for over a year now, and I don’t think we would ever go back to grocery store shopping for those foods. Occasionally, I am tempted by a super sale at my local grocery store, but more often than not, when I break down and buy what I think is a bargain, I end up disappointed. It just doesn’t taste like anything. But I do hear other parents talk about how “expensive” it is to shop at the farmer’s market. Is it really??? In the end, it depends on what you want.

With farmer’s markets in full swing here (and gearing up in other parts of the country), I thought it might be a good time to look at why prices differ from grocery store to farmer’s market.

I came across this wonderful article on the Western Wake Farmer’s Market website. Thanks to Madison Whitley for giving me permission to reprint it here. I think it does an excellent job of describing why prices for fresh, locally grown food differs from what is charged at the grocery. For additional insight into why prices differ (and why fresh food is worth it), watch Food, Inc. It’s available on Netflix and is really an amazing documentary.

The Inside Scoop of Product Pricing at the Farmer’s Market

by Madison Whitley and Juliann Zoetmulder

Ever wonder why farmers’ market eggs cost $4 a dozen? Are you curious about why meat and produce cost double what it costs in the grocery store? These are valid questions that are on many customers’ minds as they shop the farmers’ market. With a little explanation, you may come to find that what you get for your money is really worth it.

Comparing farm fresh eggs and industrial big-box eggs is not an apples-to-apples comparison. You have to lift the veil a bit to understand what you miss from industrial, “cheap” eggs. You may pay more for farm fresh eggs; however, you get more value for the price. In a 2007 testing project, Mother Earth News compared farm fresh eggs taken from hens raised on a pasture to the nutritional data designated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for commercially produced eggs. In this test, it was found that the farm fresh eggs contain one-third less cholesterol, one-quarter less saturated fat and two times more omega-3 fatty acids. Furthermore, the farm fresh egg contains two-thirds more vitamin A and three times more vitamin E. Beta carotene, an immune booster, is found in seven times greater proportion than the egg off the big-box store shelf. In general, the eggs from hens that roam around a pasture are richer in nutrients than typical supermarket eggs.

Even if the science does not “wow” you, look at the deep orange color of the farm fresh egg and taste its creaminess compared to an industrial egg. It tastes better and is more nutrient dense. For $2 extra dollars per dozen, you get exponentially more health and taste benefits. That’s sixteen cents more per egg or thirty-three cents more for your 2 egg breakfast that will sustain your body much longer than an industrial egg.

Despite these known benefits, customers are still hesitant to purchase their weekly grocery list at the farmers’ market because prices cannot compete with the low prices found at the grocery store. So why is the food at the farmers’ market more expensive? In actuality, it is the cheapest and healthiest food available. Sustainable agriculture does not rely on government subsidies from the Farm Bill and it does not have the huge environmental costs (transportation, for example) that industrial agriculture incurs. Finally, sustainable agriculture is not laden with chemicals, antibiotics, pesticides, and GMO’s. On the flip side, think about what we would be adding to our future health care bill by eating cheap meat, for instance.

Grass-fed beef has a number of compelling health benefits and since America is eating more meat than ever, we need to pay attention. According to a 2009 study by the USDA and Clemson University in South Carolina, grass-fed beef, often sold at farmers’ markets, is lower in total fat, saturated fat and calories compared to commercially produced beef. Grass-fed beef has higher amounts of total omega-3 fatty acids and a better ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. Grass-fed beef also has higher vitamin A and E (alpha-tocopherol), higher levels of antioxidants, 7 times more beta-carotene, higher amounts of B-vitamins thiamin and riboflavin, and higher amounts of minerals calcium, magnesium and potassium. The research also indicates higher levels of CLA (cis-9-trans-11), a potential cancer fighter, in grass-fed beef and higher amounts of vaccenic acid (which can be transformed into CLA). Don’t forget that animals raised on small family farms are often treated more humanely than animals in commercial production facilities.

The nutrient density of products found at the farmers’ market is much higher, producing a much healthier product, which means that you don’t have to eat as much to get the same health benefits. So next time you are at the farmers’ market, don’t think about how expensive the products are and how much money you could save at the grocery store. Think about the quality of product you are getting, how many more nutrients are present in the food and what you are getting for you money.

As someone who has a monthly budget for food, I suggest purchasing the items that are at the front-and-center of your meal at the farmers’ market. You can always supplement your grocery list with items at the big-box grocery store. You will notice a difference in the taste and quality of your food, but not in your wallet. I promise.

