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.