An analysis of farmers markets in 19 towns and cities across 6 states in the Southeast and Appalachia found the vast majority to be price competitive with supermarkets on an array of food items, including produce meats and eggs. The study, conducted by the consulting firm, SCALE, Inc of Abingdon, Virginia looked at pricing of “every day foods”, including such things as potatoes, squash, bell peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, eggs, chicken, ground beef and similar items. Data was gathered at 24 farmers markets in towns with populations ranging from 8,000 to nearly 450,000.
The study found that:
- Farmers markets were the same or less expensive overall than supermarkets 74% of the time on the range of items chosen.
- Produce was less expensive at farmers markets three fourths of the time, by an average of 22%;
- Organic produce, where available, was less expensive at farmers markets 88% of the time, by an average of 16%;
- Meats were somewhat more expensive at farmers markets in every case where available, by an average of 10%, when comparing comparably produced meats, by 47% when comparing grass-finished/free range items with conventionally raised items.
The trend of affordability was strong in communities of all sizes, though stronger in smaller towns.
Farmers markets have dramatically increased in number across all regions of the United States, from about 1,750 in the mid-nineties to over 7000 in 2011, according to USDA. As their popularity has grown, criticism has also arisen as to their affordability for low to moderate income and working people. According to Study author, Anthony Flaccavento, “While this analysis only looked at one region of the country, it was encouraging to find that the notion that ‘local food is only for the well-to-do’ simply isn’t true. Quite the contrary, we found local food to be widely and broadly cost competitive with mainstream supermarkets, in fact generally a bit less expensive.” The study looked strictly at pricing and did not weigh other perceived advantages of local foods, including better taste, improved freshness and nutrition, reduced food miles, or benefits to local farmers and the local economy.