When it comes to buying produce, I try to get as much as possible from farmer’s markets or local grocers rather than supermarkets. Not only do smaller growers tend to raise their crops more organically (i.e. with fewer pesticides or hormones) than massive corporations, but you also get the comfort of knowing that the food hasn’t had to travel thousands and thousands of miles to get to your table. That saves hundreds of gallons of fuel that would have otherwise been spent cooling and transporting the food across the country, much less the world. Not to mention that the local food is much tastier because it’s fresh.
The one critique I keep hearing when it comes to locally-sourced food is price. When I encourage my friends to shop at our city’s farmer’s market, they typically say something like, “I love the farmer’s market, but it’s so expensive! How can you afford to go there every week?” Without going into the economics of it, I’ll admit that local food tends to be less cheap because small producers don’t have the kinds of business models that allow big manufacturers to keep prices low. When grocery stores sell a pint of blueberries for $2.99, many people feel that the positives of buying local still don’t justify spending $5 for the same amount. However, there are three simple tricks you can use to buy locally and economically.
1. Browse before you buy
Since all the vendors are growing their produce in the same climate and season, most of them offer the same variety of fruits and vegetables. For the shopper, that translates into multiple price options. Just last week, I saw potatoes being sold at $3/lb., $3/pint, $4/quart, and $5/quart. Before making a single purchase, walk the entire market, make price comparisons, and then buy accordingly.
2. Remember why you’re there
It’s incredibly easy to get enticed by things like fresh breads, pastries, and nut butters, especially when samples are available, but you must resist! Try to concentrate on buying produce and whatever else you planned to buy, because treats can cost a pretty penny. The two, age-old pieces of advice ring just as true at local markets: don’t shop hungry and bring a list.
3. Try something new
The farmer’s market is a great place to discover new varieties of food. This slightly contradicts my advice of sticking to a shopping list, but if you see an appealing piece of fruit or vegetable for a low price – cheaper than whatever you had planned to buy – you should go for it. Buying food that you might not yet know how to cook is a great way to expand your culinary repertoire.
I realize not everyone is fortunate enough to live near a well-publicized farmer’s market, but look around online – or just walk around your town – and you might find some good local options. Being eco-friendly doesn’t have to be hard on your wallet.