Good food is an important part of a good life. The food movement, as it is sometimes called, emphasizes alternatives to the abundance of prepackaged, additive-ladened food in modern supermarkets. It seeks to induce shoppers to consider a wide range of food attributes instead of just price and convenience.
The food movement recommends growing home gardens, eating fresh food (as opposed to processed foods), and shopping at local farmer’s markets. The movement’s most well-known ally is First Lady Michelle Obama who planted a garden at the White House in 2009 and has since launched “Let’s Move,” an initiative for children’s health that includes a focus on changing the food children eat.
There is plenty of room for alternatives in the food business. Roughly 7.5 percent of Americans’ annual expenditures go toward “at home” food (food purchased at supermarkets), which is likely the lowest percentage of any country in the world. Besides the low cost, there is an almost astounding variety of products—from all corners of the world—in most urban supermarkets, making food one of America’s great successes. That success makes it easy for consumers to consider some specialized spending at farmer’s markets, even if the driving distances and prices are higher.
We visited our local market recently and took a few photographs of people and food. Most farmer’s markets are organized businesses, perhaps a limited liability company or corporation, and they often set up at public parks on weekends. These markets are popular, and their numbers are expanding rapidlyacross the United States. Proponents claim several benefits:
- Fresh, organically grown food
- High quality food—few to no additives
- Support for local farms and local jobs
The benefits may be largely myth. In the end, the important benefit is superior nutritional quality, which for organically-grown food is apparently yet to be proven. But the arguments about food need not be settled here—both supermarkets and
farmer’s markets offer good food. There is little reason not to embrace them both.Our farmer’s market, in Athens-Clarke County, Georgia, was officially launched in 2008, setting up in a public park and administered by The Athens Farmers Market, LLC. Our market begins in April and usually ends at the end of October. Besides food, our market offers live music and booths for local artisans, bakers and nonprofits.
The Athens Farmers Market offers to double Electronic Benefit Transfers (EBT) dollars, which is how food stamps are now distributed. Still, on our visits, we saw most people paying with cash.
Prices at the Athens Farmers Market prices trended higher than at local supermarkets. At the farmer’s market, a loaf of freshly baked multigrain bread sold for $5, and at the supermarket it sold for about $4. The local bread, however, had a good, hard crust and heavy texture; the supermarket bread was soft, sliced, shipped in from a more distant bakery. Cucumbers cost $1 each at the farmer’s market, and at the supermarket, they were about 72 cents.
For consumers living on our side of town, the farmers’ market requires 11.2 additional miles of driving. Many businesses and the federal government reimburse 55cents a mile for business travel, which presumably reflects the cost of operating a modedrn automobile. Each trip to the farmers’ market costs us an extra $6.16, making the economics still less favorable.
We also found concerns about food safety at farmer’s markets. These markets receive little to no federal oversight, falling instead under state and local jurisdiction. Apparently a relatively small percentage of the markets are regulated for food safety, leaving the market participants to regulate the quality of the food.
Although most people may want to believe that food from small, local farms is safer, there is apparently no scientific evidence supporting the belief. The federal government has blogged about safety, and recommends special practices for consumers at local markets.
On our visits, my wife and I had a good time, almost as if we were visiting a fair. There seemed to be robust conversations among all the people at the market. Patrons and vendors were interested in the photographs we took, and delighted to tell us about their market activities. We ended up spending more money than we planned, but we also bought a
better shopping experience. We will surely return.