Are Farmer’s Markets Really More Expensive?

Farmer’s markets are expensive places to shop, this everyone already seems to know. While browsing the market, some people are flabbergasted when they learn what a basket of fresh produce will cost them (admit it, we’ve all been there). Budgeting is important and many household have at least a vague understanding of how much is “too much” to be spending on food for yourself or your family. However, are farmer’s markets really as expensive as we are led to believe? Many would say “no” – and here’s why.

Farmer’s market prices are determined by a variety of factors. For one thing, prices and measurements aren’t standardized at these markets. This means that how much you are paying depends largely on how much the vendor wants to charge. Is the produce grown organically or conventionally? That will also affect the price. Some farms may be dedicated to paying their workers well, and for others this might not be a huge concern. This will also affect how much you are paying.

There are so many things to consider when looking at how farmers determine the price of their goods. What you need to consider is:

  • Is the food worth the price you are paying? (Ex. Is it fresher or more nutritious?)

  • Consultative Services (Ex. Is someone there to answer your questions and offer advice about what you are buying?)

When you think about these two factors, you are usually getting way more at a farmer’s market than you would at a grocery store. “Fresher” is almost no contest when you hear about traditional grocery stores reusing bad products to make money off of expired food. And when was the last time a grocery store employee stopped you to let you know the best way to store and prepare something you were buying?

Some market purchases cost you more because the farm workers are being paid well. Some cost you less because they are easy to grow and pick, impulsive shopping buys (bunches of herbs, for example). Farmers, like anyone in business, must figure out a way to make themselves profitable – otherwise they can’t stay in business. They do this in many ways. Farmers put in the work of growing, harvesting, and selling their produce, so they understand the way their pricing options work more so that we could hope to.

Farmers may choose certain products because they taste better, rather than relying on plants breed meant to withstand certain weather, long transportation times, or pesticide use (like big agricultural businesses do). This variety is actually better for the average shopper, who can then pick what kind of produce is best for them. These “specialty breeds” of crops are sometimes more susceptible to disease and failure, so farmers may expect to lose up to 40% or more of them before harvest. After harvesting, cleaning, packing, and transporting the product also falls on the farmers and their workers, too, driving up the expenses.

Farmers that participate in local markets often have a community-driven mindset. They want to provide for their community, pay their workers a fair wage, and try to offer reasonable prices so that even low income families can eat better. It just depends on their social mission. Tourist-heavy areas, for example, may have more expensive markets to try and make back some of these costs from people looking to spend more of their disposable income.

Much of the time, farmers markets range within 10% of retail prices. Many times, prices at markets are equal to or less than traditional grocery store prices, especially when looking at organic produce. Market foods are often more “whole” (ie. all parts still attached, no unnecessary shearing down), fresher, and run by community-driven individuals. Does this make the occasional “extra” cost worth it? We think so.

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Are Farmer’s Markets Really More Expensive?