Locally grown: Local produce becoming price-competitive

Monday, May 16, 2011

Farmers markets sound wonderful and wholesome -- bushels of fresh produce and loads of friendly folks seem the essence of the good life in a small town. Yet for many of us, this idyllic scene is like so many other nice ideas: something we would like to do, but just don't have the time or money for. It is easier and cheaper to run into Wal-Mart to grab a bag of salad along with a gallon of milk and bar of soap. Or is it?

The University of Missouri Extension recently published an article stating that because of rising fuel prices, "The average gas price in the Midwest is a dollar more than a year ago, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Food prices in the U.S. increased 3.6 percent in the last year, according to the Consumer Price Index. This makes local food, with lower shipping costs, more competitive with food from mainstream distributors."

As more Southeast Missouri women tune into TLC's "Extreme Couponing" and spend greater amounts of time searching store circulars for the best bargains, could it be that they will also be willing to take a trip to the farmers market? Sharla Green, local grower and organizer of the Jackson farmers market, thinks that makes perfect sense.

"The farmers market can really help people get nutritious foods at incredible prices," she says. "By developing relationships with local growers, your unique tastes and needs can be met for a bargain."

That relationship with the grower can also teach children that vegetables don't grow in produce departments, and meat doesn't automatically come shrink-wrapped. Bill Yohnka, manager of an up-and-coming farmers market in Kankakee, Ill., likes to use the market as a chance to show his children the value of work.

"I can say, 'See, that man's hands have dirt on them because he was up early this morning picking these vegetables to sell here,'" says Yohnka.

While competitive prices might be the original draw for new customers, there are other benefits of buying local food, and it might keep customers coming back. Family Friendly Farms in Cape Girardeau and Jones Heritage Farms in Jackson provide meat, eggs and milk that have been raised organically and humanely.

So instead of making that run to Wal-Mart, you could buy similarly priced, healthier products for your family from local vendors -- the salad, the milk and even the soap. That idyllic small-town scene could become a reality.

"Each vendor is a wealth of experience and knowledge to tap into, and the markets are fun," says Green. "Where else can you get such variety, colors, smells, uniqueness -- a local adventure indeed."

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