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Farmer's Market Question

  • Kat Dec 5, 2012 06:01 AM
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I live in the Northeast US and look forward to the summer and the farmer's market in our town. I am lucky to live close to a major city yet in a suburban area with lots of small local farms. My question is this: I often read posts on here and other food sites by people who get great bargains on produce at farmer's markets. This has never been my experience where I live. The prices at my farmer's market are not any cheaper than the grocery store and sometimes are more. Even when I go directly to the farm and buy from the stand, it still isn't cheaper. The quality and freshness is miles better, if course. But, what is going on? Is the bargain produce only to be found in California, where the growing season is longer and farms are bigger?

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  1. I agree. I never find bargain prices at farmers markets near me - in fact, quite the contrary, prices are often higher than supermarkets, although quality is usually higher and provenance is assured.

    1. Our farmer's markets are very short as our growing season is about three months. So, we practically accost the vendors in season. Our prices are far higher than at supermarkets; some produce is double the price. But, as Harters mentions, the quality is superior. Thankfully I grow my own vegetables but do not have the room for corn.

      1. compared to supermarkets, you don't usually get bargains ($$$) at farmer's market, you get better produces.

        BUT (speaking of experience of Montreal's markets)

        In some instances you will find better bargains for bulk on some very seasonal products like tomatoes, apples, leaks, ... all at the end of the summer beginning of autumn.

        1. The Farmers are there to make money, as are all businesses.

          I grew up in Detroit and the Farmers Market there ( http://www.detroiteasternmarket.com/ ) was (and Is) a one day weekly event. The farmers come from a 200 mile radius and 40,000 people go through the Market area each Saturday. If, at the end of the day a farmer is not sold out, then he may offer items for less, just so he doesn't have to carry anything back home; the product will get old if they don't have a street side farmstand where they live.

          Where I live now (San Diego County) there are over 50 Farmers Markets a week (http://sdfarmbureau.org/BuyLocal/Farm... ). Some are Certified Farmers Markets and some are not certified (i.e., the booths feature people reselling items that were purchased elsewhere: the seller is not the Farmer). The Farmers/sellers can take unsold produce and sell it at their next scheduled market later that day or tomorrow, so there is no incentive to clear out of product at the end of the day.

          1. I am in New England and while my CSA is comparable if not cheaper than the super market the farmers markets are not. I am happy to pay the higher price though because, as you noted, the quality is usually superior. I also find that the "shelf life" tends to be longer because it has not already travelled for days. And as trite as it sounds I like meeting and getting to know the people who grow the food my family eats.

            As Max noted too, there are occasions when it can be cheaper such as during the height of the season. I can usually find local corn in August, apples and winter squashes in fall for example.

            1. It's rarely if ever going to be cheaper to buy at a LEGITIMATE farmers' market. "Farmer's Market" does not equal "Cheap". The LEGITIMATE folks selling at the farmers' market have put a LOT into what their selling; the organic growers in particular.

              What you are buying - hopefully, unless you have "cheaters" at the market - is quality via locally-grown produce, sometimes organic. That's what you're paying the extra $$ for. (But if in doubt, always ASK where/how the produce was grown!! Not that you won't be lied to anyway - lol!)

              If you're looking for "bargain" produce, look elsewhere. Just keep in mind that you get what you pay for. If all you're looking for is "cheap", then buy at the supermarket.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Bacardi1

                If you're looking for "bargain" produce, look elsewhere. Just keep in mind that you get what you pay for. If all you're looking for is "cheap", then buy at the supermarket.

                *****************************************************************************************
                agreed 100%
                We have a small growers only market which I visit every week, and there are CERTAIN items each week that are actually less expensive than "locally grown" at the super market (if your farmer has an over abundance of say zucchini, then you're going to get zucchini less, if they have 'seconds' of tomatoes which have little bruises on them, you can get a bushel for very little money...
                super ripe cantaloupe? Sure I'll take that for a buck!
                I buy as much as I can of waht is inexpensive and preserve or freeze immediately to last me as long as possible.

              2. Well, first I reject the premise that bargain produce (at farmers' markets) is found in California. It depends on where you are, but I can tell you, in some markets in the Bay area, you need to take out a bank loan.

                That aside, large grocery stores buy in vast quantities. For a farmer it is easier and cheaper to just make a single large sale than to make thousands of individual sales. Both farmer and grocery store know this, so they are able to negotiate lower prices from the farmer. Meanwhile, at farmers' markets, it is usually the farm who has to deal with transportation, perhaps has to pay a fee for the right to have a stall at the market, and of course volume is lower. So to sell the equivalent volume as through the single sale to a grocery store or grocery chain, they'd have to operate through a lot of farmers' markets --a costly exercise. So even with a small mark-up (and grocery margins are quite small), the price at the grocery will likely be lower than at the farmers' market.

