When people find out we shop at farmer’s markets I get a number of responses but one of the most common is “we’d love to do that, but it’s too expensive”. So I thought I’d do a little verbal analysis on the effects of shopping at farmer’s markets on our hip pocket.
To be honest, we haven’t found shopping at farmer’s markets once a fortnight has made an appreciable difference to our grocery bill. And I think I’ve already made a bit of a reputation for myself as being on the thrifty side, so please believe me when I say our pre-farmer’s market food budget was relatively frugal and not over the top. When I started going to farmer’s markets just over two years ago, everything we were buying was conventional, industrial food although we were definitely down the lots of fresh fruit and veg, low quantities of meat, very little processed food, end of the range. The two exceptions to the conventional, industrial food were eggs and pork products (both of which had to be free range). Maybe we are lucky and we have farmer’s markets near us that aren’t that expensive but the truth is our farmer’s markets are often more expensive per kilo than the supermarket conventional industrial equivalent. So why isn’t it costing us much, if any, more?
The first and biggest reason is that we have less food waste. Farmer’s market produce is so fresh that our food lasts a lot longer and so we throw less out. Also, the general quality of farmer’s market produce is higher so for example with supermarket potatoes I often chop off significant amounts of green or brown bad bits or even throw out whole potatoes, this rarely happens with our farmer’s market potatoes. So while the gross price per kilo might be higher at farmer’s markets, the net (usable) price per kilo is much closer, or even lower.
The farmer’s markets give us the chance to buy quality seconds at cheap prices. In supermarkets, all produce has to be “perfect” (in looks, not flavour!), at farmer’s markets this isn’t the case. Last week I got a great deal on eggs – they were just a little small- but at $5 for 30 eggs they easily beat cheap and cruel caged eggs for price. In summer, we often buy seconds cherries. We have to buy two kilos but we get these for a total of $12 (i.e. $6/kg). I never see cherries in the supermarket under $12/kg and more often they are between $15 and $20 (note: all my prices are Australian dollars). The farmer’s markets seconds are the biggest, juiciest, tastiest cherries I have ever eaten and they only end up as seconds because they have a high number without stalks and a high number of twin cherries on the one stalk. They are so fresh they easily last 5 days.
Linked to the seconds idea, because the quality of farmer’s market produce is so good we can sometimes buy lesser “quality” versions but end up with a better product than the “quality” supermarket equivalent. The best example here is beef. To get a tender steak at the supermarket we need to buy fillet steak. The meat at the farmer’s market is more expensive but we only need to buy rump steak to get the same level of tenderness. Farmer’s market rump steak is about the same price as supermarket fillet steak.
It evens out over the season. For most fruit and veg, prices in supermarkets are high at the beginning of the season, drop to really low during the mid-season glut and then climb back up towards the end of the season. But at farmer’s markets the price is constant for the entire season. So, we find a lot of produce is cheaper at farmer’s markets at each end of the season but more expensive during the mid-season. Over the whole season we are often paying a roughly similar price in both places. Apples are a good example of this. In the supermarket they range from about $1.50 to $6/kg, compared to the farmer’s market where they are always $4.50/kg. I suspect that many people try out farmer’s markets for the first time in mid-summer because it’s a fun thing to do on a beautiful summer morning. This is probably the time when the price differential is at its greatest as supermarkets are having stupendously cheap prices on mid-summer glut food.
There are some things I just don’t buy at the farmer’s market. Mushrooms are double the price at our farmer’s markets compared to the supermarket. I just can’t make myself pay that much for mushrooms so we now only eat mushrooms on the weeks I visit a supermarket (on my list of things to tackle eventually is a grow your own mushroom kit). While I love, love, LOVE the cheese at the farmer’s markets, it is super expensive. I only buy my cheese there on special occasions.
And finally, comparing like with like. All my comparisons so far have compared conventional, industrial supermarket produce with organic, low spray, free range, grass-fed farmer’s market produce. It’s a ridiculous, unfair comparison but still the farmer’s market comes out looking good. If we compared farmer’s market produce to organic in the supermarket then a basket of farmer’s market produce would be cheaper. I know this isn’t an argument that works for people who are on a tight budget but, for anyone who isn’t, I think it’s something that they really should be including when they think about if they want to do their shopping at farmer’s markets. Farmer’s markets are a great way to get value for money organic (or close to organic) produce.
And now, I think I’ve rambled on long enough. Mr Bee has just handed me a glass of wine and I’m going to enjoy whatever farmer’s market creation he has come up with for our dinner 🙂