Prices at the Farmer’s Market- A Small Rant

Tomorrow is the Kickoff Celebration to the Eat Local Challenge. (I hope the crowd is as big as the name.) I’m doing a cooking demo at the celebration and had to decide what to make. Random people have been asking me for weeks “what are you making?”. Even my husband asked. But of course I didn’t know until I got to the farmer’s market this morning.

It’s all about eating local- the freshest, most seasonal food possible.

Living in Florida and being a locavore is beyond all dreams of avarice during this time of the year. The sheer variety at the markets right now is breathtaking. Aren’t these colors just the most gorgeous? Those purple onions just got me.

This week my husband asked to take a small break from greens. Greens, citrus and sweet potatoes form a good percentage of our diet in the winter and we’re all ready for a break. That big bok choy in the corner is destined for the kimchi jar in the morning, and the only other greens are those dandelion greens. I just can’t resist French dandelion greens cooked with bacon with a splash of white balsamic vinegar. If anyone complains, I’ll happily scarf them all myself.

Bruised tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, red skinned potatoes, eggplant, various sweet & spicy peppers, zucchini, cucumbers, bok choy, purple onions, dandelion greens, and cilantro. Grand total= $40.

This got me thinking. I read about and see people complaining about prices at the farmer’s markets. Now, it’s true that there are yuppy markets out there with “inflated” prices. However, yuppy markets are easy to spot and easy to avoid if you want to. Find the older farmer’s market, the one that’s been around a while. The one filled with stalls of actual farmers. Then really look around and talk to the farmers. Buying directly from the farmers in your area is not like buying vegetables from the grocery store in many ways!

Snap peas are a good example. Snap peas are cheap at the grocery store, right? I mean, you can buy fresh snap peas at Walmart for $1 a pound sometimes. Well, here in Gainesville, you’re lucky if you can find a little basket of snap peas for $3 at the farmer’s market.

“That’s ridiculous!” I hear people say. “It’s so expensive!”

Well, let me tell you. Snap peas are cheap at the grocery store because they get shipped in from places where they are easy to grow. There are parts of the country where snap peas grow by the bucket, and home gardeners can just give them away.

That place is not North Central Florida.

Snap peas are difficult to grow here. They don’t like sandy soil, they don’t like heat, every bug loves them, and they curl up their toes at the slightest nematode. A home gardener is lucky to get one good harvest of snap peas before the plants keel over. That little basket of snap peas is expensive because the farmer had to nurse those plants carefully, plant them extra early, protect them from frosts, fend off the armies of hungry bugs by buying special row covers, and then quickly harvest what they could before the temperatures hit 85.

On the other hand, consider the lowly zucchini. A whole basket of the tiniest tender baby zucchini and yellow squash today was $2. That’s half the price of “gourmet” baby squash at Fresh Market, maybe less. Zucchini, yellow squash, collards, peppers, sweet potatoes, okra, eggplant… those things are easy to grow here. They grow like mad and require little special attention. They’re cheap at the farmer’s market, often cheaper than the grocery store.

So the next time you go to your local farmer’s market and see something that seems wildly expensive, ask the farmer about growing it or producing it. Let her tell you about the travails of trying to grow tender lettuces in the Southern heat, or the lengths he went to in getting those chilis to mature before the first frost.

Then maybe you’ll buy that $3 tiny basket of beans anyway.

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