                1. It really depends. I mean, in San Francisco, you practically have to take out a bank loan for the Ferry Building farmer's market. Seems like everything is at least $8 a pound!

                  But when I lived in the Western Addition/Lower Pac Heights, there was a tiny farmer's market right outside my front door, every Saturday morning, where almost everything was under $2 a pound. Was mostly pretty good stuff, too. Not picture perfect, like at the Ferry Building, but still delicious.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Violatp

                    Sure, as I said, it depends on where you are. The Ferry Bldg prices are driven by the prime (i.e. expensive) location and tourist demand as much as by anything else. An intreresting comparison is the Berkeley farmers' market versus Monterey Market a five minute drive away. I find the farmers' market to generally be very expensive (yes there are exceptions for certain items at certain times of year), whereas the same item at MM can be a third the price (no exaggeration). MM is an independent grocery and pretty small, and stocks huge amounts of organics from relatively local farms ("legitimate" farms, to use Bacardi1's term). However, they buy in large quantities, in part because I believe they are supplier to many restaurants. So, (imperfectly) controling for size, quality, and location, volume is clearly a driver of the price differential --the farmers' market may do the same overall volume on a saturday afternoon, but it is from a bunch of separate stalls, all delivered separately.

                    1. re: MagicMarkR

                      "("legitimate" farms, to use Bacardi1's term)"

                      I probably should have explained that "term". It's an unfortunate fact that many farmers' markets - our own little one here in Culpeper, VA, as well - harbor vendors that are NOT selling personally grown or even local produce. Some stuff comes in from several States away. I've called them on it, but nothing has come back except for a lot of Honeymooner Ralph Kramden "hamana hamana hamana's". Sad, but true.

                      Sad - because so very many people visit the market & believe that everything is truly "local". Apparently the term "local" has different meanings to different people.

                      1. re: Bacardi1

                        We have that here in Manassas, too. Especially early in the season (April) when you're seeing fresh produce, you know it's not even remotely local.

                  2. No doubt the sellers at farmer's markets check out the retail prices at food stores in the area and price their wares accordingly. That's what I'd do, anyway.

                    1. At one of our local farmer's markets, the local TV station followed the vendor's without their knowledge and observed some of them buying their produce at a local supermarket.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Antilope

                        I have seen vendors buying produce at Aldi's on Friday and selling it at my local farmers' market on Saturday.

                        Our market has no restrictions so techincally, they aren't breaking any rules but it doesn't sit well with me.

                        The only time there are bargins to be found in my area is, as someone mentioned, is at the very tail end of the season. Butternut squash was a $1 each, regardless of size, this fall.

                        I hear from people in my town that the CSAs are a good value.

                        1. re: cleobeach

                          Arghh....that stinks. Aldi has the worst produce of all the supermarkets around here. I really like that store for other things, especially the German products, but the produce is always limp and of poor quality.

                      2. On a separate point from my previous posts:

                        >I often read posts on here and other food sites by people who get great bargains on produce at farmer's markets.

                        People generally report what they bought, not what they didn't buy. They bought things they got a good price for and did not buy things that were too expensive. So the reports can be selective.

                        1. My farmer's market continues throughout the year....every Sunday.

                          I mainly go to purchase organic greens, many types, and the price is much less than in my local market. The produce is much fresher, obviously, and I do know the seller does *not* want to pack it all up and take it back home. He's a good businessman....knowing that by selling it for less his likelihood of having to take it home and have it rot isn't very likely and he's still making a very nice profit.

                          1. I'm in a suburb of DC and it is a lot more expensive to buy from the Farmer's Market or the farmer directly than from the "locally grown" produce sellers at Wegmans or Whole Foods.

                            I buy it at the Farmer's Market only if it is convenient (the hours are not good for me) and am happy to pay more because the fruit and tomatoes are so much better tasting. I'm happy to pay $5 for a good tomato.

                            1. Appreciate the replies. At least I now know I'm not missing out on bargains; farmers markets everywhere are expensive. I think Mike had a good point; people only make a point to post when they do find a deal, not all the other times they paid full price.

                              1. I live in the Central Valley of California, and the farmer's markets I frequent the most usually have very good prices on produce. Many items may have the same or similar prices as the grocery stores, but the quality of produce at the farmer's markets is usually higher (eg stone fruits in the summer). Other items can be had for a LOT less, such as fresh basil. A huge bunch of fresh basil at my local FM (certified organic, BTW) will cost $1. At any of the local grocery stores, a bunch of basil a third the size will run at least $2.

                                There are a lot of reasons I shop at farmer's markets, and pricing is only one. Higher quality is one. Supporting small/local farmers is another. And there are some items that I can't find consistently anywhere else.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: ricepad

                                  Ok, so this is what I meant. I have read other posts online like this one above ($1 for a huge bunch of organic basil in a California farmers market) and I am jealous. Nowhere around here would I find that price. That is why I was originally wondering if farmers markets in California were cheaper because of the abundance of locally grown produce.