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Week 17 Budget and Menu

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Nothing like fresh, NC strawberries to bring out the food hoarder in me!

 

Spring is finally here in central North Carolina and along with it, we have the opening and rejuvenation of all our smaller, seasonal farmer’s markets! Hurray! If you have been following our blog for a while, you know that this enters dangerous territory for me. After a long winter of eating collards, kale and sweet potatoes, I want to snap up every lovely spring vegetable I see. This makes staying on a budget even more of a challenge. Who can resist beautiful strawberries or the season’s first carrots? Not me, that’s who.

So while I am trying to be good and stick to my budget, this week clearly isn’t going to cut it. We are having lots of salads this week and we are eating mostly local, which is great! Our big expense this week is a mini boneless ham from Mae Farm, which will provide us with some meals next week as well. This is by far the best ham I have ever eaten in my life. Hopefully, we will actually have leftovers 🙂

Our Produce Box delivery service is in full swing again, so we have fresh, NC vegetables and fruit delivered every Wednesday–that is saving me some running around the farmer’s markets, but I still get out there and support our farmer’s market vendors!

One big change in our dinner preparations is that Ellie and Tom are both playing spring softball. That means I need to get my act together and whip up some healthy food we can eat quickly! While I don’t usually buy pre-cooked chicken, we are using Trader Joes’ chili lime chicken strips as the basis for salad wraps tonight. Salad on the go!

Budget [$115.58]

  • The Produce Box (double strawberries, 2 kinds of lettuce, carrots, radish, white potatoes, green onions, arugula and rosemary sourdough bread): $37.01
  • Mae Farm (ham): $15.00
  • Farmer’s market vendors (eggs, asparagus): $10.00
  • Trader Joes (Ezekiel bread, pre-cooked chicken, avocados, garlic, soy milk, yogurt, frozen fruit, tortillas): $53.57

Menu

  • Wednesday–Chicken salad wraps, carrot sticks, homemade pickles
  • Thursday–Wilted romaine salad, rosemary sourdough; vegan strawberry chocolate “ice cream”
  • Friday–Parisian salad with prosciutto, roasted asparagus and sourdough toast w/melted goat cheese; vegan strawberry ice cream
  • Saturday–Sautéed Swiss chard with eggs and mushrooms, strawberry shortcake
  • Sunday–Ham, roasted asparagus, potatoes, fruit cobbler

Monday–ham and cheese omelets
Tuesday–salad with chopped ham and goat cheese

Week 16 Budget and Menu

Well, while I was gone last week, spring finally arrived in North Carolina! When I left, the trees just had little leaf buds and nothing was blooming. I came home to green, green, green and beautiful spring flowers everywhere!  What a glorious time of year!

In addition to all the flowers, our farmers markets are showing signs of spring as well. We have asparagus, strawberries, lettuce and onions! Yay!!! And our Produce Box deliveries start this week as well. Double yay! We are a bit over budget at $106.60 and interestingly, we are not eating much meat this week, but we are eating more seafood, which tends to bump our budget up a bit.

This week’s menu is taking advantage of our spring crops as well as the delicious salads we had in Paris last week. Now that we have reworked our menu for spring, I need to find time to rework my closet!

What’s fresh at your farmer’s market this week?

Budget [$106.60]

  • Rare Earth Farms (buttermilk, mozzarella, eggs): $14.28
  • Locals Seafood (shrimp): $10.00
  • The Produce Box (organic kale, organic cucumber, organic hothouse tomato, organic radish, organic pea tendrils): $22.00
  • Various farmers market vendors (asparagus, greenhouse tomato, strawberries, romaine lettuce): $19.00
  • Trader Joes (chicken thighs, mushrooms, salmon, lemon, frozen fruit, yogurt, Ezekiel bread):$41.32

Menu

  • Wednesday–Power Salad (kale, lettuce, tomato, avocado, pine nuts, egg)
  • Thursday–Slow cooker cashew chicken, rice
  • Friday–Pasta with shrimp, asparagus, mushrooms
  • Saturday–Salmon with veggie risotto and citrus beurre blanc
  • Sunday–Egg salad on toast
  • Monday–Tomato and cheese pizza, salad
  • Tuesday–Omelettes, salad

Week 13 Budget and Menu

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As we cruise on into the Holy Week of Easter and March Madness, we are hoping for spring weather, but all we see is leftover winter. And you know how leftovers are, right? At first, they seem like yummy gifts, then they seem more like an obligation and finally you start to resent their very presence in your refrigerator. I’m like that with the weather right now. In August, I’ll be complaining about the heat, but right now, the cold weather just seems wrong. I want to grill something while I’m watching my bracket helplessly implode, not huddle around a pot of stew. And Miami? It’s all riding on you. No pressure or anything, but mama needs a new cast iron Dutch oven. Let’s get it right, people. Ok? Ok.

