A Beef With Farmer’s Markets

Guest Post by Amanda M. Socci of Creative Idea Gal

What Are Farmer’s Markets?

Before we get into the beefy heart of the matter as to why I have a problem with farmer’s markets, let’s first define “farmer’s markets” so that we all know what we’re talking about. In my experiences, farmer’s markets is a term given to a makeshift “farm” or “store” in which a group of mom-and-pop suppliers gathers at a central location, like city hall or a public library, to sell their fresh produce, meats, flowers, breads, and baked goods.


Here are a few examples of farmer’s markets in our area. How are the farmer’s markets in your area?


Farmer’s markets typically operate half the year, from approximately April – October. Of course, that depends on the geographical region. In warmer climates, farmer’s markets operate year-round.


Characteristics of Farmer’s Markets

Generally, farmer’s markets focus on selling home-baked and locally grown foods exclusively, and do not offer things that are non-edible, such as purses, t-shirts, books, and the like. Farmer’s markets are found in major cities across the United States and in some cases, are also present in smaller towns, depending on how many active farms there are.


Regardless of their location, the most common thing in farmer’s markets is a collective agreement to offer produce, meats, and breads that are hormone-free, pesticide-free, steroid-free, additive-free, and in many cases, free-from-the-cage (as in free-range eggs that are produced by hens that are allowed to roam freely). What that means is that farmers everywhere seem to offer a consensus or promise to produce foods for consumption that are as natural and “free” as possible, without many of the common additives found in store-bought foods.


The Beef Lies in the Cost of Farmer’s Markets Foods

At face value, every description of farmer’s markets is a pleasing one, making it easy to encourage consumers to patronize the markets and shoo away the bad grocery stores that are making our kids fat and poisoning our bodies. While it is true that farmer’s markets undoubtedly provide the best nutritional value to consumers, they are also the ones that provide the least affordability to all except the affluent and those who have great amounts of disposable income.


That is where my beef with farmer’s markets comes in. My beef, or complaint, about farmer’s markets is their lack of affordability. Let’s compare supermarkets with farmer’s markets in terms of cost to the consumer.

One Example: Price Per Pound of Blueberries

For example, our farmer’s markets sell blueberries that are hormone-free and pesticide-free at $3.99 per pound. Yowzers! Even the most expensive of the regular grocery stores, Safeway, doesn’t gouge consumers so much. Even at the peak of the season, the most it might charge would be $3.49 per pound of blueberries.


Other grocery stores which are fantastic in their offerings offer the same blueberries at a mere $1.99 per pound, and on sale days, $0.99 per pound. Based on that information, can you guess where I would purchase blueberries? Yes – from grocery stores!


What I have learned from my farmer’s markets experiments is that in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, the area where I live, the farmer’s markets in the tri-state region of Washington, D.C. Maryland, and Virginia are all very expensive!


Understanding Higher Costs of Foods at Farmer’s Markets

In trying to understand the higher costs of foods at farmer’s markets, it’s important to understand how farmer’s markets differ from regular grocery stores.


Grocery stores have more manpower, trucks, store space, and resources to commit to its sale of produce and fresh foods than farmer’s markets. By contrast, individual vendors at farmer’s markets are two-person mom-and-pop farms that send one or two employees long distances just to sell their locally grown produce.


Individual farmers work hard to tend to their fields, care for their animals, and maintain their farming equipment. It isn’t cheap to operate a farm, and tighter government rules are making it more difficult for farmers to be profitable. Many sources on the Internet provide thoughtful analyses on the means to achieve profitability in farming.


Grocery stores, by contrast, don’t just sell fresh produce, meats, breads, and flowers. They sell a million things as well, including lottery tickets, spirits, and junk food. If grocery stores don’t have good sales on their produce, it’s not a problem because they’ll more than make up for it in sales of soda and chips.


Individual farmers must sell out their foods in order to pay for the operational costs of the farm and to achieve profits. Grocery stores don’t necessarily have to sell out of their produce. Grocery stores are able to provide deep discounts on produce, meats, breads, and flowers because of their size. Consumers know that and they typically flock to supermarkets to gobble up the savings.


