Let’s face it: groceries are much more expensive than they used to be.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index (CPI), the cost of eating at home has increased by 12.2% since June 2021. That’s part of an overall increase in grocery costs of 10.4%, which also includes the cost of meals out.
You may be thinking of finding ways to reduce the cost of your grocery expenses — like giving up the fresh produce at the nearest farmer’s market for your general neighborhood supermarket. Don’t do it unless you have to, says Adante Hart, a registered dietitian based in Raleigh, North Carolina: Because of inflation, the prices between the two aren’t that far apart, and the health benefits of the farmers’ market are the difference in cost value.
“The gap between the price you would see at a farmer’s market and the grocery store is getting smaller,” Hart tells CNBC Make It. “I know a lot of people have said before that it was more expensive to shop at the farmer’s market than at the grocery store Grocery store but now those prices are getting a little closer.”
According to a report by the US Department of Agriculture, bananas in Raleigh currently cost between 63 and 85 cents a pound at the North Carolina State Farmers’ public market. At a local Food Lion, those bananas cost 59 cents a pound, according to the supermarket chain’s website — less expensive, but not significantly more expensive.
Some items are even cheaper now at farmers’ markets: Carrots, for example, cost between 66 and 72 cents a pound at Raleigh Market, compared to 69 cents a pound at Food Lion.
And when you consider how similar the costs are, the health benefits of farmers’ markets are striking, nutritionists say.
The health benefits of fresh produce
Nutrients in fruits and vegetables oxidize over time and lose value over the days, says Reyna Franco, a registered dietitian in New York — and produce from the farmer’s market typically makes it from the farm to a store shelf within 24 hours.
In contrast, it can take much longer for fruit and vegetables from supermarkets to reach the shelves, especially for produce grown in far-flung locations. Foods that aren’t in season in your state likely have additives to keep them fresh for long, Franco says.
“The wonderful thing about the groceries you get at the farmer’s market is that they don’t have to put toxins or waxes on the groceries to keep them 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 form, you may be able to negotiate slightly lower rates.
“Sometimes you can work with them and they can work with you and negotiate. At the end of the day, many farmers don’t want to bring the produce home. They’d rather sell as much as they can,” says Hart.
Local availability and accessibility
Finding your nearest source for locally grown produce doesn’t have to be difficult. The USDA has a local grocery directory where you can type in the groceries you’re looking for, filter by location, and select the farmers markets category.
You can also use the word-of-mouth method, says Hart: “Ask around. Talk to farmers in the area.
Hart notes that most US cities have weekend farmers’ markets that can likely be found with a Google search. These offer great opportunities for prize buying between the numerous vendors in the market.
“Different farmers have things at different prices, so see what the best deal is for you,” says Hart.
According to Hart, if the groceries at the farmers markets are exceeding your budget, you still shouldn’t go back to the supermarkets unless you have to. He recommends trying out food supplies, producing donations at places of worship, and keeping an eye on any mobile markets that are appearing near you 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 a lot of opportunities if you don’t make it to market,” says Hart. “It’s a privilege for some people. In this economy you have to do what you have to do.”
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