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Fruit and vegetables: best quality for best price

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Where do you shop for fruits and vegetables? I consume a lot of them and here is my dilemma:
-the Wedge/Seward co-op too expensive
-Kingfield farmer's market - barely has anything at the moment, rarely has fruit
-Rainbow (in Uptown): terrible quality, too depressing to go in there
-Lund's (in Uptown): pretty bad quality for the price (and I rarely shop there for other things)
-Kowalski's (on Lyndale) - I stop in here a lot of convenience but I find the prices astronomical.
-Trader Joe's - great for a lot of things but not fruit and vegetables
-Whole Foods - great quality and very convenient for me, but too expensive
-Cub at Nicollet & 66th - I find it's pretty good quality but I don't buy milk/eggs/meat/cheese other things there. Should I just suck it up and make this my spot in combination with the Kingfield Market?

I'd love some to hear people's thoughts on this.

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  1. Extensive, up-to-the-minute discussion right here:
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/976056

    1 Reply
    1. re: KTFoley

      Thanks, KTFoley!

    2. No one has mentioned going to some of the Hmong markets - both inside and outside. It's a step in a different direction, but as far as freshness and leafy greens, it can't be beat. Fruit though might be another story.

      I haven't done a lot of this, but I sometimes think I should explore this option more.

      3 Replies
      1. re: shoo bee doo

        Some of them do have a lot of fruits, including many that aren't local. It's been awhile since I've been, though.

        ~TDQ

        1. re: shoo bee doo

          What are some that you like?

          1. re: pistachio peas

            There is a (I believe) Hmong Farmers Market at Dale and University in the Sun Foods lot on the weekends. It's a different experience than the St. Paul Farmers Market. They have lots of unusual produce, crazy varieties of melon, cucumber, eggplant (I was specifically told as a caucasian one of the eggplant would be too bitter for me), and more. Tons of greens / herbs that I don't know what they are, included one where the girl didn't know how to tell me what it was in English, just that they use it in soup. One vendor (I think it's actually Sun Foods) will have weirdo fruit like Dragon or Rambutan on occasion. I might be crazy, but I feel like a lot of it is cheaper than the other market as well.

        2. Well, *my* thought may not be very popular, but...

          Mrs. Sisp and I had a related conversation the first time we went grocery shopping together. The discussion was sponsored by cheese rather than produce. Her thought was that the Colby at the co-op was "too expensive".

          My response was that it wasn't a matter of the food being "too expensive" but rather that this is what food costs when the store employees are paid living wages and provided with benefits like medical insurance and tuition reimbursement; when the folks on the farms are paid fairly and have appropriate documentation; and when the products are raised sustainably.

          We'd all be happy to buy BMWs and Cadillacs for the price of equivalent Hyundais and Dodges. But it rarely works that way. And if 'most every company charges $50,000 for their large luxury sedan but Acme Motors charges $35,000, most minds will ask what they're giving up in the Acme model. Maybe they're fine with the differences; that's OK. But it's not necessarily that everyone else is "too expensive"; it may simply be that the lower-priced product compromises in areas with which you're OK.

          In the meantime, you also get to wrestle with the issue of convenience, which has a price all its own.

          [ETA] To economize, we follow the "Dirty Dozen" model ( http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/list.php ), in which we buy the cleanest produce at the best price and buy at the co-op the products more susceptible to pesticides and herbicides.

          4 Replies
          1. re: steve_in_stpaul

            Right, but it's not always a case of being able to choose to do this...

            1. re: pistachio peas

              We can never do everything we want to do. All we can do is prioritize and reconsider choices as new information comes along.

              I shop at a wide variety of stores: Mississippi Market (closest co-op), ALDI, Dragon Star (for more unusual "ethnic" ingredients), ...

              Sometimes I'll even do a light week's shopping at the neighborhood grocery store because a few "conventional" items won't kill us and because I can walk there rather than fire up the car or spend a lot of time on the bus getting someplace "nicer". It's all relative.

            2. re: steve_in_stpaul

              I also rotate quite a bit. I prioritize grass fed / organic / humanely raised meat over organic veggies, so I try to do my meat shopping at Seward or the Wedge, and Kowalski's has 1000 Hills beef, so those are the main three that I frequent. I was absolutely shocked by the organic chicken prices at the new St. Paul Lunds. ($12.99/lb).

              But the question was produce. Usually I'm at Seward, so I'll get all my groceries there, and I'll end up with a $200 bill. For just me. For a week. And most of the time, they only have green bananas that never seem to ripen no matter what I do. I do find the Wedge has cheaper produce prices than Seward, but Seward wins on location for me. I have the same debate (internally) about the true cost of food and living wages and suck it up most of the time. I appreciate that the coops let me shop without thinking about sourcing.

              However, I prefer some of the convenience lettuce products that Kowalskis (Uptown or Grand)/Byerly's (Roseville) carry, and some of the other pre-cut veggies at Kowalski's (e.g., their in-house shredded brussels sprouts.) I'll eat more veggies if part of the work is done for me, even if they aren't as high quality. Even buying the convenience products at the high-end grocery stores never seems as expensive as Seward. But if I'm at Kowalski's or Byerly's, I'm generally buying conventional produce.

              In the summer, I'll hit Mill City, Midtown, Kingfield, or the St. Paul farmers' markets. I go to Trader Joe's every 8 weeks or so only for oils, nuts, and chocolate.