Moving on back to food, our farmer’s markets are still offering the usual late winter variety of root vegetables, greens and potatoes. There isn’t a whole lot of excitement right now in regards to veggies, although from the photo above, you can tell that our farmers are trying to maintain enthusiasm!

In a few weeks, I’ll begin my “What’s Fresh at the Market” postings, but at this point, it’s all the same list. Our menu this week is still making the most of what we have in our garden and pantry, but I’m trying to change things up a bit so we don’t get bored. We’ve got some solid standby’s with fish tacos and shrimp pad Thai, as well as some new recipes with the Brussels sprout salad and sweet potato/chipotle pepper soup. It should be a tasty week!

As for our budget, we are definitely over. We’re having another week of seafood from our NC waters, but it did up our budget (plus we added more dried fruit to make energy bars). On the bright side, I found raw cashews at Trader Joes for $6.99 a pound–half of what Whole Foods charges!!! More raw double fudge in our future!

Budget [$111.93]

  • Mae Farm (bacon): $7.00
  • Locals Seafood (fish, shrimp): $18.00
  • Various farmer’s market vendors (onions, new crop pecans, Brussels sprouts, sweet potato): $14.00
  • Rare Earth Farm (buttermilk, eggs): $9.00

  • Trader Joes (blue cheese, chipotle peppers, portabello mushrooms, Asian noodles, scallions, frozen fruit, yogurt, soy milk): $55.93
  • Whole Foods (heirloom beans, dates): $8.00

Menu

  • Sunday–Roasted Brussels sprouts salad with bacon, blue cheese and pecans, deviled farm eggs
  • Monday–Fish tacos with sweet potato/chipotle pepper soup
  • Tuesday–Heirloom beans with bacon and caramelized onions
  • Wednesday–Girl Scouts; leftover beans and rice
  • Thursday–Heather’s easy shrimp pad Thai
  • Friday–Pan seared whiting with tomatoes and sauteed greens
  • Saturday–Portabello and seared steak “pizzas” with leftover blue cheese

Improving Awareness of Farmers Markets

"Fruit and Vegetable Packs. Peaches, Blac...

I stumbled upon this fascinating article about one reason low-income families are still not shopping in large numbers at farmer’s markets. Access is, of course, one issue. If you don’t have transportation or a farmer’s market near you, you are probably not going to go searching for one. But, as access to fresh fruits and vegetables in low-income areas increases, farmer’s markets are still not seeing the turnout they expected. Why?

This article addresses the issues of education and awareness of not only what you can find at farmer’s markets, but also how to pay for it. Many markets have vendors now who accept SNAP food assistance, but it seems that many consumers don’t realize that or understand how it works.

HERE is the link to the article itself. An interesting point of discussion. At my farmer’s market runs this weekend, I am going to ask the vendors I use whether they accept SNAP and how it works for them.

In my area, I think a lot of older people understand how to cook fresh vegetables. North Carolina has always been an agricultural state and most people I meet over the age of 50 grew up either on farms or near their family farms. Most worked on farms. Hard work, for sure. It’s the younger people who I think need education of a different kind. They need to learn how to cook.

Nothing against microwave ovens (they are helpful), but the proliferation of microwaves and processed frozen foods have left us with at least one (and probably two) generations who have absolutely no idea how to cook from scratch. When you have no idea how to cook fresh food, you either don’t buy it or you buy it and it rots in your refrigerator because it seems like too much work.

In the 1930s, 40s and 50s, County Cooperative Extension offices around North Carolina had home demonstration agents who traveled to rural and urban areas around the state teaching women how to create balanced meals and how to can and preserve food safely. Now, some of these programs were condescending and a little misguided, especially in the South. But we need this kind of intentional effort now, offered in a more user-friendly way,  to reach out to young people and young families!

Do you see efforts in your area to increase education about how to use farmer’s markets? Efforts to improve cooking knowledge? Inquiring minds want to know. Share!