The Wiggles make a fruit salad (video)Advertising Tells Us to Eat More Veggies & More Fruits

The advertising from the U.S.D.A. and the many commercial jingles and children’s songs that follow us around unequivocally tell us to eat more veggies, eat more fruits. I get it, I get it! I am trying to do the right thing by feeding my family healthier foods. We’ve done a great job getting rid of processed foods, leaving behind boxed macaroni and cheese and boxed hamburger helper and so-called “prepared foods” that supermarkets attempt to pre-cook, such as soups, chicken pot pies, and baked macaroni and cheese. (Consumers mistakenly assume that these prepared foods are healthier when in fact, the foods contain just as much sodium and additives as their boxed counterparts.) We’ve definitely added more fruits and vegetables to our regular diet, but I can’t seem to stray away from the traditional supermarket simply for cost reasons.


It’s not that I don’t understand the value of the extra touches and commitment to additive-free foods that the farmer’s markets vendors offer us. In fact, I admire such a lofty commitment! I completely understand and agree that fresh foods that are free from preservatives should be standard fare for all families. I just don’t agree with the prices! Not everyone agrees with my assessment that farmer’s markets are more expensive. Some people argue that consumers pay the ultimate price in purchasing cheaper produce at supermarkets. What do you think?


Paying Extra at Farmer’s Markets is not a Smart Choice

Ultimately, I do not agree that it makes sense to pay $3.99 per pound of fresh blueberries simply because they traveled 97 miles from our local farm instead of 1,000 miles to get to our local grocery store. I do not wish to pay $12 per loaf of bread just because it is made with top ingredients and is gluten-free. I don’t particularly care for flower arrangements that cost more than my monthly cable bill. It just doesn’t make sense to me!


Does that mean that I am anti-farmer’s markets! Absolutely not! I love farmer’s market selections. I do not, however, love their prices. For a family of four, like mine, that is on a budget and receives help from time to time, paying extra money to purchase additive-free foods, even if they are healthier, is not a smart choice.


While I do realize the plight of individual farmers with their minimal labor help and costs associated with operating a farm with little or no government financial assistance, I simply cannot justify paying exorbitant prices just because I want to delete the pesticides and additives from the fresh produce that my family eats.


I will continue admiring farmer’s markets and wishing them successful, profitable seasons from afar, but I will stick to the more economical and consumer-friendly choices found at local grocery stores.


If the farmer’s markets in your region offer fresh produce, meats, breads, and flowers that are additive-free and good values for the dollar, I’d love to hear from you!

☮ ✽•♪ღ♪•* ♥ ☼ ☮ ღ ॐ •♪ღ♪•* ♥ ☼ ☮ ✽•♪ღ♪•* ♥ ☼ ☮ ღ ॐ •♪ღ♪•* ♥ ☼

Amanda M. Socci is a freelance writer and blogger from Alexandria, Virginia who specializes in writing creatively on diverse topics. Amanda posts frequently on her personal blog and on a local online news service Mount Vernon Patch – search for “Socci.” Amanda also stays busy researching topics and conducting interviews for freelance writing assignments. Amanda’s personal interests include craft projects, recycling, and school fundraising. Known as the Creative Idea Gal, Amanda relishes every situation that gives her new opportunities to paint rainbows with 1,000 new, original thoughts, ideas, and written expressions.


[box type=”download”] ☆ 【ツ】☆ Thanks so much to Amanda Socci, the Creative Idea Gal, for her insight and wonderful writing. Do show her some veggie love by commenting and visiting her sites. You will be amazed, amused and inspired, like I was.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on Going Veggie and share your experiences, product reviews or opinions, send me a note at Val@GoingVeggie.com with your ideas. [/box]


15 thoughts on “A Beef With Farmer’s Markets

  1. Farmer’s markets sure have evolved from when I was a kid in the 70’s, and a young adult in the 80’s.
    A fascinating analysis, Amanda.
    There are Farmer’s markets here in Houston, my new home, that I plan to eventually check out.

