Do Farmer's Markets Cost More?
It’s common knowledge that a lot of products, food, and goods cost more money at a farmer’s market than they would if you just purchased from a grocery store or food chain. In fact, if you make the claim that a local market is expensive - maybe even too expensive - no one is going to correct you.
Even a quick browse through a local market in your area would confirm this, as most prices are comparably higher. But the reality is a little different.
Are you really paying more money at a local farmer’s market? Are the goods really that much more expensive? More importantly, is price the only factor you should consider?
Let’s start with the obvious.
Are the Fresh Goods at a Farmer’s Market Really More Expensive?
As a conscientious shopper, it’s easy to look at higher prices and think of them as more expensive. Part of being budget-minded is the fact that you pay attention to current prices; you are price-savvy so to speak.
But it’s a common misconception that farmer’s markets are more expensive than retail or chain stores. This is not inherently true, believe it or not.
The prices at a farmer’s market are much more complicated, and more goes into the price tag than the same goods at a retail store. One big difference stands out between the two. Prices and units of measurement, especially in bulk, are not standardized at a local market. In fact, you could argue that local market prices for bigger quantities are much more competitive.
That’s because when you walk into a retail store, you are essentially buying - or browsing - products from one large source. Yes, the goods may be from a variety of farms and locations, but they have all been bought out by one company that is consolidating inventory and production.
Adversely, when you go to a farmer’s market you are browsing products from a number of sources. So, you may look at apples being sold by one farmer, and then find another seller of the same type of apples, nearby. Their prices may differ, maybe even considerably.
In addition, retail goods are generally stripped and offered in lower quantities. For example, just looking at a pound of carrots, you’d get more for your money spending $2 for a pound at a farmer’s market, as opposed to $1.29 at a retail store. So, in that case, yes you are spending less, but you’re actually getting much less too.
Those same carrots from the farmer’s market have been naturally cultivated and gathered. This means they will come with edible greens, that carrots you purchase from the store will not. Ever notice how vegetables you buy from the store - especially packaged ones - are trimmed down considerably to remove the excess? You may not realize it, but some of that excess is usable, maybe even edible.
Not to mention, at a farmer’s market the prices reflect many different things besides just the products or goods themselves. For instance, some goods may be grown organically, while others are grown conventionally, yet neither are labeled as such. This is much different than a retail store which has these types of goods completely separated and labeled individually.
Plus, if one farm or food source from that larger store suffers a catastrophe and crops are lost, the store can simply turn to another source or another one of their owned locations and ultimately this has little to no effect on the final price. A local farmer, on the other hand, does not have this luxury. If they lose a lot of their crops, they have to raise their prices to make up for any losses. This may also contribute to higher prices at a local market as opposed to retail stores.
In the latter case, when you pay higher prices at a local market, you are directly contributing to that farmer’s sustainability and livelihood. If you really wanted to, you could say it means you’re supporting the local economy and community, as opposed to filling the coffers of a large-scale corporation or business.
Then, there’s the basics of business. Just because some of the local farmer’s handle manual labor doesn’t necessarily mean they know nothing about business. A lot of them understand if you increase the price of a certain product even just a $1 you can boost your profits, especially when shoppers buy things impulsively. That’s just business 101.
That’s Nice, But They ARE Higher Prices
Supporting the local economy, community, and local business is all fine and dandy, but sometimes when you boil things down there’s just no point to paying higher prices, right?
Actually, depending on where you live and what markets and stores you are comparing, prices end up being cheaper at local markets, especially for organic goods. In fact, a study by NOFA showed that conventionally raised Vermont-based products at local markets were - on average - the same price as those sold at supermarkets. As for organic products, the study revealed that they were also cheaper at farmer’s markets.
Okay, okay, even if you can make this argument, what about the fact that most local markets are located in moderate to high-income areas?
A Project for Public Spaces study from 2009, revealed that over 60% of shoppers from local farmer’s market come from low-income areas of the country, because they believe the markets offer better prices than supermarkets. In fact, only 17 percent of those shoppers even cited “high prices” as a deterrent to shopping at local markets. Most decide against shopping at local markets for completely different reasons that have nothing to do with price.
The most important thing to note here is that local markets aren’t just for the well off. They aren’t usually facilitated by higher income sources either. These are honest, local farmers who are just trying to survive - compared to large businesses and corporations that want to bring in the most money they can.
That’s why local farmers are generally more concerned with the products and goods they are selling too, and how their development affects the local environment and communities.
More for Your Money
If you have less money to spend or you’re using assistance programs like EBT (food stamps) or WIC you may be much better off shopping at local markets, provided they support these programs and most do. It’s because you can usually get a lot more for your money at local markets, which means you can put more on your table.
Not just that, often you’re getting better quality. If that sounds a little far-fetched, consider this. Local farmer’s work hard to perfect their products and goods. Often, they choose to cultivate a special variety of food - or grow it using exclusive methods - so that it comes out tastier, healthier, or even more sizeable.
Take strawberries, for example. If you buy them in season at a local supermarket, you will likely be spending less. But you’ll also get lower quality goods most of the time that were grown en masse simply to produce a lot.
At a local market, however, you might spend a little more - especially early in the season - for a smaller bushel of strawberries. But you’d probably also find that those fruits from a local market taste better, last longer, and are just healthier all around.
Don’t underestimate local market prices. And if you’re really in doubt, it doesn’t hurt to talk to some of the farmers and sellers at local events. Many of them are friendly and have no problem sharing their process with you, outside of sharing trade secrets obviously.