Some Iowans have the perception the fresh fruits and veggies they buy at farmers’ markets cost more than at the chain supermarket, but a study finds locally-grown foods may actually be less expensive. Rich Pirog, executive director of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, says the study offers encouraging news for consumers — and for farmers.
“We looked at in-season sales of a set of fresh vegetables you could get at farmers markets and also could buy those same products at a retail store,” Pirog says. “The prices? There was no significant difference, in fact, the local prices were slightly cheaper.” The study checked prices on eight different vegetables at farmers’ markets in Ames, Cedar Rapids, Des Moines and Iowa City versus produce from national and international sources being sold at grocery stores in those cities. Pirog says the study also gauged prices for eggs and meats with the same results.
“If the only difference between the products is whether it’s local or not local, we found really no differences in vegetable prices in season,” Pirog says. “We also didn’t find any differences in ground beef and pork, particularly pork chops, comparing our local butcher stores and conventional retail.” The study compared prices on: zucchini, summer squash, cucumbers, string beans, cabbage, onions, tomatoes and sweet corn. The locally-grown items averaged a dollar-25 a pound while the supermarket cost was a dollar-39. Pirog says some Iowa farmers are turning to what are called “high tunnels,” inexpensive, portable greenhouses which allow them to extend their growing seasons.
Pirog says, “In the near future, as we see more of these go up around the state, we may start seeing a number of vegetable items not only available for those one or two months we normally see them but we might see them for maybe three or four or even five months out of the year.” Iowa’s seeing a rise in demand for locally-grown foods and he says Iowa’s seeing a corresponding rise in the number of farmers’ markets.
“When the Department of Agriculture first started keeping records, there was about 65 in the mid to late-80s,” Pirog says. “Just in the last two or three years, we’ve gone from about 170 or 180 farmers markets to well over 200. I think we’ve got about 210.” Learn more about the study at “www.leopold.iastate.edu“.