  2. I used to love going to the Farmer’s Market in Harrisburg, PA. First because it’s where all the interesting people were … but also because you got fresh foods you really couldn’t find anywhere else (there’s something about a fresh strawberry at a FM that’s SOO much better than a whole barrel of them at a grocery store). I never minded the higher prices because … well, okay, I’d like to say I loved supporting the farmers and Amish folk who came to sell their produce, but it’s not that at all. It’s the fact that I could go in and pretend I was at an exotic market and these were things I’d never find again. So I’d pay my $10 for a bag of dried pineapple and $8 for a bin of fresh peaches. One of my favorite FM moments was buying a homemade red velvet cake (the last one) from an Amish seller for my dad’s birthday. I got right outside the market and dropped it. My friend and I ate the smashed cake right there on the curb, went back inside, tracked down a different Amish seller, and bought *their* last red velvet cake.

    1. I’m glad you had such positive experiences with farmer’s markets in Harrisburg, PA, Khara. Thanks for sharing your wonderful story about the red velvet cake. And for the record, I’m a huge cake girl, too, and I would have done the same 🙂 I was born in Westchester, PA and became familiarized with farmer’s markets in Amish country, too. My grandmother settled in Pottstown, PA and I fondly remember having “shoo fly pie” each time we went to visit.

      A cost-friendly farmer’s market I’ve visited in the past is the one in the heart of Philadelphia, which is a few blocks away from city hall. I definitely walked out of there with bags filled with fresh vegetables for a mere $15! Boy, I miss those days! Nothing like that here in the Washington, D.C. metropoloitan area.

  3. Our farmer’s market is mostly very expensive as well. However, the people are WONDERFUL, the produce is often organic and those farms keep beautiful open fields productive in our county (instead of one more subdivision). The experience of strolling the market, contemplating how to cook your bag of veggies in the evening, stopping and getting lunch and a beer at the “food court”, seeing friends you haven’t seen in a while…it’s priceless. (Stopping by from TALU!)

  4. Great piece, Amanda, very informative. I’ve always been a huge fan of the markets, myself. Can’t get enough of them!

    Thanks for linking this up with the TALU!

  5. I was just having a similar conversation with a friend today who I hadn’t spoken with in years! We somehow got on the topic of organic foods, farmer’s markets, fast food joints, etc., and the sad fact is that in a lot of areas, the people who are able to shop at the farmer’s markets are those with more income. You always hear about how much cheaper it is for families to eat at McD’s and similar places and how there is a movement to steer people away from fast food an into the produce aisles. Even if you can figure out how to budget appropriately for that, it’s still proportionally more expensive to shop organic and/or at farmer’s markets. Then there is the whole CSA movement, which sounds like a great idea, but from what I’m hearing, people have been very disappointed with the items they have received in their monthly supplies. What I do love locally is all of the roadside food stands we have where you can pull over and get locally grown and definitely cheaper veggies, honey, etc. I always check in at the farmer’s markets hoping for the best, but like you, I see the high price of blueberries, etc. and turn right around to head back to the grocery store. I wish that wasn’t the case, but at least for now, it is. I have the additional problem of being living alone – it’s tough to eat a good/healthy variety of fruits/veggies without running into a lot of waste (or ending up with a freezer full of random odds and ends). 🙁

    1. Chris: Thank you SO MUCH for your detailed and thoughtful reply. I am doubly grateful that you have understood my point that, although farmer’s markets are great, they are not viable for people like me that have fixed incomes. I was starting to feel a bit lonely standing on the sideline while others commented that they were aware that farmers markets prices were higher, but they went ahead and enjoyed the foods just the same. Your comment tells me that you understood the point of this blog post and that you agree that it is a modern problem.

      Since you live alone, my suggestion for dealing with fresh fruits and produce is to share with your neighbors. It will not cost you extra money and does have its benefits. I love the concept of sharing food bargains with our neighbors because it avoids food spoilage and builds community and humanity in an increasingly digital age.

