The Real Cost of Grocery Store Food

This is the time of year to remind you about the true value of the food you buy at a farmers’ market.

This is the time of year to remind you about the true value of the food you buy at a farmers’ market. The lower prices of a grocery store may be alluring, but remember that you are often paying less than the real cost of production, packaging and transportation. The price on an item in a grocery store can be deceiving and not representative of the real cost of producing it, because the hidden costs add up.

First of all, you are paying through your taxes each year subsidies to the big corporate farms that raise both produce and animals for your table. Those farms use toxins that degrade and in some cases poison water, so you are also paying to make that water potable again. It was much closer to being potable before fertilizers, insecticides, and arsenic leached into it.

Those subsidized farmers also sicken hundreds of people in this country every year with contaminated food. We pay for the continuously increasing cost to inspect these farms and processors and to prosecute the offenders. And we pay for it in the health-care costs of those who end up in the emergency room with no insurance.

These subsidies and taxes help keep produce and meat prices down in the average grocery store. You see higher prices at specialty grocery stores because they try to secure at least part of their produce and meats from local and organic farms.

These issues affect the price of food in the store, but other considerations also affect the value. If you buy local produce that has been picked within 24 hours of consumption, it will have a more positive impact on your health. And you will almost always end up eating more of it. At a farmers’ market, all of what you buy will last much longer in your refrigerator. And if you care about the growing practices of your farmers, you can ask them exactly how they raise their crops. It is hard to do this when your food comes from South America or China, and it is easier to trust the information you are given.

Those who call shopping at farmers’ markets elitist are most likely those who want to make sure that corporate farming continues to receive your subsidies, whether directly or through those collateral damage assessments. I suspect that we are just beginning to learn about those collateral damages and how badly they affect our personal health and the health of our environment. More research is being done on the effect of the toxins in our food and water and on our long-term health. We will know more soon.

Value is harder to discern than price, but when it comes to shopping for produce, our own values already inform our choices. The true cost of that produce is a factor of both its price and its value. On behalf of our local farmers, I only ask that you consider them and their produce when you calculate that cost.

tammycleal April 15, 2012 at 08:27 AM
Many people facing rising food costs are considering coupons as a way to save money on their grocery bills including myself who uses smart source or Printapons websites to get daily alerts.
Jenny W April 16, 2012 at 10:24 AM
When going to a Farmers Market around here, one needs to think very carefully about what would be in season. Apples at a Farmers Market in the spring are not local. There is a HUGE produce distribution center in Jessup MD which is a little over an hour from Manassas. Many vendors at Farmers Markets simply hit up this place at four in the morning and bring it to their tents where the price is higher than the grocery store. This is NOT locally grown; this is NOT organic, and quite possibly produce from the exact same stock you would be buying in Giant or Shoppers. This article may be misleading many to falsely believe they are supporting small local farmers by patronizing farmers markets and spending more of the family budget on "fresh local produce" but in fact they are not. Always ASK a vendor...WHERE did you get this? And think about the time of year...there is NOTHING local in Virginia in April.
Jean Janssen April 16, 2012 at 11:32 PM
Most farmers' markets in this area include farmers from Maryland, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, and we usually consider a 125-150 mile range local. Otherwise, we would have little variety and a short season. There are indeed local apples in many markets in this area in April which were picked in the fall and have since been in privately or state- or county-owned cold-storage facilities. Many other products can be picked into the winter months and stored in root cellars, as our Mennonite farmers do, or kept in those same storage facilities for sale through early spring. Virginia farmers are also picking lots of early vegetables, as are our West Virginia and Pennsylvania farmers. Even without this unusually warm winter, farmers in the mid-Atlantic area are using heated greenhouses and hoop houses to begin their plants much earlier in the year than they were even five years ago. Especially in the Northern Neck, where some of our farmers farm, the soil never freezes, so when they transplant those plants they will mature quickly in the warmer climate. We are seeing some of the crops anywhere from three weeks to a month early this season, but I can guarantee you that the farmers that bring the produce to our markets have grown and picked that produce themselves. You are encouraged to ask about anything you see -- but better yet, go visit the farms and see the plants in the greenhouses or in the fields.


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