Farmers Market Feedback
I made my second trip to the summer market in the West End this past weekend and I have to say I was a little let down. I am an off and on farmers market type, since I do see value in purchasing from reputable local sources and the support it lends to local business. That said, I find I get sticker shock when perusing the market sometimes.
I have read several of Michael Pollan's books and I recognize that cheap food isn't really cheap, that we are paying for it in a multitude of other ways. Also I understand that most North Americans spend a far smaller proportion of their budget on food than people do in other developed parts of the world.
That said, this weekend I looked at stall after stall that carried lovely heads of garlic for $3 a piece. Very small zucchini that were $1.50 each. Even the local strawberries, which I agree are lovely this year were about twice the price of local strawberries I found at Kin's on Davie Street.
I always here from American Chowhounds on this site about the great deals they are getting at farmer's markets and it seems to me that the Vancouver equivalent is a different sort of beast.
Does anyone have any thoughts on the topic.
I guess it depends what you are looking for. I wouldn't say there are great deals if you mean bargains but I can find things at the Farmers' Market that I can't find anywhere else. I frequent the West End market too but there's no Kin's down on Denman and I can tell you the produce is pretty shabby in my edge of the West End. Cheap, but pretty disgusting for the most part. Or you can go to Robson and pay Whole Foods prices for California produce that is often pretty shabby too. The market looks pretty good in comparison.
I like to buy the beautiful oak leaf lettuces that are not available anywhere else that I've seen. They are huge and $1.50 a head which seems like an excellent deal. The baby greens in a bag are much nicer than anything you'll find in a store, but not cheap I'll admit. I'm more than willing to pay for freshness, flavour and local vs a mega-organic producer from California with a plastic box full of two week old baby lettuce.
Like many others I used to line up to buy Celyddon Farms tomatoes but he moved to PEI last year. Lots of other greenhouse tomato producers have given up after a couple of years. This isn't really a tomato friendly climate, even with greenhouses. There's a guy that grows interesting heritage beans that I always buy. Ditto interesting potato varieties. And where else can you buy a little bunch of sweet peas for a couple of dollars?
Berries, stone fruit, apples, pears etc. I find there's a range of prices. But again I see pears and plums that aren't available anywhere else. And local strawberries are an endangered species. I buy them anywhere and everywhere because I see fewer and fewer growers every year. But really BC fruit is fantastic, just buy and eat it no matter where. My brother and his family from Australia plan their visits around the BC fruit season. They think the prices are very reasonable - its all about the context.
But mostly I go the market because I like the atmosphere and the walk. I meet friends for coffee, watch the kids and the dogs and soak up the beauty of it all. I am willing to pay for that, some aren't and that's fine with me.
We are lucky that we can be so picky because, as you noted, our food costs are very low compared to most of the world.
re: Anne M
Well said, Anne.
To confess, we're occasional FM shoppers in the best of times, for a variety of reasons (and maybe it's time to revisit that). But at the end of the day, the economic portion is just a piece of a much bigger equation.
At the end of the day, a locavore food economy system brings benefits at many levels, directly and indirectly. It's sort of like the arguments of buying a gas-electric hybrid vehicle. The payoff, or breakeven period from accrued $ savings at the gas pump to offset the higher purchase price of the vehicle may take anywhere from 5-15+ years. But at the end of the day, a hybrid vehicle simply uses *less* gasoline than a conventional propulsion vehicle (ok, let's not delve into the tailpipe-upstream chain's effects on other aspects of society such as mining of semi-precious metals required for battery production, etc). So if it's simply a reduction of gasoline consumption a consumer is concerned about, then buying a hybrid makes sense. But if the overall equation of that purchase places net harm and degradation to the environment or other components (and those impacts can be readily calculated and quantified), then such a decision may not be in the best interest of all parties affected.
So it's a complex system of perceived and real costs and benefits of a locavore economy, and that each participant of that system has to make judgments based on its own value system, whether financial, ethical, environmental or societal.
We also tend to shop for bakes and preserves at the markets and go for the green stuff only if something really catches our eye. I think part of the problem is that we have a very short growing season here, which is quickly derailed by bad weather (anyone remember the rains last year?). Prices for veggies tend to get a bit better later in the summer, and the quality improves as well. I must admit we were very disappointed in our FM haul a few weeks ago -- the quality just wasn't there, which added insult to the injurious prices. Hoping for better in July...
I was at the kits market yesterday too and went for a few specific things...
- eggs (sold out everywhere)
- oyster guy (not there)
- wild mushrooms like morels etc. (none there)
- heirloom tomatoes. Got some nice ones at a decent prices.
Also picked up some leafy greens and stuff. But over all kinda underwhelmed. Sigh
We rarely do the farmers' market, and when we do it's at the Little Mountain (Riley Park/Hillcrest) location. I think as you already recognized, these vendors simply can't leverage the economies of scale that larger operations (and their wholesale buyers) can offer. So that $1.50 zucchini may be about as cheap as that vendor can sell it for and still make some margin, however little. It definitely hurts the wallet, and we are quite selective in what we buy from a FM anywhere (ie: traveling. Olympia has a great waterfront farmers' market if anyone's ever there:)
Here's a good read on the subject, my wife's colleague has the full article somewhere, maybe I can get it from them:
Totally with ya on the sticker shock, delys. My brain understands all the arguments for why this happens but my wallet rebels! That being said, I do shop for local and in some cases organic produce at my greengrocers, where the markup seems to be less, in most every case. Knowing full well I am still giving up some of the freshness and immediacy going that route, it allows me to "splurge" on things like artisanal apple cider and cheese at the farmers' markets.