Many people have considered buying local, but for a variety of reasons, such as being too busy or the real or perceived price difference between buying local and going to the grocery store, they forget about it.
So, can buying food locally be competitive with buying food from the grocery store?
According to the official U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Plans, as of this September, the average food costs for a family of four (two adults and two children under the age of 5) on a thrifty meal plan is $561.80 a month, with a low-cost plan coming in at $717.80 a month, $885.70 a month for a moderate plan and $1,097.40 with a liberal plan.
These statistics are taken as an average from all over the U.S. Food eaten away from home and convenience foods tends to increase these numbers to a higher price than most families desire.
Families are encouraged to think about what they spend on food each month — eating out, cooking at home, grabbing prepackaged goods for a fast dinner, buying candy, grabbing a quick drink on the go and any other food-related expenses. When they consider how much money is spent on food, buying local tends to cost slightly more per individual items, but it is possible to spend less overall while supporting local farmers and ensuring that their money stays within the local community.
A prime example: Recently, a whole chicken was on sale in the grocery store for 50 cents a pound, or $2.50 a bird, while at the market, a locally grown chicken of the same weight costs $20. The chicken sold at the local market was raised locally, ate foliage, was feed an organic diet and took longer to raise, and there is a good chance this bird is helping teach the farmers’ children life lessons about where food comes from and developing a hard work ethic.
On the other hand, the store-bought chicken may have been purchased after being grown in China and being shipped halfway around the world to be consumed. It may have been raised in a cage with little natural light, has a larger carbon footprint and was subsidized by the U.S. government. One often can taste the difference in the locally grown bird vs. a store-bought bird.
Raising chickens is not cheap, according to Stacy Zivicki, who closed her community-supported agriculture program in 2017.
“It costs $1.50 to buy the chick, feed and water costs equate to $11, then I add on another $3 for USDA butchering,” Zivicki said. “At this point, the chick has already cost $15.50 to raise, and this does not include figuring in the costs associated with birds that may not have survived the growing season, time or delivery costs.”
Large facilities have many advantages, with the biggest being able to scale up production, but they also have access to government subsidies to help ensure that their birds costs less when they hit the market. After subsidies, many of these birds are sold for less than the cost of production.
According to Logan Brock, owner of Growing Earth Farm in Athens, it’s his job as a farmer to educate the public about where their food comes from.
“Many people do not realize local farmers’ markets sell a variety of products and offer a whole grocery store worth of products at one place,” Brock said.
Most of the farmers participating in local farmers’ markets are required to grow their own food within a 100-mile radius of the market at which they are selling it, and some must follow even stricter restrictions ensuring that the food consumers buy is truly local.
“Most local farmers allow consumers to visit their farms to confirm the practices the farmer is implementing,” said Ione Hausler, owner of Lowland Bison Ranch in Stevens Point.
Consumers can save money when buying local by joining a CSA in which they can purchase a variety of products over time. CSA’s have continued to diversify, and many offer a wide variety, including vegetables, eggs, meat, pastas, breads and fruits.
There are many advantages to CSA’s, including being able to support a local farmer and knowing where food comes from and how it was grown. It also takes the hassle out of grocery shopping since items are pre-picked and boxed for a convenient pick-up.
Another way to save money when buying local is to plan meals. By meal planning, consumers can ensure their purchases will be utilized, they are not buying more than their family needs and they are able to use that $20 chicken for a variety of meals, included chicken tacos, chicken soup and chicken bone broth soup or flavoring stock for rice. Some farmers even offer prepackaged meal kits or recipes to help ensure customers can use each of their products in a tasty manner.