  6. I agree that farmers markets can be more expensive, but I don’t think it’s fair to say that they are gouging customers. They are charging what good food is worth when the workers aren’t being exploited and the land isn’t being destroyed to create non-nutritious food with factory farming conditions. Part of the reason junk food is so cheap is because the government is subsidizing corn, which shows up in nearly everything as high fructose corn syrup. And we all pay the costs in higher insurance bills for all the resulting health problems. I believe the anger should be directed not at the local farmers, but at the situation where junk food is subsidized rather than nutritious food. I wish nutritious food was affordable for everyone, but the local farmers are hardly making a profit as it is.

    1. Hi Marcyl:
      Thank you for visiting GoingVeggie.com and for taking the time to provide your thoughts on this issue. To clarify, this blog post is not an angry one, as you have implied. I have written truthfully about the farmers markets in my area, in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. From everything I see right where I live, the farmers markets charge exorbitantly for foods that cost half as much as those found in supermarkets. My intention is not to direct anger at farmers markets at all. If it was, I would have contacted the farmers directly to get their input!

      Your statement “they are charging what good food is worth…” is subjective. If you are suggesting that a $15 loaf of bread is completely reasonable and that the entire U.S. population is to accept that premise as truth, what are the Medicaid, Medicare, food stamps, and WIC customers supposed to do?

      You have intermingled political issues of farm worker exploitation and land rights with farmers markets, where really, those issues are most appropriately addressed in a more hard-core news-based publication such as the Washington Post or Grist.

      Because your other comments about junk food, corn syrup, government funding, and health insurance costs have nothing to do with this blog post, I respectfully suggest you create your own blog post citing your detailed thoughts and analysis on the unfair conditions being put upon farmers.

  7. I think a word like “gouging” does imply anger in that price gouging usually refers to criminal activity or people unethically jacking up prices in response to a natural disaster such as a hurricane, but I am sorry if I misrepresented your intent. I didn’t see mention of a $15 loaf of bread in your post; that does seem pretty ridiculous for regular grocery shopping. I did see you mention $12 for gluten-free bread. I am not familiar with the extra costs associated with making gluten-free bread, so I won’t speak directly to that, but I also saw you take issue with $3.99 for blueberries from a farmers market when they were $3.49 at a Safeway grocery store; that doesn’t seem out of line to me.

    I did mix up politics and land issues in my post, and I believe these issues are very interconnected. When Americans insist on overly cheap food, they get what the pay for: food that is overly cheap because workers have been exploited, land has been abused, nutrition has been lost. I think you and I may agree on more than you realize because I would also like wholesome, ethically-raised food to be more affordable; I just disagree with you that the farmers markets are to blame for “gouging” customers.

    Finally, while I appreciate your reply, I was dismayed by your comment that “junk food, corn syrup, government funding, and health insurance costs have nothing to do with this blog post” and should be in my own post. I have touched upon these issues a bit in my own posts, but I believe that since I was responding to your post, it did seem like the appropriate place to do that. Like I said above, all of these things are related to what grocery stores/factory farms versus farmers markets are charging and how we as a society are getting what we pay for. The huge profits are going to the large corporations, by the way, not to the little local farms.

    Admittedly, this is a complex issue that is worthy of its own post. I wanted, though, to give voice to the idea that the pricing is more complicated than your post would lead readers to believe.

    1. Thank you once again for your detailed reply, Marcy. My original reply to you cited $15 for a loaf of bread when in fact, it should have been $12. A simple numerical mistake. I am, indeed, referring to the same loaf of bread.

      As you have admitted in your last paragraph, the intermingling of the political issues as well as all the extras (corn syrup, health insurance, etc.) are all worthy of fleshed out blog posts of their own. Respectfully, the only thing that appears to be happening is a broadening of my original intent into an undesirable political statement, which really is not accurate of my intentions and does not make sense in this forum. You continue to believe that I am angry at farmers and that I should direct my anger elsewhere. Irrespective of whether I use the word ‘gouging’ or other, that is not the same as to imply anger. I am speaking truthfully of my own experiences in farmers markets due to the area in which I live.

      You are completely free to disagree with my assessments of what I think is cost-prohibitive. If given the choice, I will always patronize supermarkets for the simple reason that they are more affordable. That neither implies that I am angry at farmers or interested in boycotting or want to further land or worker exploitation or desire any of the other numerous extras that you have mentioned repeatedly.

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