Saturday, November 29, 2008

Conventional verses Local Foods; A Price Comparison

Many, many months ago Natalie and I tried to get serious about figuring out the cost differences between buying Local and "Conventional" Groceries. It seemed that for us the real cost savings came from all of the prepackaged, canned, frozen and ready to eat prepared foods that we were no longer buying. Still, we wanted to know not only if we were spending more or less in total since starting down our locavore path, but we wanted to be able to provide you with some solid information on price comparisons, fresh item to item.
We made up a list, sticking to organic fruits, and vegetables. Erin would check Kroger, I would check Ukrop's, and Natalie would check Ellwood Thompsons all in the same week, then compare market prices for those same items. Okay, so I think in the end I was the only one to fill out my price list and we never completed our "great study".
Now, however, a woman with Local Harvest is attempting a much more ambitious food cost comparison project, and she's looking for help.
Here is a copy of her letter...

LocalHarvest Newsletter - Is Local More Expensive? September 25, 2008

Welcome back to the LocalHarvest Newsletter.We get this question a lot: "Is it more expensive to eat local food?" Usually we try to work our way around the question, speaking with enthusiasm about the quality and flavor of fresh local food, its healthfulness, its contribution to the local economy, etcetera. Sometimes we convince the questioners that they can't look at price alone, because the quality of stuff that's picked green and trucked in can't be compared with that of the fresh, vine-ripened produce. Other times the person hears us out and then says, "So it is more expensive then, huh."
The truth is, we don't know the answer to the question. As with so many substantive issues, the real answer is, "It depends." It depends on the product and the season and the vendor. Depends on whether its organic and how much of it the farmer or grocer is trying to move that week. Lots and lots of variables. Still, with the economy looming large in many people's minds, it seems a good time to try and find out.
A few days ago I took a notebook to my local supermarket, made a list of the prices for various fruits and vegetables, and then compared notes at my farmers market. The organic produce section at the grocery store was completely cleared out on this particular day, so I gathered conventional produce prices at the store and "low spray" at the market. Small watermelons (the ones they're calling "mini" or "personal size" this year) were $2 at the farmers market and $4.49 at the store. Local tomatoes at the grocery store were $2.49 a pound, and $1.50 a pound at the market. Peppers were less expensive at the market. Winter squash was about the same. Onions were cheaper at the store.
This small foray into price comparisons made me want to know more. I would like to have a good answer the next time a reporter calls to ask me whether 'local' is more expensive. Not that price is the only measure of value, but it is one, and sometimes an important one. Moreover, the perception about the relative price of buying local is also very important. I'd like to ask for your help.What I have in mind is a kind of collective research project. This newsletter will go out to about 50,000 people. Certainly a few dozen of you might be interested in doing a little comparative shopping over the next couple of months and maybe again in the spring? I have a spreadsheet that I will send to anyone who is interested. You can fill out the portions of it that apply to the foods that are in season where you live, and send it back to me. We'll compile all the data and report the findings back to the group. If you are interested in learning more about participating in this grassroots research, please contact me. Meanwhile, please enjoy the rest of the newsletter, and as always, Eat well and take good care -
Erin Barnett Director, Local Harvest

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