Fresh Local Produce: Worth the Cost?

Summertime is perfect for enjoying local produce, from plump peaches and ears of sweet corn to more exotic produce like crunchy kohlrabi and baby bok choy. The “local food” movement has given rise to more farmer’s markets, CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture), and farm stands than ever before. Large supermarkets like Wegmans, Roche Brothers, and Price Chopper now carry produce supplied by local farms as a complementary alternative to produce that’s shipped from around the world. 

The increase in availability of local food means you have lots of options in buying healthy, fresh, sometimes organic produce. But does it cost more? And if so, is it worth it?

The good news is that the cost of locally grown food is generally the same, whether it’s offered in a grocery store or at a farm stand. The real benefit and value of buying local is that it’s so much fresher. And fresher produce lasts longer, and is generally more nutritious, since it is picked fresh and shipped within 24 hours.

Local produce can cost a bit more. If you want locally grown strawberries over the California Driscoll’s, for example, you may pay 10 to 20 cents a pound more. But the freshness and taste can’t be compared. Sometimes local produce can actually be less expensive – for example, large, leafy heads of lettuce grown locally are almost always a better value at a farm stand or farmer’s market than imported grocery store greens.

Here are a few ideas on how to reap the most out of the abundance of summer crops with your well-earned dollars:

Eat what’s in season.
If you want to enjoy local food for the best price, you need to learn when different crops are being harvested in your area. Go to a local farmer’s market to see what’s being offered when. For early summer produce in grocery stores like corn, blueberries, and tomatoes, you are likely to be buying from just a few states further south – which means you get the benefits of nearly-fresh picked at good prices.

Compare prices.
Check the supermarket flyers to learn what fresh produce is on sale in any given week, and then compare that to your local farmer’s market prices or farm stand. One tip: if you arrive at a farmer’s market late in the day, you may be able to negotiate a better price, since most vendors don’t want to take produce back to the farm.

Buy extra and freeze.
From blueberries to beans, it’s not hard to prepare local summer produce for the freezer to enjoy in the cold winter months. You will save a lot of money buying in season, and be able to enjoy the health benefits and taste of locally grown food.

Stop by farm stands in rural areas.
While all produce grown in one state is the same, you will likely pay higher prices in urban areas. The further you head away from the city, the more likely you will find some great local buys.

When buying local, remember, it’s not just about the money you spend. You are also supporting the local economy and reducing the overall environmental impact of the non-local agricultural food production and transportation. These other savings contribute toward a healthier economy and environment, while you can enjoy healthier food.

What are your tips on saving money during the summer produce season? Share them below.

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