Exploring a Farmers’ Market

A farmers’ market is an epitome of a neighborhood grocery store, with vendors selling fruit, vegetables, meats, cheeses and baked goods. The vibrant colors and aromas that linger through a farmers’ market are indicators of what you might encounter. Not only are there fresh produce and goodies, but one can easily spot a major difference: the PRICE. Yes, items that you would typically buy at a conventional store are often more expensive, if you buy them at a farmers’ market. This shouldn’t stop you from exploring a market though! Local vendors are proud of their produce, as it takes time and hard work to grow.

Image1_Downtown Growers' Market

Downtown Growers’ Market, Albuquerque. Image credit: Downtown Growers’ Market

Though you might be initially discouraged by the prices, there are always options to support farmers and vendors and stay within a comfortable price range. Focusing on seasonal items and creating a budget can help prioritize your spending. Supporting local farmers doesn’t mean you have to spend more than you originally planned; it is about prioritizing essential needs for that grocery item, dinner recipe, or experience in which you feel proud buying.

Creating a list is a great way of knowing what you need. If you have a budget, I highly advise you pick out a few items you think are worth buying locally. For example, I find myself buying tomatoes, onions and mushrooms, weekly food items that I consistently use. A farmers’ market is not your conventional grocery store like Wal-Mart where there are “Always Low Prices.” It can be overwhelming especially when buying your produce at a farmers’ market, because prices can fluctuate seasonally. Those tomatoes at a little over a $1.00 per pound at a conventional grocery will make you think twice when they’re in the $2.00 to $3.00-dollar range at the farmers’ market. Yeah, you could have had double the tomatoes!

We have fixated on everything needing to be as cheap as possible, but the different practices and methods that conventional and organic growers use in part cause the prices to differ. The cost of conventional food doesn’t reflect certain externalities, like the cost to the environment. Also consider the time and education requirements it takes: organic growers spend more time cultivating soil health and manually tending to their crops than do conventional growers. Local producers may also offer heritage or traditional varieties of produce that are not available in grocery stores. Although not all local producers grow organically, most small and mid-scale farmers tend to sell their produce at “organic prices” at a farmers’ market.

The table below shows the most popular vegetables that people buy, ranked from highest consumption to lowest. It shows prices and the difference between conventional and organic cost. It also indicates the season in which you would find the vegetable in a farmers’ market in northern and central New Mexico.

Rank Vegetable Season in Northern NM Unit Organic (Average Cost) ($) Conven- tional (Average Cost) ($) Cost Difference
($)
1 Potatoes (Russet) Jan-Mar & Oct-Dec 3 lb bag 2.51 1.00 1.51
2 Tomatoes Jul-Oct per pound 2.47 1.29 1.18
3 Onions Year Round per pound 1.26 0.84 0.42
4 Carrots Jan-Feb & July-Dec 1 lb. bag 1.26 0.78 0.48
5 Lettuce Year Round each 1.70 1.21 0.49
6 Broccoli Jun & Sept -Nov per bunch 2.47 2.38 0.09
7 Salad Mix Year Round 1 lb. bag 4.84 1.46 3.38
8 Bell Peppers Jul-Oct each 1.36 0.75 0.61
9 Celery Mar-Sept each 1.80 1.17 0.63
10 Cucumbers Jul-Oct each 1.36 0.67 0.69
11 Corn Jul-Oct each ND 0.69 NA
12 Garlic Jan-Mar & July-Dec each 1.02 0.28 0.74
13 Mushrooms (White) Year Round 8 oz. package 2.60 1.79 0.81
14 Sweet Potatoes Oct-Jan per pound 1.54 0.96 0.58
15 Spinach (flat, baby type) Year Round 1 lb. package 5.00 3.29 1.71
16 Cabbage June-Dec per pound 0.87 0.51 0.36
17 Green Beans Feb-Oct per pound 2.67 1.62 1.05
18 Cauliflower Sept-Oct each 2.68 2.59 0.09
19 Green Onions Year Round per bunch 0.88 0.93 -0.05
20 Asparagus May-June per pound 3.63 2.35 1.28

Now that you have a general understanding of the price comparison, creating a list becomes essential when prioritizing items for which there are high demand in your household. Knowing your budget makes it easier to buy what you need. Not only knowing what produce you consume the most is helpful but also what recipes you’ll be making that week is also helpful. Meal planning allows you to identify items that you’ll need in advance, making it easier to prioritize where you’ll purchase food items. For example, if I want to make Smothered Burritos one day and Green Chile Cheese Burgers another, I know that I need lettuce, tomatoes and green chile – all of which can be bought at a farmers’ market. Prepping in advance gives you the opportunity to make some purchases at a farmers’ market weekly. Knowing what you need in advance will allow you stick to a budget and support local producers at your farmers’ market.

No matter if you have a budget or not, you will be exploring! Often times farmers’ markets have regular vendors, but sometimes the layout varies. A great opportunity, which you can’t do at a conventional grocery store, is to TALK to the grower. You are face to face with the person that grew or made the item you’re buying, so ask questions, get to know their story, methods and philosophy, and why they charge what they charge! And hopefully you will be drawn in to supporting vendors at your local farmers’ market – with or without a budget.

-Alma

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