Week 11 Budget and Menu

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This week, we are definitely making a big push to use what we have in our pantry of canned goods, our freezer and our garden. It’s “use it up” time! This winter is the first season that we have had canned goods, a freezer full of local veggies, and a successful winter garden. We planned very well and still have plenty left over. Next year, I’m not sure we need quite so much, but it’s good to have yummy food to share rather than regretting we didn’t put up more! We are having a smaller amount of meat this week, but more seafood–NC flounder is always a hit in our house. We’re buying only local seafood from the NC coast and while it does increase our expenses for the week, it is always well worth it. YUM!

Ellie and I are going to try a new recipe this week for Espresso Chai Granola from THIS blogger, Wanna Be a Country Cleaver. Can’t wait!

Our budget is a bit over our goal of $100.00, mostly because we are having fresh seafood twice this week. We also stocked up on oatmeal, which will last a while. As usual, we are paying ourselves back for our canned and frozen foods since those stock up items were not included in our weekly budget last summer. But all in all, I think we did ok!

Budget [104.23]

  • Locals Seafood (scallops, flounder): $46.00
  • Farmer’s market (onions, eggs, cheese): $10.00
  • Trader Joes (mushrooms, frozen fruit, yogurt, breakfast burritos, dried coconut): $38.23
  • Mitchell family pantry (home canned tomato soup, frozen tomatoes, summer corn, pickled asparagus, canned peaches): $10.00
  • Mitchell family garden (Swiss chard, Chinese cabbage): FREE!

Menu

  • Sunday–Dinner out to celebrate our last Girl Scout cookie booth!!!
  • Monday–Grilled local cheese on homemade whole wheat bread with homemade tomato soup
  • Tuesday–Swiss chard with mushrooms and farm eggs, peaches
  • Wednesday–Girl Scouts (sandwiches and leftovers for dinner)
  • Thursday–Cornmeal dusted NC flounder, summer corn, pickled asparagus
  • Friday–Organic portabello mushroom “pizzas”
  • Saturday–Stir fried NC scallops and Chinese cabbage

Week 10–Budget and Menu

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All the food we canned and froze is coming in handy now that our market options are limited!

This is not my favorite time of year. Winter weather continues long after I lose patience with it, the lack of variety at the farmer’s markets is wearing thin, and I’m ready for spring. But spring is still a month away, so for now I’m focusing on using what we stored over the summer and planning for spring even though it isn’t here quite yet. This week’s menu uses up some of our canned and frozen summer food as well as what is in our garden. Thankfully, even though our markets are still heavy in root vegetables, we have lots of variety in our canned preserves, salsas and other yummy treats from summer!

Even though we are paying ourselves back for the stock up foods we put up over the summer (these items were not counted in our weekly budget since they were not consumed during those weeks), we are still looking good at $86.58 for the week! Here is how this week’s budget looks:

Budget [$86.58]

  • Farmers market (baking potatoes, lettuce, cabbage, onions): $12.00
  • Mae Farm (pork barbecue): $15.00
  • Mitchell pantry (corn, tomato sauce, field peas, peaches, salsa, jam): $18.00
  • Mitchell garden (collards, Swiss chard): free!
  • Trader Joes (dried cherries, dates, almonds, oatmeal, soy milk, yogurt, frozen fruit, organic coconut milk, pepper jack cheese): $41.58

Menu

  • Sunday–Cookie booth (dinner out)
  • Monday–NC pulled pork, collard greens, summer corn, peach cobbler
  • Tuesday–Pasta with roasted tomato sauce
  • Wednesday–Jacket potatoes, green salad
  • Thursday–Pulled pork quesadillas with field peas
  • Friday–Leftover buffet
  • Saturday–Family Pizza Smackdown Competition

Week 8 Budget and Menu

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Snow falling on collards!

Snow! We finally have a real snow here in central North Carolina! And the fact that it came on a weekend makes it even better. No missed work days. No stressful rush hours. Just relaxing and enjoying the snow, while planning for our spring garden! 

Our budget for this week does not include salmon purchased last week, but still in the freezer. That’s a carry over. And the collard greens and Swiss chard are from the garden. Still, we are doing fairly well at staying below our $100 limit. We are making some new recipes this week, many of them adapted from the magazine Clean Eating. Breakfasts this week include more oatmeal and some oat granola breakfast bars we’re trying this weekend. Will let you know what our favorites are!

Stay warm and start planning for spring gardening–it will be here before we know it!

