The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, September 03, 2019 1:00 am

In the market for good deal

Bargains can be found at area farmers markets

TERRI RICHARDSON | The Journal Gazette

If you think that produce at the farmers market is too expensive, you may want to put down that grocery store cucumber.

Purdue University agricultural economists have crunched the numbers of produce sold at farmers markets and found that not only are the markets' prices comparable to those of grocery stores, they are sometimes lower.

The study compared the highest and lowest prices at Indiana farmers markets and grocery stores during the 2018 farmers market season.

It showed that while some items are cheaper at grocery stores, some produce, such as cucumbers, peppers, green onions and watermelons, are lower at farmers markets. The cheapest cucumber at a grocery store was about 25 cents, while it was as low as 20 cents at a farmers market. The highest cucumber price was $2.99 at the store but never went higher than $1.50 at a farmers market.

“There are some things that are expensive, but there are some things that are not,” says Ariana Torres, assistant professor in the departments of horticulture and landscape architecture and agricultural economics at Purdue.

Another example is a bell pepper. The study showed that the lowest price for a bell pepper at a grocery store was 33 cents and the highest at $2.50. At a farmers market, the peppers ranged from as low as 20 cents to as high as $1.50.

Torres has been working on the project for three years. Her goal was to examine the challenges of small- and medium-size farmers to be profitable when selling at farmers markets or in other areas.

So far she has reviewed 500 crop prices and is receiving weekly data from 11 different markets.

She says that if a farmer has the best produce and doesn't know what to sell it for, they could be in trouble. “That can really affect your profitability and your farming for a long time,” Torres says. “It's a first step to decreasing the uncertainty of farming.”

Torres says the study showed that kale, green onions, radishes, watermelons, cucumber and bell peppers were comparable in price to those found in the stores. When it came to higher quality produce, shoppers were better off getting such items as heirloom tomatoes, peaches and cantaloupes at the farmers markets. Often, while these items were cheaper at the stores, they were usually smaller and blemished.

“It's interesting,” she says, “the other part of the story is that in the peak of the summer you would expect the other retail products would be cheaper, and that's not true. You expect that grocery stores will always be cheaper, and that's not true.”

Ann DeGrandchamp, secretary of Allen County Ag Producers, which operates the South Side Farmers Market in the 3300 block of Warsaw Street, says she has heard people comment that farmers markets are too expensive. But based on the prices at South Side Farmers Market, she believes the farmers are cheaper than most places. “We try to be competitive with the grocery stores,” DeGrandchamp says.

When it comes to pricing items, DeGrandchamp says it's up to the individual farmers on what they think their stuff is worth. That usually is taking into consideration the investment in growing the items, while still making a profit.

She says the booth rent at South Side Farmers Market is one of the lowest so farmers can afford to sell things a little cheaper. “It's a lot of competition sometimes,” DeGrandchamp says.

“I think a lot of things are comparable,” says Bridjet Musser, market master of the Fort Wayne's Farmers Market, about the items farmers sell.

The biggest thing, she says, is whether farmers markets are holding their farmers accountable for growing the produce themselves or buying it at auction and then selling it at a market. Musser says that many huge growers around Indiana will take whatever produce they have leftover and sell it at a food auction. Some people will buy the produce there and then sell it at local farmers markets, sometimes lower than the farmer who grew the items on their own and has a lot of time and effort invested in that product.

“Our farmers feel like their prices are fair,” Musser says. She says that when people look at the price of an item, they need to consider the effort that the farmer is putting into growing that item and how they are supporting the local farmer.

Torres says grocery stores often take advantage of the “seasonality” to appeal to consumers' tastes. They know you will buy the tomatoes because you're there buying other produce, she says. So they price them higher.

For farmers, it's all about what's available at the time or on that day. If they have too much produce, they will lower their prices because they don't want to bring back the produce. For the grocery stores, produce is often sent one to two weeks ahead of time.

DeGrandchamp says it also depends on what kind of crop the farmers will have. During peak season of a certain product, there may be a short window to sell it. She says this year's strawberries were available for about two weeks and then they were done.

However, she says when it comes to produce, such as fresh, sweet corn and tomatoes, they are much better at the farmers market. That goes the same for muskmelon and watermelon. “Never really any comparison,” DeGrandchamp says. “You get what you pay for.”

Torres urges consumers to not just shop for the price. Shopping at farmers markets not only supports the small farmers, but it also employs local people and provides a sense of community.

“(It's) worth it not to skip the farmers market,” she says.

Local produce

Here are some area farmers markets:

Salomon Farm Park Farmers Market – 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesday; Salomon Farm Park, 817 W. Dupont Road.

Farmer's and Artisan's Market – 3 to 6 p.m. Wednesdays and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays; Dutch Mill Plaza, 360 N. Main St., Bluffton; ends Sept. 14.

Whitley County Farmers Market – 3 to 7 p.m. Wednesdays at the Tractor Supply Co. in Columbia City and 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturdays at the courthouse square in downtown Columbia City; ends Oct. 12.

Huntington Downtown Farmer's Market – 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesdays; 300 block of North Jefferson St., Huntington; through October.

Georgetown Square Farmers Market – 4 to 7 p.m. Thursdays; Georgetown Square on East State Boulevard; ends Sept. 12.

Decatur Farmers Market – 4 to 7 p.m. Thursdays; along First Street in downtown Decatur; events on Facebook page; ends Oct. 17.

Historic West Main Street Farmers Market – 3 to 8 p.m. Fridays; 1936 W. Main St.; operated by Nebraska Neighborhood Association; through Oct. 11.

Johnnie Mae Farm Stand – 4 to 7 p.m. Fridays; Renaissance Pointe Neighborhood, 2518 Winter St.; ends Oct. 25;

South Side Farmers Market – 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays; 3300 block of Warsaw Street, between Oxford and Pontiac streets;; ends Dec. 21.

Fort Wayne's Farmers Market – 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays; corner of Wayne and Barr streets; ends Oct. 5.

YLNI Farmers Market – 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays; corner of Barr and Wayne streets; ends Sept. 28.

Wabash County Farmers' Market – 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays; corner of Cass and Market streets, downtown Wabash; ends Oct. 19.

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