Michael Foley: Local Produce Price Comparisons — Farmers Markets This Saturday 7/31/10


Friends of the Market,

Get set for another booming farmers’ market Saturday morning.  We will likely set yet another record for vendors in attendance.  At the moment I am expecting 36 food vendors, then there are the local crafts. Why not customers as well?

Joining us this weekend for the first time this season will be Elmer’s Orchard with Ukiah area peaches. Barlow Farms from Willits will debut. Red Tail Farm from Potter Valley will be back as will Glowing Lotus farm… tomatoes are starting to happen (but you may still need to be early to get yours) and overall School Street will be one giant salad bowl.  Plus we will have a full range of local meat, seafood, and more for your weekend grill.

Are you one of, apparently many, people who think they cannot afford farm fresh food in these tough economic times?  If so, please read the excellent article by Willits market manager Michael Foley that is pasted below.  Share it with your friends as well.

The market is open every Saturday 8:30 to Noon in Alex Thomas Plaza at School and Clay Streets.


Isn’t Farmers Market more expensive than the supermarket?  Well, no.
by Michael Foley

Surveys have shown that most customers at farmers markets think the produce is more expensive when in fact it isn’t.  That seems to be true for Willits as well.

Your market manager has collected a few prices from our local supermarkets (as of July 26th) — Safeway, Ray’s and Mariposa — and compared them to Willits Farmers Market prices over the last two weeks. Here’s what I found:

Apples from Chile go for $2 to $3 a pound at Safeway; apples from Philo can be had for $2 a pound at Farmers Market.

Organic cabbage runs $1.50 a pound at Safeway, while the same store charges $1 a pound for conventional cabbage.  The organic version costs $1.29 at Ray’s and $1.50 at Mariposa, but just $1.00 a pound at the typical Willits Farmers Market stand.

Organic broccoli is an incredibly low $0.80 a pound for “club members” at Safeway, $3.69 at Ray’s, $3 at Mariposa, and just $2 a pound at the Farmers Market.

How about a specialty item?  Fancy organic salad mix costs $4.50 for Safeway’s proprietary brand, in a 5 oz. cello pack.  At Ray’s it’s $4 for the same 5 ounces, and at Mariposa it’s $4.19.  But at Farmers Market you can get fresh, locally grown salad mix for $3.50 a 7 oz. bag.

Meanwhile, your humble old cucumber fetches $1.50 each for the organic variety at Safeway, $2 at Ray’s, but just $1.79 a pound (about 2 cucumbers) at Mariposa.  They go for $0.75 to $1 at Farmers Market, the same price as conventional cukes at Safeway.  Safeway also charges $2 each for the fancy European version, but our Farmers Market vendors ask just $1 to $1.50.

Organic strawberries range from $5 a pound at Safeway to $2.79 at Mariposa to $3 at the Farmers Market.  And Farmers Market zucchini and summer squash can be had for $1 to $1.50 a pound, outdoing all three competitors by some margin ($2 a pound, organic, at Safeway and $1.69 conventional; $2.49 a pound for organic at Ray’s; $1.79 a pound at Mariposa).

Those fancy heirloom tomatoes?  They cost $4.99 a pound at the only supermarket that carries them, just $3.00 a pound at the Willits Farmers Market.

How do our local farmers do it?  How do they match and often beat the big guys with access to national and international suppliers?  One answer has to do with those suppliers.  Local farmers have replaced the middlemen — all of them.  Farmers market vendors don’t have to pay the brokers, the long-distance haulers, the distributors, or the supermarket shareholders to get their produce to market.  They get it there themselves.

That doesn’t mean they’re getting rich.  I don’t think anyone at market can depend on farming for all their income.  After all, eighty percent of farmers nationally depend on off-farm income to make a living.  In Mendocino County, according to a recent study, 52 percent of farmers gross under $10,000 annually, and collectively county farmers lose $18 million annually.

But farmers who sell directly to the public can make up some of those losses by taking on the onerous and uncertain job of packaging their product themselves, hauling their own produce to market, being on hand for the public (instead of farming!), and swallowing the loss when they don’t sell out.  That means more money stays in the county, to be spent in the county. And it means savings for consumers, who can find super-fresh produce at Farmer Market and get to know and trust their farmers.