Traditional farmers markets have seen a resurgence in the past decade, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. The reasons are varied: There’s growing interest in organic foods, sustainability, and according to the Farmers Market Coalition, a desire to directly support the local economy.
But your pocketbook may thank you, too. Although the goal of farmers markets is not explicitly to sell the cheapest food possible, lower transportation and business overhead costs means farmers market vendors can offer produce that costs an average of 22 percent less than traditional grocery stores, according to a 2011 study by SCALE. Here’s a look at how shopping at farmers markets may do you —and your pocketbook—some good.
Looking for a market? The Georgia Farm Bureau carries a list of certified local markets that sell locally grown, farm-fresh products.Thanks to its status as a regional hub, Atlanta boasts some of the area’s largest farmers markets, such as the Atlanta Market, which serves as a produce distribution terminal for the entire Southeast.
Atlanta is one of 15 cities across the nation in which the USDA tracks daily produce wholesale prices to report on market supply and demand. In fact, you can access the USDA’s Atlanta fruit and vegetable price report to help you assess prices for your groceries.
You can maximize your savings at farmers markets by shopping seasonally and locally, suggests the Farmers Market Coalition. Since local farmers generally grow what’s appropriate to our area’s growing seasons, these foods are likely to be cheapest. The Atlanta Produce Dealers Association offers a handy chart on which Georgia fruits and veggies are in season for each month of the year. For non-seasonal foods, such as tomatoes in February, it’s worth comparing prices against traditional grocers, since these operations can often source non-seasonal foods more cost-efficiently.
The same also applies to local vs. non-local products. If you’re looking for mangoes, your local farmers market may not have a cost advantage over a large grocery store chain that can readily import the exotic fruit from Central America. On the other hand, if you’re seeking sweet corn this time of year, corn grown in Georgia may be cheaper (and tastier) than imported alternatives.
Not all markets carry the same products or prices, however, so you’ll need to shop around a bit to get the best prices for particular products. Plus, in some cases, your neighborhood grocery store may have negotiated deals with local farmers, and can offer the products at about the same price as the farmers market.
The USDA’s Atlanta fruit and vegetable price report also benefits shoppers in another way: It allows you to see bulk produce prices and compare against the cost of individual items at the market. If you’re able to shop in bulk, the price lists suggests you may be able to save another 5 to 10 percent on produce.
Let’s take at face value the SCALE study’s 22 percent estimated reduction in produce costs at farmers markets, and assume you limit yourself to purchasing local and/or seasonal groceries for the best value. If your family of four typically spends the $867 monthly on groceries, as suggested by the FDA’s moderate food plan, and you can find about half of your grocery needs more cheaply at farmers markets, that implies a savings of roughly $100 per month, or $1,200 a year, for your household.
Whether your goal is shopping for health and sustainability or lower food costs, our city’s farmers markets are likely to pleasantly surprise you. After all, Atlanta’s prized peach cobbler does taste better with Georgia fruit.
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