Grocery Store Produce vs. Farmers Markets: What’s the Difference?
If you've ever wondered whether there are perks to shopping your local farmers market or grocery store, here's your answer.
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Paying a visit to the farmers market is a different experience compared to the grocery store. Chatting with local farmers, perusing vendors, and spending time outdoors can feel a lot more exciting compared to walking the aisles in your go-to supermarket. And you might’ve noticed that the fruits and vegetables sold at these two sources are different, too.
Is one source better than the other? Here’s what you need to know about comparing farmers market produce to grocery store fruits and veggies.
Freshness Can Differ
Winner: Farmers markets
The next time you pick up a fruit at the grocery store, take a look at the label to see where it’s from. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that the U.S. receives fresh vegetables from more than 125 different countries. In fact, about 77 percent of fresh vegetables are imported from Mexico alone.
“The most significant difference between grocery store and farmers market produce is the freshness,” says Rachel McKennon, a former farmers market manager. “You will not find imported, out-of-season produce at your farmers market. Instead, you’ll find only seasonal produce often grown using heirloom seeds and sustainable growing methods.”
Another key difference that determines freshness is how long it takes for the produce to be harvested and brought to your dinner table. “Farmers market produce is typically harvested within a day or two,” McKennon explains. “Since produce starts to lose nutrition after about a week, this means the food is more nutritious than the produce from your local grocery store.”
From harvest to purchase, the less time and distance your produce travels, the better for the environment (and your tastebuds).
You Can Learn About Your Food’s Origins
Winner: Farmers markets
One of the cool aspects of farmers markets is getting to meet the people who worked to harvest your food. This gives you the opportunity to ask any burning questions you may have for the people growing your produce.
“At your local farmers market, you’ll likely meet your farmer face-to-face,” says McKennon. “They’ll be able to tell you about their growing practices and if they’re really focused on long-term sustainability.” Chatting up your local farmer can help you learn whether their produce is organic, even if it doesn’t carry an official label.
“At the grocery store, those organic certifications cost the farmers a lot of money,” explains McKennon. “Only large farms can afford that sort of certification.” This opportunity allows you to ask about a farm’s growing practices straight from the source and become a more informed consumer.
Pricing Can Vary
Winner: Varies, depending on what you’re looking for
Another factor to consider when shopping for produce is price. After all, groceries are expensive! While there isn’t an exact answer for whether produce is more affordable at grocery stores or farmers markets, there are some key points to be aware of.
Firstly, consider the quantity of produce you’re buying. While the price at grocery stores might be lower, you could be getting less product. That’s because grocers often strip produce and sell it in lower quantities. A farmers market might cost a little more, but the produce won’t be trimmed down and you could end up getting more for your dollar.
Additionally, a key difference in pricing is the actual supplier. Grocery stores can source from multiple suppliers and price the items accordingly. At a farmers market, you’re dealing with different vendors with individual pricing. This means you could see multiple vendors sending the same produce items, but some will cost more than the other.
It might require some browsing on your part to see which ones help you get more bang for your buck. Pay a visit to the grocery store and your local market to get a feel for the pricing. Some additional factors that may also influence pricing of produce include:
- Organic product labeling
- Pre-packaged produce versus bulk produce pricing
- Extenuating circumstances, such as crop loss, that force local farmers to raise their prices
Shopping Can Be More Convenient
Winner: Grocery stores
The hours and days a farmers market is open can vary depending on where you live. A farmers market may only operate once per week in some towns, which means your only option to get fresh produce for dinnertime is at the grocery store. The convenience of being able to shop for items whenever you need to is the ultimate convenience grocery stores provide.
Another added convenience to grocery stores is being able to find produce that may not be offered at the market. Things like tropical fruits and vegetables can be hard to come by at markets if they can’t be grown locally, so grocery stores are a good go-to source for certain produce. It’s also a one-stop-shop allowing you to check off all types of items from your shopping list.
Farmers Markets Support Local Businesses
Winner: Farmers markets
When you shop at a farmer’s market, you’re helping the community and its farmers thrive. That’s because money spent on local produce has a direct impact on a vendor’s livelihood. Chef Stephanie Harris-Uyidi says that farmers get a lesser pay cut at farmers markets compared to grocery stores.
“Farmers markets can be a great resource for families to get superfresh, in-season produce for less because they cut out the middlemen who can take up to 92 cents of every food dollar spent,” she says. “On the contrary, farmer’s markets take only six cents from every dollar a farmer earns.”
McKennon says research shows that more of the money you spend at local businesses stays in the community. “This means that your local produce is fresher, more environmentally friendly, and often cheaper than organics in the store; it allows you to invest in your community and your health at the same time.”
Look Out for These Farmers Market Gems
So, which fruits and vegetables should you consider picking up the next time you’re at the farmers market? We asked Marjorie Beausoleil, a small Connecticut-based farmer and founder of Ethos Seed Company, for some recommendations.
“The best types of produce to buy at a farmers market will be those that are in peak season, ideally grown from heirloom varieties of fruits and vegetables,” says Marjorie. “Heirlooms provide not only the best nutrition compared to commercial hybrids, but also incomparable flavor.”
Fruits and veggies to prioritize at the farmers market include:
- Summer squash
- Small berries, such as ground cherries and gooseberries
Make sure to ask local farmers what the best produce is to pick up at the market. “Most farmers are passionate about what they grow and will be happy to answer your questions,” says Marjorie. These recommendations can vary depending on where you live and the time of year, so ask away!
For more on shopping at your go-to grocery store vs. your local farmers markets, keep reading:
- The 50 Best Farmers’ Markets in the USA
- What is Organic Farming, Really?
- Farmers’ Market Produce Guide
Chelsea Dolan is a freelance writer based in Toronto, Ontario. She has written for POPSUGAR, Today’s Parent, Post City Magazines, and other publications.