Are Farmers’ Markets Better for Chefs? Discuss.

I have this dilemma all the time: where should I shop, what should I buy, should I choose ethics over economy?  I believe that organic is better for everyone involved in the food chain and I believe that every dollar counts as a vote.  If I don’t believe that my purchases make a difference, then why bother, right?  That being said, cost is always a factor in the life of a student.  So, when I saw Barry Estabrook’s blog post about farmers’ market prices being better than grocery stores, I jumped.  Barry cites a study by Jake Claro, sponsored by the New England Organic Farmers Association, which compares prices from Farmers’ Markets, Co-ops, and Grocery Stores in Vermont.

Barry, like Claro, comes to the conclusion that buying organic produce at a farmers’ market instead of a grocery store is often cheaper.  However, the biggest issue for most consumers is switching from grocery store conventional to farmers’ market organic – the jump for a dozen eggs is from $2.50 to $4.45, nearly double, and for green peppers the jump is $1.78/lb for conventional at a grocery store to $4.22 for organic at a co-op.  Beyond that, it made me wonder what this means for chefs, who buy from wholesalers instead of grocery stores as well as from farmers and farmers markets.  My cost problem is a conventional consumer cost problem, but from a chef’s perspective it’s about running a viable and (hopefully) profitable business.

As chefs who are dedicated to sustainability and making tough calls with respect to sourcing locally, organically, sustainably, and/or seasonally, what are your experiences with these price differences?  As farmers that are dedicated to getting your produce into these chefs’ kitchens, how do you handle pricing in order to be competitive with wholesalers?  What are the challenges you’ve faced or the solutions you’ve found?  Let’s discuss this on the Facebook page.

Claro gives plenty of caveats for his study: it’s one place, one season, and certainly not a flawless study (plus, it’s hard to be unbiased when your work is sponsored by NOFA VT).  I can’t help but wonder if farmers’ market prices in Vermont are lower because of the abundance of organic farms and subsequent competition.  Claro also brings up the fact that there is very little work being done to monitor these price differences in a statistically effective way.  I think, if anything, his work shows that progress is being made and yet there’s still a long way to go.

Katie is the current Communications & Outreach Intern with the Chefs Collaborative.

Posted by: Chefs Collaborative

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