Monday, May 26, 2008

Farmer's Market -- It's Better, But Is It Frugal?

This weekend we hit our local farmer's market on its first day of the season. Because it's so early, there wasn't that much produce available -- only asparagus, green onions and a few bags of spinach. There were a decent amount of garden plants for sale, but none of the ones I was looking for.

A lot of folks around the Web have done price comparisons and found that their farmer's market is the same price or cheaper than grocery stores. (San Francisco, Oregon, Florida) However, some of these people are comparing the FM to Whole Foods or other high-end stores, where I usually don't shop anyway. And for people who buy most of their food as loss leaders, as I do, farmer's market prices are rarely going to compare.

I want for my family and me all the other benefits of farmer's market produce -- the freshness, meeting the farmers or people who work for them, knowing that its locally grown and in season. One thing I noticed about my local farmer's market last season is that there are not very many organic growers there, but in other places FMs are a good place to get decently priced organics.

I'm also looking into community-supported agriculture (CSAs), which can be a decent value and are also pretty convenient because you usually pick up a week's worth of produce at a time without having to shop for it. So far I haven't found one that works for me -- the one I had my heart set on is on hiatus for the year, one is already fully subscribed for the season, another delivers at the farmer's market on Saturday which to me is silly because I like to get my produce box on Wednesday, say, and pick up a few things at the FM on Saturday to tide us over to the next box. Getting your box at the FM kind of negates the purpose of shopping the FM, no?

I am on the mailing list for a farm that wants to start an Oak Park drop-off, but needs a few more subscribers. If anyone lives in the area and is interested in learning more about that, drop me a comment and I'll email you privately.

Here is what I paid for my farmer's market shopping, and what I usually pay at the regular grocery (where, by the way, I don't like the produce):

Farmer's Market Grocery Store
1 bag spinach $3.25 $1 on sale
2 lbs asparagus $3 each same or sometimes better on sale
2 bunches green onion $2.50 each don't usually buy these but wouldn't pay that
0.5 lb BGH-free GOOD cheese $7 buy lower-quality cheese and aim for $4/lb

So I spent $21.25 at the farmer's market, about a quarter of my grocery budget, which I certainly wouldn't mind doing every week there. The cheese was a delicious splurge. As the season ramps up I'll probably spend about the same but all on produce.

Oh yeah -- we also spent a few bucks on donuts, which are sold by nonprofit groups there. This is what gets us out of bed and down to the market at a decent time, and I hope we are never, never too broke for this one summer weekend luxury. MMMM, donuts.