That the price differences didn’t change in 16 years calls into question if Americans simply prefer junk food or if price really matters as much as people often think it does.
Of course the USDA Economic Research Service was comparing factory mass-produced healthy foods with factory mass-produced junk food, both of which could have been shipped across the country. That’s not exactly what most people mean or think of when they hear sustainable food.
In price comparisons between environmentally friendly food, such as sustainable locally grown apples, and mass-produced healthy food, such as a conventionally grown apples, the environmentally friendly food is almost always more expensive. Farmers’ markets, interestingly, are also cheaper than organic healthy produce and vegetables in grocery stores, but more expensive than industrial produced healthy foods.
The perception that environmentally friendly food costs more, combined with price comparisons and opinion polls, make it hard to argue that the environmental food movement is hurt because of the costs associated with it.
Rye, New York in Westchester County is one of those Old Fashioned American towns with a town green, a main street lined with shops, banks, and restaurants, and a small town library. Sitting just over the border from Greenwich, Conn., the town is home to a local farmers market from May until December. Over 18 farmers from the Hudson Valley, and farms in Fairfield County, Conn., come to the market to sell their goods each Saturday. The market has become more popular each year, drawing residents from Rye and surrounding towns in Connecticut and New York. At the beginning of the 2012 market season, one could pick up a pint of strawberries at the Rye Farmers Market for $7.99, while the same price would buy a quart of strawberries at Stop & Shop.
That’s a huge price difference between freshly grown and produced strawberries from the surrounding Hudson Valley area or strawberries shipped from someplace in the United States.
The Rye Famers Market is part of Community Markets, an organization that works with farmers, towns, and vendors to bring them together around local food. About 20 famers markets in New York City, Westchester and Rockland counties are part of Community Markets. The markers are each based on a free market system, where each vendor sets their own price. While some of the Community Markets farmer’s markets accept food stamps, including ones in Westchester, Rockland, the Bronx and Queens, the Rye one does not and does not have any plans to do so in the near future.
While Rye, New York is one of the wealthiest towns in the United States, with an average household income of well over $100,000, the price difference between fresh farmers market strawberries and slightly less fresh Stop & Shop strawberries makes it hard to fault anyone of any economic class for buying the cheaper ones when trying to feed their family.
Stuart Family Farm in Litchfield County Conn., was the first grass fed beef, pork, and poultry farm in the state, and one of only a few farms to be animal welfare approved. Located 75 miles from Manhattan, this scenic part of Connecticut filled of rolling hills and lush green fields has benefited in recent years from agritourists who come to the area to visit local wineries, tour local farms, and purchase local produce.
“People have to find us,” Bill Stuart, who owns and farms the farm with his wife, said. “It’s part of the appeal.”
Stuart Family Farm sirloin sells for $14.00 per pound. The same cut costs $5.99 per pound on sale at the local Shop & Stop, and $9.99 per pound regularly. A T-Bone costs $16.00 per pound at Stuart Family Farm, or $11.99 per pound at Shop & Stop.
For anyone on a budget, the price difference is hard to beat. However, Stuart says the real difference is that at Stuart Family Farm, customers know exactly where their meat comes from because they are purchasing it directly from the family farm.
While those are just two examples, a number of polls and studies show that the cost of food plays a varying degree into what people are willing to buy.
A 2012 Harris Poll found that the number of Americans buying organic products, not just food products, has declined from 17 percent in 2009 to 15 percent in 2012. And a 2010 Financial Times/Harris Poll found that 53 to 63 percent of people in Great Britain, France, Italy, Spain and the US are more concerned about the price of food since the global financial crisis, and that most of the people in those countries are spending more money on food.
In 2010, the American Journal of Agricultural Economics published a study by Marvin Batte, a professor of agricultural, environmental, and development economics at Ohio, which found supermarket consumers were willing to pay an average of 42 cents more for locally grown strawberries. Customers at farmers markets were willing to pay 92 cents more.
A recently released, 2011 Pew Research Center Poll found that the reason most Americans regularly most do not buy organic is because of price.
Another study in 2010 by Penn State’s School of Hospitality Management found that while restaurant goers prefer meals made with local ingredients, and are willing to pay more for them, everyone has a maximum price. When local food and non-local food was set at the same price restaurant goers showed no significant preference for either option, but when local food was priced 18 percent higher than the non-local option, a higher proportion of the customers chose the local food option, but when the price of local food option was 36 percent higher more customers picked the non-local food option.
These are simply a few of the many studies that show while people may tend to favor local food, the food is associated with a greater cost that at some point becomes unaffordable to a majority of Americans.
Over the past decade the environmental movement has begun to include food. We constantly hear buzzwords such as eating sustainably, locally and organically. The pros and cons of local food are debated heavily, as is their expense. This piece, broken up into several different parts, traces the production of farm-to-table food in Connecticut, its benefits and cons and provided thoughts on whether our the local food movement is scalable. Read Section One and Two.