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Apples to apples

(article, Caroline Cummins)

Farmers' markets are kind of like New York, right? Entertaining, eclectic, and very expensive?

According to a recent Tom Philpott column on Grist, this is exactly the view that Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini takes of American farmers' markets: 

bq. \[In his new book,\] Petrini portrays the Ferry Market \[in San Francisco\] as a kind of foodie "boutique," a place where well-rested farmers peddle pricey vegetables to an elite of "actresses" who then flaunt their heirloom squashes like the latest accessory.

Philpott takes Petrini to task for a) not doing his homework and b) refusing to discuss the wider ramifications of food and class in the U.S. Meanwhile, in Seattle, a university professor named Stacey Jones decided to do both via a class project.

Jones sent students from her business-statistics class at Seattle University out to local markets to do some math. Their conclusions? Farmers' markets are a better deal than supermarkets. 

"On average," the Seattle Times reported, "the farmers markets' prices were slightly lower than its competitors'."

The students compared 15 common grocery items, including Fuji apples, salad mix, asparagus, and red potatoes. A pound of the apples, for example, cost $1.99 at the Broadway Farmers' Market, while the same apples cost $2.49 a pound at a supermarket in the same neighborhood. Salad mix cost a bit more at the farmers' market, but the asparagus? No contest: the green stalks fetched $3 a pound at the farmers' market, while the supermarket tripled the price to $8.99 a pound. 

Blogger Sam of Becks and Posh did a similar if less academic comparison and got similar results:

bq. Shopping for fresh produce at the farmers' market over the last two weekends saved me a full 29% on what I would have spent on the same or inferior items at Safeway.

"There's sort of a common perception that the farmers market is more expensive," Jones told the Times_. "A lot of people feel they're doing the farmers a favor."

Apparently the farmers are doing us a favor as well.