Farmers Market vs Organic Aisle

Are all carrots created equally? 

The question has plagued philosophers and farmers alike for generations. 

We all know we’re supposed to be eating between 5-13 servings of vegetables and fruits every day, at least according to the USDA. And depending on your economic capabilities, your transportational mobility, the quality of your local stores, and myriad other facts, you’ve got several choices.

Some studies have shown that there’s nothing wrong with buying frozen vegetables. In fact, that it’s sometimes better to buy frozen because the fruits and vegetables were halted at their ripest point and still maintain all of their nutrients.

And to that point, produce aisle vegetables may not be as innocent as they seem. According to the CDC, “nearly half of foodborne illnesses are caused by germs on fresh produce.” Yikes! 

Yet a third argument plagues conscious American consumers – is there a difference between organic produce at your local grocery store, or Whole Foods/Trader Joe’s, and the produce at the farmer’s market?

In this post, we’ll be exploring what their main differences are – and if it matters significantly to your health, wallet, or the environment which you decide to purchase.

Pricing

There’s a prevailing myth that shopping local is more expensive than the grocery store. After all, the food you buy at a farmers market is supporting an actual farm, right?

According to a study completed by the Northeast Organic Farming Association, produce prices at grocery stores are actually about the same as farmers’ market prices. (Nationally averaged.) In fact, organic fruits and veggies at grocery stores are actually more expensive than farmers’ market wares, typically. 

60% of people surveyed in low-income neighborhoods preferred shopping at farmers’ markets for their prices as well. 

Accessibility 

8,720.

That’s the number of farmers’ markets across the U.S. at the latest count. While it’s certainly true that mega-stores like Wegmans’ and Whole Foods tend to show up in higher-income neighborhoods, nearly every grocery chain has at least some organic options.

But the reality is that farmers’ markets are much more common than most people realize. For comparison, there are a little over 5,000 WalMarts in the states.

As of 2018, there were about 4,000 grocery stores (of the more than 38,000 in the states) offering natural/organic foods. 

Quality

Another common thought is that organic veggies at the grocery store are better because they’re more expensive. 

Or, that farmers’ market veggies are better because they’re local. The statistic that most food travels 1,500 miles before it lands on your plate has given lots of people pause about how to acquire their vegetables in a way that limits their carbon footprint and also limits the potential of harmful exposure to their food in transit.

Organic farming began as an initiative stipulated by government agencies to remove pesticides and chemicals from the produce eaten by the American people (prior to the formation of USDA’s National Organic Program, it was around 54% of fruits and 36% of vegetables contaminated). But the industry has since morphed into what agriculturalists are calling Big Organic. 

All that means is that the demand has become so high for pesticide-free, organically grown fruits and vegetables, that organic farms have become enormous industrial-sized operations. So when you buy organic at a grocery store, it likely came from thousands of miles away.

Now, food purchased at a farmers’ market is not necessarily organic. Or at least, it’s not measured by USDA organic standards. Local farmers have a reputation for gardening with environmental impact in mind, but there are no guarantees. 

But the food is local – it doesn’t travel hundreds or thousands of miles to get to you. Its impact on the environment its risk for contamination is low.


Bottom line?

Farmers’ markets tend to be less expensive than buying organic at stores. 

They’re also just as accessible, if not more, than specialty, grass-roots health stores. 

But, organic veggies and fruits at the grocery store are held to a governmental standard to ensure they remain free of harmful pesticides and chemicals. Farmers’ market veggies have no such master to answer to. They also don’t travel more than 1,000 miles on average to reach your plate.

So the decision is ultimately yours! Neither represents a total detachment from our unhealthy lifestyles. But merely being an informed customer makes a huge difference in how you, and the planet, will feel.

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Dr. Pedram Shojai

NY Times Best Selling author and film maker. Taoist Abbot and Qigong master. Husband and dad. I’m here to help you find your way and be healthy and happy. I don’t want to be your guru…just someone who’ll help point the way. If you’re looking for a real person who’s done the work, I’m your guy. I can light the path and walk along it with you but can’t walk for you.