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Local and affordable: Massachusetts-grown produce less expensive than grocery store produce

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Local and Affordable 2018

As the growing season peaks and Massachusetts farmers harvest peaches, tomatoes, and dozens of other crops, a survey released today by the Massachusetts Food System Collaborative finds that fresh produce is usually less expensive when purchased directly from the Massachusetts farmers who grow it than it is at grocery stores. The survey recorded prices at 11 farmers markets and 22 grocery stores, all within five miles of the nearest farmers market. In most cases, comparable items were more affordable at the farmers market, with the statewide average price of a basket of 14 common items costing 25% less.

As with any products, produce prices varied throughout the state, but those at farmers markets were consistently lower than those at nearby grocery stores. Cucumbers were $1.29 at a farmers market in Worcester, for example, and $1.50 at a nearby grocery store. Cauliflower that was $.69 at the Cambridge market was $2.43 at the store. Tomatoes at the Lee market were $.90 a pound, but $2.29 in the grocery store. Peaches could be purchased at the Springfield market for $.49 a pound, but were $1.75 at the store.

Detailed results for each city and town surveyed are available here.

“The impression that fruits and vegetables sold at farmers markets are more expensive than produce that has been grown elsewhere and shipped to grocery stores is often a myth,” said Collaborative Director Winton Pitcoff. “During the growing season Massachusetts farmers have fresh produce at very competitive prices.” This, despite the fact that Massachusetts farmers have some of the highest land and energy costs in the nation.

“Not only do consumers get greater value for their dollar at farmers markets, the money they spend has an impact that goes well beyond that purchase,” said Pitcoff. “Buying directly from local farmers means that those farmers can create jobs, buy more local goods and services, protect their farmland from development, and steward their land in ways that protects natural resources and the environment.”

There are nearly 300 farmers markets in Massachusetts, from large markets with dozens of vendors open several days a week, to smaller weekly markets with just a few farms selling their products. This project surveyed markets in Northampton, Greenfield, Springfield, Lee, Shelburne, Somerville, Cambridge, Lynn, Worcester, and Boston in July and August 2018. Every effort was made to compare prices for items that were as similar as possible. Prices for produce fluctuate throughout the year both at farmers markets and grocery stores, depending upon weather conditions, what is in season, and a range of other factors.

For information about locations and operating hours of farmers markets in MA, see https://massnrc.org/farmlocator/map.aspx, or one of the nine Buy Local organizations around the state here: https://www.mass.gov/service-details/buy-local-groups.

The survey was conducted by Savannah McCarthy for the Massachusetts Food System Collaborative, and was funded by the UMass Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment.

The Massachusetts Food System Collaborative promotes, monitors, and facilitates implementation of the Massachusetts Local Food Action Plan, which offered goals and recommendations toward a sustainable and equitable food system for the Commonwealth.