We’re coasting to the end of our Farmers’ Market Challenge. We learned a few things along the way and wanted to share them with you. It was a fun challenge for us, and something that we’re definitely incorporating into our life even more as we go back to “normal” eating.
Farmers’ Markets are Pricey, But Prices Differ
Our food budget was much higher than what we usually spend at our combo of the farmers’ market and upscale grocery store. We committed to spending more money on food a few years ago because we consider it crucial for our health and helpful for local small business owners (farmers) as well as the planet. But shopping exclusively at farmers’ markets really put a strain on our budget, mostly due to meat. We found ourselves buying less meat to save money, but we really enjoyed the meat we were eating. Pork, beef, lamb, and chicken; we had a lot of variety and they were all really good pieces of meat.
We did find a good variety of prices as we went from market to market. We found one vendor with a meat CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) who was reasonably priced. I told him I had paid $2 more a pound for chicken and he said, “Well, we’re just starting out, and we’re trying to be competitive, so we didn’t want to price the meat too high.” I connected with him on Facebook and, yes, we’ll be signing up for his CSA. This makes me happy.
All that said, if you eat out two to four times a week, and then switch to just shopping at farmers’ markets and grocers, you’ll find you spend about the same amount (possibly even less). We saved a lot of money just by eating at home. Keep that in mind.
Eating Seasonally Takes Some Adjustments
At this time of year in New England, we have cucumbers, a few tomatoes, lots of zucchini, summer squash, and green beans to choose from. The early corn wasn’t quite there yet, but I gobbled blueberries by the pint. When you eat seasonally, you get what you get, and you have to adapt your menus accordingly. If you really had your heart set on strawberries (which are already done for the year), well too bad, you’re not getting any.
This means you really enjoy what you have to choose from because you know you won’t have it for long.
Eating Locally Also Takes Some Adjustments
I try and choose locally grown produce, but I make an exception for oranges. They are tasty and I treat them like a dessert. I’m also a big fan of strawberries, but those are coming out of Canada now and the local farmers don’t have any. If you’re eating only local produce, you’ll have to adjust on a weekly basis to what is available. I embraced the freshness, the new flavors coming in, and tried not to think about the lack of oranges and strawberries.
Eating locally grown produce is amazing. My husband kept worrying that the food was going to spoil before we used it up, but it didn’t at all. It was picked fresh that morning and went straight into our fridge and kept really well. There is nothing like the taste of a fresh-picked vegetable with all its true flavors. We were munching on green beans as we walked home last week from our local farmers’ market.
Markets Vary Widely
It turns out that our town’s local farmers’ market is one of the best in the Boston area. It rocks! A great combination of herbs, produce, eggs, cheeses, meats, and the fish lady (we LOVE the fish lady). Our market felt the most like a grocery store in terms of getting everything we needed for a few days. If you try one market and it doesn’t seem to have the items you need, don’t get discouraged. Try a different one next time and see if you can find a better selection for your tastes.
You Still Need a Grocery Store
I know I’m going to get push back on this, but I feel I still needed to do a grocery store run. Yes, the local pasta we had was delicious, but it was $7 for a 12-ounce box! We could get milk, but we had to drive a few towns over to a farmstand that carried it, instead of just popping in and buying the exact same brand at our local Whole Foods. That just seemed dumb to me. Ditto for the local eggs (same farmer) and condiments (we buy organic ketchup and that sort of thing).
Could we live without ever stepping foot into a grocery store again? Sure, as soon as the farmers’ market sells toilet paper. But seriously, it does make our life a lot easier, and if you look for responsible brands, and keep demanding that your local grocer step up, they will over time.
How We’ll Change Going Forward
We’ll definitely shop at farmers’ markets every week without fail. Previously we were skipping a week here or there. We’ll also be signing up for a meat CSA, although with my picky produce eaters at home, a veggie CSA isn’t going to happen for us. Yet. We’re more committed to local eating than ever before, and I’m looking forward to new recipes as I focus more on local fare.
It’s been a fun learning experience! I hope we’ve inspired you to embrace your own Farmers’ Market Challenge.
photo credit: Casey Atkins