Dollars & Sense
at the Farmers’ Market
by Anne O’Brien-Kakley
Like many Americans in this recession, I am managing a shoestring budget for my health-conscious family. In an
effort to understand and control my supermarket bill, I kept my grocery receipts for three winter months to analyze my spending habits. Even after months of eating cheap, conventional produce, generic cereal, and weekly sale items, I found that my winter grocery bill was almost twice the amount of my grocery bill in the warmer months, when I frequent my local farmers’ market.
Farmers’ markets are known for mouth-watering heirloom vegetables, locally baked treats, honey, and more. But rarely do consumers consider the farmers’ market an option when managing limited funds. It may be true that the price per pound on some items at the farmers’ market is higher than the price you’ll find at the supermarket; however, the savings from patronizing your local farmers’ market come in less obvious ways.
• Produce Longevity: The weekly grocery bill for our family of three averages about $120. In the summer, when our vegetable cravings are most keen, we could easily spend $60 a week in produce alone. Buying freshly-picked local food at the farmers’ market helps us get the most out of that investment. The shiny, perfectly-shaped vegetables at our local supermarket chain were probably picked a week ago in California, Central America, or even New Zealand before their long, carbon-emitting trip across the planet. Because of their age they are going to become science experiments in the refrigerator much more quickly than properlystored local produce.
• Impulse Buying: This part of my research made me cringe. I carefully circled, in red, all of the items on my supermarket receipt that had not been on my original grocery list, and it totaled between ten to twenty dollars per trip. In my defense, taking a two-year-old to a supermarket is a harrowing experience, especially with all those bright, glossy packages. At the farmers’ market, there aren’t any packages of Curious George fruit snacks. There aren’t processed snacks with high-fructose corn syrup and licensed characters to elicit temper tantrums from your toddler.
The only distractions you’ll find for your child at the farmers’ market will be friendly faces and lots of room to run. This alone saves me as much as $50 a month.
• Fewer Supermarket Trips: In the winter, I go to the supermarket three to four times a week; most of those trips are driven by the need to restock on vegetables and other perishables. In the summer, with the fresher food from the farmers’ market, I can reduce my grocery shopping to once a week—sometimes even less than that. I take one big trip to the supermarket at the beginning of the farmers’ market season to stock up on the staples: butter,
olive oil, grains, pasta, and seasonings. Everything else, like cheese, fruits, vegetables, and baked goods, I purchase at the farmers’ market. Many summer nights I make a meal from a freshly baked bread loaf, a native tomato, and some Great Hill Blue Cheese. These simple meals are healthy, inexpensive, satisfying and delicious.
• Reinvesting in the Community: It’s never been more important to funnel our money back into our community. Instead of channeling funds into multi-national corporations, shopping at a farmers’ market reinvests your hard-earned dollar in your own community. Your farmers are your neighbors and your friends. Their kids go to school with your kids, and they employ workers from your community. The more money you spend at farmers’ markets, the more you are supporting your local infrastructure and economy.
• Preserving Food: When favorable weather conditions result in a surplus of certain crops, making them cheap and plentiful at the farmers’ market, purchase in bulk and prepare the extras for the winter season. Stock up on strawberries, corn, beans, winter squashes, root vegetables, etc.: If you carefully store, freeze, preserve, dehydrate or vacuum-seal farmers’ market produce, you can enjoy healthful, delicious, local food year-round while reducing your winter grocery bills and continuing to support local farmers.
As far as economic woes are concerned, this too shall pass. We will all be sipping our six-dollar-lattes again, someday. But when watching your budget, consider the farmers’ market. With a little planning and canning, you can slash your food budget, support your local community, and eat well.