Budget [$73.72]

  • Trader Joes (frozen fruit, organic soy milk, cheese, coconut milk, tortillas, lemon, lime): $36.22
  • Mae Farm (uncured ham steak, jowl bacon): $13.00
  • Farmers Market (broccoli, acorn squash, onions): $6.50
  • Rainbow Farm (chicken): $12.00
  • Mitchell Family Pantry (jam, summer corn): $6.00

Menu

  • Sunday–Poached salmon, collard greens, summer corn
  • Monday–Ham and swiss stuffed acorn squash
  • Tuesday–Tamari Honey Chicken, broccoli with almond butter sauce, turmeric rice
  • Wednesday–Thai tomato soup, leftover chicken
  • Thursday–Whole wheat pizza night
  • Friday–Spicy egg tortillas, black beans
  • Saturday–Pasta with roasted tomato sauce, sautéed greens

Week 5 Budget and Menu

English: Cucurbita pepo (butternut squash). Lo...

January is going out like a whirlwind here in central North Carolina. This week we are expecting days with freezing temperatures and days in the upper 60s. Hard to know how to dress, hard to know what to cook! My weekly trip to the farmer’s market was hampered by icy weather. I made it to the market, but none of the vendors were there! So, I shopped more at Trader Joes than usual. We’re using a lot of our frozen and canned food this week, which should be great! Can’t believe it’s almost time to make room for spring veggies. Our budget this week was $83.19–not too bad!

Budget

  • Locals Seafood (shrimp, fish): $18.00
  • Mae Farm (andouille sausage, ham steak): $18.00
  • Trader Joes (butternut squash, cheese, frozen fruit, soy milk, penne pasta, organic split peas, wine, green peppers): $47.19

Menu

  • Sunday–shrimp, fish and andouille jambalaya with organic basmati rice
  • Monday–grilled cheese and soup
  • Tuesday–split pea soup with ham
  • Wednesday–leftover jambalaya
  • Thursday–butternut squash macaroni and cheese (from THIS recipe)
  • Friday–leftover buffet
  • Saturday–late cookie booth; eating out

Week 4 Budget and Menu

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This week ended with a snow fake-out (so much for sledding) and sunny, cool weather that was more like spring. this next week promises to turn bitter cold–real winter? I’m going to harvest most of our tender greens this week and we will eat up as much as we can. Did you know you can cook your greens (chard, beet, turnip, mustard, etc) and freeze them? I think I’ll be trying that as well! Our collards will only get better with the below freezing temperatures–the cold brings out their sweetness, so I’m leaving them parked in the garden. Happily, our farmers market was full of activity today and we had a lot to choose from even with the cold weather! And even more happily, the market was teeming with people out buying fresh food in the cold!

Now that we actually have some winter weather coming on, I’m breaking out my Julia Child Boeuf Bourguignon recipe. It makes a ton, so we will have lots of leftovers this week. Somehow I don’t think anyone will mind!

This week’s budget reflects some stocking up. Ellie loves homemade whole wheat buttermilk pancakes and we ran out of maple syrup. I buy huge containers at Trader Joes, but they are $16.00! That’s a lot, but the syrup will last a long time. We also ran out of spices, which are not inexpensive either. But who can live without cinnamon? Not me, that’s who. Especially since I am experimenting with some crazy gingerbread oatmeal (stay tuned). So our budget ended up being $114.24 for the week, but I am confident we’ll bring it down next week. Here’s how our food expenses break out:

Budget

  • Coon Rock Farm (eggs, chicken, stew beef, carrots): $42.00
  • In Good Hands Farm (Brussel sprouts, broccoli): $6.00
  • Hillsborough Cheese Company (Lebnah Greek yogurt): $4.00
  • Melina’s Pasta (bacon and blue cheese pirogue): $9.00
  • Great Harvest Bread Company (sandwich bread, scones): $7.00
  • Trader Joes (mushrooms, organic onions, cinnamon, pepper, maple syrup, organic soy milk, cheese, sliced turkey, organic potatoes): $46.24

Here’s what we’re having this week. Should be a week full of comfort food goodness!

Menu

  • Sunday–Julia’s boeuf bourguignon with roasted potatoes
  • Monday–roasted chicken thighs with honey glazed carrots and Brussels sprouts
  • Tuesday–grilled cheese sandwiches and soup
  • Wednesday–Oatmeal (girl scout night)
  • Thursday–leftover boeuf bourguignon with noodles
  • Friday–bacon and blue cheese pirogue with brown butter, Swiss chard
  • Saturday–out to dinner or leftover buffet
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