                                  1. re: Kat

                                    Location, location, location! There are times when I've overfilled the produce bin in our fridge with less than $5 worth of purchases from the local FM! Asian veggies are particularly abundant and cheap.

                                    1. re: Kat

                                      I tend to agree for things like basil, you can get really good deals at farmers' markets. That will more likely be the case I would think for especially parishable items that do not travel well(e.g. also hachiya persimmons). Grocery stores would have to bear the cost of protective storage, whereas farmers markets may be almost direct from field to farmers market stand, so its use-it-or-lose-it.

                                      It may be Kat, that the agricultural abundance relative to the more urban population is higher where you live so the likelihood of "excess" supply available for farmers' markets is lower.

                                  2. Just like when you hear...know your butcher or know your fish monger...know your grower!

                                    Build a relationship with them. More often than not, your repeat business will be noticed and appreciated. You'll sometimes get better deals on produce, better advice on what to buy, free products thrown into your bag, and/or specialty stuff or particular items saved just for you because they know your buying habits and preferences.

                                    There's a particular grower that I visit every Friday. The most beautifully delicious fruit I've ever tasted! Sometimes the lady has a bag already put together for me to check out by the time I get to her stand (she knows I like semi-soft, sweet fruit that has crisp skin and new varieties not normally seen for sale). We'll walk and talk through the produce together, taste a bunch of stuff, and talk about her current production and what's coming into season. If I indicate that there's something specific I'm looking for in the coming seasons, she'll do what she can to put some of the best aside for me when it becomes available.

                                    For the items I do purchase, yes, they can be a bit more money than what's sold in the grocery stores, but the relationship with the grower and the confidence I have in them is well worth the extra dollars.

                                    1. I'm in NJ and would have lot of my own stuff growing if it weren't for the HORDES of critters in the area... rabbits, chip,unks, squirrels, and GROUNDHOGS... which totally destroyed tomatoes last time in the ground!

                                      Have The Columbus Farmer's Market only a few miles away... where I can find about ANY fruit or veggie iin the dead of summer. BUT have 2 little mom/pop stands that I will go to all the time. I know the tomatoes are actually grown THERE and have always been excellent! Once tomato season is done (mid-late September), I don't buy another tomato until the following July or so.

                                      1. I concur that the bargain is not in the price but in the quality and provenance, BUT if you go towards closing time (or at least it's true here) goods are frequently marked down, or let go at an unannounced bargain rate. They do not want to re-pack the stuff.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: mamachef

                                          Yeah, the CFMs near my office usually have stuff for a dollar a bag or similar in the last 30 minutes or hour of the selling day. For stone fruit, it's a great deal if you're going to can or bake with them, but the peaches and nectarines have been groped too much to be good for eating out of hand.

                                        2. I live in an area of California where I can go to a different Farmers Market just about every day of the week. First, it is not cheaper than at the grocery. What I buy are items I cannot find at the grocery or I’m looking for absolute freshness. Examples would squash blossoms. Highly perishable and you won’t see them at the grocery. Or peak of the season tomatoes. What I won’t buy are items it makes no sense to get at a FM. Winter squash or shallots as examples. I’m really not going to get a better product at the higher price at the FM. Also, the fact it is available there is no guarantee of quality, freshness, or anything else. I’ve seen a lot of marginal looking produce at the FM. I also know of one case of false advertising. A fish monger who frequented one was busted for reselling fish they had bought as items they had caught. They were also busted for passing off farmed raised fish as wild caught sole.

                                          1. I spent the month of August in Santa Fe and thoroughly enjoyed the Santa Fe Farmer's Market, but NOT for the low prices. An earlier poster cited $8 per pound being the cost of almost everything and that was certainly try in SF. However, I was able to get the very best "airloom" tomatoes I've ever had access to as well as Padrone peppers, fabulous squashes, and beans. Don't know how that market does for the rest of the year, but in August the join was jumpin'. At home, in South-central Texas, I subscribe to a local CSA and altho' DH is not a vegetable eater, I get to enjoy the best grown in this area...peaches and steawberries from Frederickburg and the rest of the crop from Luckenbach. Again, it's not cheap but I know I'm getting the best stuff around. AND helping my local neighbor/farmer with his business. Works for me.

                                            1. Sorry for the typos (true in SF) Strawberries. need to have my eyes checked AGAIN

                                              1. Here's a safe rule of thumb, if the farmer's traveling to you, then you'll pay a premium. If it's the other way around you get a better deal. It has little do with the price of gas and everything to do with what the market will bear. As a Chicagoan, I've rarely seen farmer's market produce in town for a good price, but if I'm driving through Wisconsin, Indiana or Michigan and there's a market or farmstand, that's where the bargains are.