Farmers Markets vs Supermarkets: Cost Differences, Health Benefits

Let’s face it: groceries are much more expensive than before.

The cost of meals at home has increased by 12.2% since June 2021, according to the consumer price index (CPI) from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is part of an overall 10.4% increase in the cost of food, which also includes the cost of restaurant meals.

You might be thinking of finding ways to cut the costs of your grocery spending, like ditching fresh produce from the nearest farmer’s market for your neighborhood generic supermarket. Don’t do it unless you have to, says Adante Hart, a registered dietitian based in Raleigh, North Carolina: Due to inflation, the prices between the two aren’t that far apart anymore and the benefits for the health of the farmers market are worth the difference in cost.

“The gap between the price you would see at a farmers market and at a grocery store is narrowing,” Hart told CNBC Make It. “I know a lot of people used to say that shopping at the farmer’s market was more expensive than grocery shopping, but now those prices are getting a little closer.”

In Raleigh, bananas at the North Carolina State Farmers’ Market currently cost between 63 and 85 cents a pound, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. At a local Food Lion, these bananas cost 59 cents a pound, according to the supermarket chain’s website — cheaper, but not significantly.

Some items may even be cheaper at farmers’ markets: Carrots, for example, cost 66 to 72 cents a pound at the Raleigh Market, compared to 69 cents a pound at Food Lion.

And given the similarity in cost, the health benefits of farmers’ markets stand out, dietitians say.

The health benefits of fresh produce

Nutrients in fruits and vegetables oxidize over time and lose value over time, says Reyna Franco, a registered dietitian nutritionist in New York City — and farmer’s market produce typically moves from the farm to the back shelf. store within 24 hours.

In contrast, fruits and vegetables from supermarkets can take much longer to reach shelves, especially produce grown in remote locations. Foods that aren’t in season in your state likely contain additives to keep them fresh for long periods of time, Franco says.

“The wonderful thing about the food you get from the farmer’s market is that they don’t have to put toxins or waxes on the food to keep it fresh during the trip” , she says.

Farmers markets also give you the opportunity to speak directly to the farmers who grow your food. Hart recommends getting to know them, because depending on the relationships you build, you may be able to negotiate slightly lower prices.

“Sometimes you can work with them and they might work with you and negotiate. At the end of the day, a lot of farmers don’t want to take the produce home. They prefer to sell as much as they can,” says Hart.

Local availability and accessibility

Finding the nearest source of local farm produce doesn’t have to be daunting. The USDA has a local food directory, where you can type in the foods you’re looking for, filter by location, and choose the farmers market category.

You can also use the word-of-mouth method, says Hart: “Ask around. Talk to local farmers. If you go to a restaurant that sources locally, ask them where they get their produce from.

Hart notes that there are weekend farmers’ markets in most US cities, which are likely to be found with a Google search. These offer excellent price buying opportunities between the multiple vendors in the marketplace.

“Different farmers have produce at different prices, so see which deal is best for you,” Hart says.

If shopping at farmers’ markets is beyond your budget, Hart says you still shouldn’t go back to supermarkets unless you have to. He recommends trying food pantries, donating at places of worship, and following the mobile markets that are coming to your area soon. Most farmers’ markets also accept the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).

“There are plenty of options if you can’t get to the market,” Hart says. “It’s a privilege for some people. In this economy, you have to do what you have to do.”

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