              1. re: jaycooke

                True about the convenience of Kowalski's stuff. I didn't list it because I don't shop there routinely but it's one of those stores I know I can hit up in the wee hours and I've occasionally picked up some pre-prepped vegetables there and wow is that ever easy! You do have to scrutinize the dates on those carefully, I think, as I think sometimes they let them sit too long.

                I agree--it's easy to walk out of Seward with a $200 bill which I why I try not to do a "full" shopping trip there. I think of it as supplementing, almost.

                Another thing I've done on meats that works really well (even though this thread isn't about meats) is gone in with friends on butchering a whole animal. If you've got a deep freezer, you can save quite a bit this way.

                I was never really convinced subscribing to a CSA saved me money (although, that's not necessarily the point of a CSA). It's too difficult for me to manage at this stage of my life, but I think if I did it again, I'd share with a neighbor. Every other week, perhaps. And that might be a decent way of keeping costs reasonable.

                You have to be able to afford the upfront costs, though, for both the bulk meat and CSA purchasing though.

                ~TDQ

            3. To answer the question you asked in KTFoley's thread, where do I buy my produce. It's a complicated equation. Currently we garden a lot and buy the rest of our produce either at Seward (especially if I want local) or Whole Foods if I want organic, but not necessarily local.

              If we produce it locally in the Upper Midwest (even beyond MN), I try to buy it from Seward. If it's one of the dirty dozen, I buy it organic. http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary.php If it's one of the clean 15, I might pick it up at a conventional grocery, which for me is very occasionally Lunds, Cub, Widmers, or Kortes, the latter two only when I need to make a very quick stop or I need to buy some meat and I decide that day that factory farmed meat is okay with me.

              If I buy it from the St. Paul Farmers Market, I know it's local. I don't worry about whether its organic. I buy it if it looks good. Similar with Mill City Farmers market, though I might ask more questions about where its from.

              If I happen to be at Midtown Global Market, I might pick up produce there, too.

              You couldn't pay me to step into a TJ's. I intensely dislike the experience of shopping at every TJ's I've ever been to. Including three here in MSP and several elsewhere. I don't dislike the Woodbury TJs as much as I dislike the others, but I still don't love it and I'm not driving to Woodbury to do my grocery shopping.

              ~TDQ

              3 Replies
              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                I was going to make the additional point that worrying about the clean 15 and the dirty dozen really only helps my family consume fewer pesticides and makes it easier on my family's budget to buy organic "where it counts" for our personal consumption. If I had more to spend, I'd buy local and organic 100% of the time as I think it's better for the earth and better for the folks who process my produce.

                I meant to mention, also, that I only buy local when it's in season. I don't buy local hot-house tomatoes or basil in January.

                ~TDQ

                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                  Thanks for your reply, TDQ! I guess there's no getting around having to go to several places. I too do not worry about the local thing if I am purchasing from the farmer's market. Agree with you on buying organic and local 100% of the time, if I had the funds. I'm a graduate student at the moment, so I do what I can. And food is definitely a top priority for me, so a large part of my budget goes toward it.

                  1. re: pistachio peas

                    Juggling a couple of grocery stores turns out to work okay for me. I'm fortunate in that my commute and various activities seem to take me past several different grocery stores, depending on which route I choose, so I just sort of plan a loose weekly circuit. I sort of have a list in my head (wouldn't hurt me to commit it to writing) of, this is what I need to stock up on when I'm at WF, when I'm at a co-op, when I'm at a "conventional" grocery store.

                    But, honestly, I think I spend more on groceries than I should, partly because I think we waste more food than we should. I've been working harder at meal planning to remedy that. And I find that when I plan more, I can take better advantage of sales and promotions, too. I wish I had a genius solution to offer you but, sadly, I don't. I've done that thing where I've scoured all of the weekly ads and then put together a meal plan, but it's just not something I've been able to maintain, habit-wise.

                    I will say you can save money at the co-ops if you're a member because you get the dividend, plus you can get an extra discount by buying in bulk. So, a flat of canned beans, that sort of thing. And they have regular monthly promotions and you can get the bulk discount on top of that. But, that only works for dry goods, for the most part.

                    I guess if you could scrutinize your spending habits and figure out what you spend the most money on (meats?) and see if you can't focus on bringing the cost of that down. Then tackle the next one on the list and so on.

                    There are ways to do it, I think.

                    ~TDQ

              2. I have found the rainbow in midway to have a pretty nice produce section. The parking lot is horrible and the store often chaotic, but seems to be better than other Rainbows.

                I agree Seward is just insanely expensive for some things." I don't care if you are organic, I am not paying $7/lb for a red pepper. And, sometimes I am not that impressed by their quality either.

                Thanks for asking the question, I am enjoying the answers.

                1 Reply
                1. re: rockyd

                  I wouldn't pay $7/lb for a bell pepper either unless I absolutely had to have it. It's one of the dirty dozen, though, so might just forgo it.

                  I'm surprised you've had problems with the quality at Seward though. Thankfully, I've only had good experiences, which is part of why I'm willing to pay more. I could certainly see why you'd object to paying more for what you perceive as poor quality, though! Have you noticed problems with anything in particular I should be avoiding?

                  ~TDQ

                2. I'm pretty excited about this place opening up:
                  http://heavytable.com/lakewinds-food-...