Sunday, June 24, 2007

a trip to the market

Where we live, prime season for Farmer's market shoppping begins in about mid-May and ends in late September. You can shop there year around, but the shopping during the fall/winter is typically limited to meat, cheese, eggs, squash, potatoes and onions. We visited the market this morning and were pleased to see so many delicious vegetables and other products at a relatively low cost. Since implementing our new grocery budget ($60.00 per week), we've aimed to spend about $20-$30 at the farmers market, and spend the remaining cash at the grocery store for milk, dry goods and other less perishable items. We were out of town last weekend, so we spent the entire budget at the supermarket.

Today's trip was fairly typical. Before leaving the house, I spent a few minutes trying to plan out our meals for the week, which makes shopping at the market a little easier (it's tempting to buy too much, since it all looks so fresh and good). With $40 cash in hand, we purchased the following (see picture):

  • 4 lb free-range chicken ($8.86)
  • 3 sirloin pork steaks ($6.16)
  • dozen eggs ($3.00)
  • 1# baby zucchini/squash ($2.00)
  • 1 bunch spring onions ($1.00)
  • huge bag of mixed lettuce ($2.00)
  • 1# plum tomatoes ($3.00)
  • 3# baby yukon gold potatoes ($3.00)
  • 1# strawberries ($4.00)
Total cost: $32.02

Now, I haven't yet done an empirical price comparison of farmer's market produce vs. the supermarket, but many of the farmer's market products are obviously a better deal. If money were no object, I would prefer to buy organic/natural/free range products exclusively, but at the supermarket this is typically cost-prohibitive. That said, I feel such products are a for the most part a better deal at the farmer's market, and there's the added benefit of buying from local producers (rather than agribusiness).

The main challenge to shopping/eating this way is you have less choice and unpredictable supply, so you have to be willing to create meals based on what's available, rather than what, exactly, you prefer or want to cook. I prefer this approach because I have to make less decisions about what to buy - they're made for me by the season and growing conditions. This takes a while to get used to, but I believe it's the most practical/frugal way to cook, especially for the single-income family, and your family learns more about where food comes from and when.

The best example of a good deal at the farmer's market is chicken. The fresh, free-range bird I bought today was killed just a few days ago and it cost about $2.25 per pound for a total cost of $8.86. By contrast, I saw an organic free range chicken at the supermarket last week for $18.00 ($4.50 per pound!). This represents exactly double the cost of the farmer's market chicken. Enough said. I'll be back again next week - it's a no-brainer.

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