Paying the farmer’s asking price…and increasing the farmer’s share

Rural SCALE recently released a study on the affordability of local food for the average consumer, collecting data from 24 farmers’ markets in 19 communities in 6 southeastern states. The study concludes that

Overall, farmers markets in the Southeast and Appalachia are highly competitive with mainstream supermarkets in their pricing on a range of commonly consumed foods, including produce, meats and eggs. (Emphasis in the original.)

Naturally, one might draw different conclusions from similar studies of other regions, but there are some interesting statistics (and generalizable conclusions?) about size of community and prices at farmers’ markets that sell to moderate- and low-income patrons, those who might believe that the local food movement has passed them by.

Then consider this graphic by the National Farmers Union: Farmer’s Share of Retail Food Dollar. I’m not so interested in the startling figures on processed foods (soft drinks, potato chips, bread) because few of the raw ingredients are actually supplied by a farmer. Far more disturbing are the figures on whole, minimally processed ingredients. Take the produce section of a conventional supermarket (think Safeway, Kroger, etc.), for example: farmers receive anywhere from 10.3 cents on the dollar for lettuce to 30 cents on the dollar for carrots.

Now think about buying this produce at a farmers’ market or directly from a farmer: if it’s true that the prices at the farmers’ market are comparable to those of the supermarket for comparable items, the farmer will suddenly have $4.59 (instead of $1.38) in his pocket for 5 pounds of carrots; $3.08 (instead of $0.27) for a pound of tomatoes, etc.

Buying local food at the farmers’ market certainly seems like a win-win for farmers and consumers.


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