Of the Earth: Survey says locally-grown produce is more affordable

The Recorder, August 28, 2018, by Wesley Blixt

Oh, go on. Yeah, you, sizing up that almost obscenely plump peach at the farmers market. That peach with the cartoon cheeks that smells like an old-country fruit store where everything got ripe at once. The peach that must be impossibly expensive.

Ok, nice daydream. Now wake up and buy two of those peaches. Or maybe three. They may be more affordable than you think.

It turns out that at Green Fields Market, or at farmers markets throughout the area (not to mention at orchards like Clarkdale and Apex) you are going to pay about 69 cents a pound. At the supermarket, those peaches will run about $1.49 a pound, and they just might not have the same glow.

And frankly, the farmers markets and orchards are simply more fun.

These figures, at any rate, come to us from the Massachusetts Food System Collaborative, which recently completed a survey of prices at 11 farmers markets and 22 grocery stores, all within five miles of the nearest farmers market. In most cases, comparable items were more affordable at the farmers market, with the statewide average price of a basket of 14 common items costing 25 percent less.

The survey also breaks the data down for local areas including — in western Massachusetts — Greenfield, Shelburne, Springfield, Northampton and Lee.

“Overall, a basket of an equivalent portion of each item would cost consumers an average of 25 percent less at farmers markets than it would at grocery stores,” the survey states.

Cucumbers were, on average, 42 percent less expensive at farmers markets, for example, and basil fully 50 percent less. Average prices for cabbage, leaf lettuce, romaine, cauliflower, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, chard, peaches, strawberries, blueberries, basil and mint were all less expensive at farmers markets. Only summer squash/zucchini were more affordable at grocery stores.

“The impression that fruits and vegetables sold at farmers markets are more expensive than produce that has been grown elsewhere and shipped to grocery stores is often a myth,” said Winton Pitcoff, Massachusetts Food System Collaborative director. “During the growing season, Massachusetts farmers have fresh produce at very competitive prices. This, despite the fact that Massachusetts farmers have some of the highest land and energy costs in the nation.”

“Not only do consumers get greater value for their dollar at farmers markets, the money they spend has an impact that goes well beyond that purchase,” Pitcoff said. “Buying directly from local farmers means that those farmers can create jobs, buy more local goods and services, protect their farmland from development, and steward their land in ways that protects natural resources and the environment.”

The numbers for Greenfield and Shelburne are consistent with the state numbers with certain exceptions that are hard to explain. Across Massachusetts, tomatoes are listed at $1.79 a pound at farmers markets and $2.21 at grocery stores (a 19 percent difference), whereas tomatoes are listed at 59 cents per pound in Shelburne (a wopping 70 percent saving) and $1.99 per pound in Greenfield.

It also isn’t clear why summer squash and zucchini cost nearly the same at farmers markets as at supermarkets; or why the biggest edge for farmers markets is in herbs such as mint (33 cents in Greenfield versus $1.99) and basil ($1.50 in Greenfield versus $2.49).

Readers can, no doubt find all kinds of other anomalies and affirmations having to do with the cost of our local vegetables by accessing the Massachusetts Food Systems Collaborative survey itself. The report, with graphs for each town and city, is available as a downloadable PDF at

And in the meantime, go buy yourself a fresh local peach. Remember, don’t be afraid to squeeze them lightly and within reason. Everybody does.

Lobster Lobby: Our quest for the perfect, fresh, locally-sourced lobster roll has continued through a season that has season high prices at the dock, and lobstermen and women facing sky-high prices for the metal wire used to make lobster traps due to the U.S. embargo. I thought we had a winner with homemade lobster rolls at Linda Bean’s Freeport headquarters. But, indeed, Bruce Rogers of Greenfield has done one better with his recommendation of The Highroller Lobster Co. at 104 Exchange St. in Portland. Unbelievable. Thank you, Bruce.