To save green on groceries, many consumers turn to big-box stores and large supermarket chains — but new research may make you rethink this strategy.
Some critics of the eat-local movement say that while spending food dollars close to home has many benefits, doing so is too expensive for the average family. However, new studies show that many items at farmers markets cost less than their supermarket counterparts. In some cases, organic fruits and vegetables at farmers markets cost nearly 40 percent less than they did at supermarkets.
Jake Claro, a graduate student at Bard College’s Center for Environmental Policy, conducted a 2011 study for the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont in which his team compared the prices of a dozen items from farmers markets and supermarkets in nine Vermont towns. When comparing conventional foods at the two locations, Claro’s study found eggs and potatoes to be 43 and 58 percent more expensive, respectively, at farmers markets. But five of the 12 items (including corn and tomatoes) were 10 to 20 percent less expensive. His results confirmed the findings of students at Seattle University (2007) and a study by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture (2009) titled Is Local Food More Expensive?.
Buying local also keeps money moving quickly, reported Judith D. Schwartz in a 2009 Time magazine article, Buying Local: How It Boosts the Economy. Economists call that “velocity,” and say that the more quickly money moves in a community, the more people benefit from it.
Robin Mather is a senior associate editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS and the author of The Feast Nearby, a collection of essays and recipes from her year of eating locally on $40 a week. In her spare time, she is a hand-spinner, knitter, weaver, homebrewer, cheese maker and avid cook who cures her own bacon. Find her on Twitter, Facebook or Google+.