Question: I’d really love to support local businesses and farmers who I know are struggling to make ends meet, but I live on a shoestring budget myself and the prices of chain stores are really tempting. How do I settle this inner dispute?
This is a valid question and something we’ve often struggled with ourselves. The truth is, in many cases the small-scale farmer, local store owner or craftsman cannot compete with mass produce and large chains: they just don’t have those connections, machinery or bulk discounts. They don’t use underpaid manpower overseas. Also, in many cases they are committed to providing organic produce or using the highest quality ingredients available, as opposed to unconscientious companies who don’t mind cutting corners and favor profit over quality and health.
On the other hand, I also know some local farmers and business owners who charge exorbitant prices not because they really need to do so to make ends meet and keep their business going, but simply because they can, doing shameless marketing for all it’s worth. Others cheat by making false claims about their product, for example labeling their eggs “free-range” when in fact their chickens have access to only a tiny dusty square of a yard. Such behavior is especially indecent when your customers are local people you actually know on a more personal basis.
When it’s possible and our finances allow, I’m usually willing to pay more for a locally made or grown product of superior quality. How much more? I’d say about 20% above what I’d pay in a chain store for a similar product of comparable quality. This, when I see a justifiable reason for the higher price – such as extra input of time, care or cost of materials.
Also, as much as I love supporting local economy, the product does have to be of good quality and, if we’re talking about food, fresh and hygienically prepared. Some time ago we bought some cheese from a local farmer and discovered a fly in it. Now, we’re usually very forgiving customers, and our concern was mostly for the farmer, whom we wanted to stay in business and who would certainly encounter other customers who wouldn’t be so laid back. So we gently advised him to pay closer attention to hygiene. I mean, if we had discovered a fly in a store-bought container of cheese, I’d write a scathing complaint letter and demand compensation.
Bottom line: customers, be generous and remember that lower prices in chain stores are often obtained by lower quality, buying in bulk and low-paid labor force. Farmers and artisans, make sure your product is top quality and really has added value that makes up for the higher price. Don't hype up prices just because you can.
Image source: Creative Commons
Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Anna's books are on her Amazon.com Author Page. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna's Mother Earth News posts here.
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