The Farmers' Market versus Safeway
Something to Ponder
Regular readers will know that I love to celebrate all of the wonderful items available at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers' market here on my blog. I buy nearly all of my fresh produce there, with only the occasional visit to Wholefoods or Rainbow Grocery to maintain a well-stocked pantry of dried goods, grains and flours to supplement the seasonal fresh produce that makes up most of my diet.
It is understandable that something as popular and as liked as San Francisco's Market should attract its fair share of critics. But when you are all gooey-eyed and ga-ga about something you all but unconditionally love, like I am, about the Farmer's Market, it's tough to hear it being bad mouthed. There are dozens of cruel words that have been thrown at it recently it by people who otherwise claim to care about food; 'elitist', 'highway robbery' 'astronomical' and 'extremely exclusive' being among the most upsetting. But instead of arguing, bickering, taking cheap shots and taking sides, as some people seem more apt to do, I wondered how I might be able to somehow celebrate my own personal love of the Farmers' Market by helping to show that it is not the exclusive rich-person's club it is ofttimes made out to be and at the same time perhaps help prove that these ignorant accusations are simply unfounded.
Perhaps the people who actually do shop there regularly are the best judges of whether it is expensive or not? As a regular at the Ferry Plaza, apart from a few premium items that can be avoided as a matter of personal taste or choice, I have never felt that the Farmers' Market was any more expensive to shop at than places like Wholefoods, Rainbow, Adronicos, Mollie Stones, Trader Joe's or even Safeway although I do accept it is probably more expensive than other local markets and budget groceries in places like the Mission District. Would I spring out of bed with sheer joy at 7am on a Saturday morning to go to Safeway? Absolutely not. But for the Farmers' Market? Of course, even with a hangover. There has to be something to it.
One of my 2007 resolutions was to keep a better track of how much my food costs and as a consequence I have, for the most part been keeping a record of my weekly grocery spending. This means I have records dating back for months. And I have been wondering what use they might be to me. I was trying to think of a lazy way I could compare the Farmers' Market prices to prices elsewhere. And then it clicked. I could check the prices against Safeway's Online service without even having to leave the comfort of my home.
I signed up for the service after my market visit on Saturday and began to compare prices of items I had purchased over the past two Saturdays, hoping that I could at least prove that the cost of shopping at the Farmers' market is only marginally more expensive than at Safeway but that the superior quality of the market produce would allow me to justify paying that little bit extra. But what I actually found shocked me deeply. In fact I am almost speechless and I think you will be too...
Actually I really am surprised. I didn't expect such a huge discrepancy in that direction. Shopping for fresh produce at the farmers' market over the last two weekends saved me a full 29% on what I would have spent on the same or inferior items at Safeway. Incredible but true, especially since Carlo Petrini, founder of the Slow Food Movement has recently been quoted as saying about the San Francisco Farmers' Market that "The prices were astronomical, twice or even three times as high as those of “conventional” products" when my unscientific little test here suggests the opposite could be true. Not only that, the farmers' market items in most cases are likely to be far superior to those at Safeway, will have travelled less distance to get to my plate and will sometimes be organic. The pretty, flowering watercress from Four Sisters Farm for example is the 'real' variety that is grown from wild seed instead of being cultivated like its Safeway counterpart. The lemons and oranges are unwaxed so their zest can be safely used in recipes. Every item is fairly local whereas when ordering from Safeway you largely don't have even the slightest clue where your food is coming from. Of course, I don't mean to imply that Mr Petrini would endorse Safeway, far from it, but I do think this comparison is more interesting in light of what he said.
I know there might be sceptics out there who will argue that I totally engineered this list, but I promise that just isn't true. You'll just have to trust me on this. I didn't even have the idea until after I had already been shopping and I bought just what I would normally buy. There were other things I'd purchased that I hoped to include on the list but the parameters weren't clear cut enough and I didn't want to be accused of manipulating the results to my advantage. For example, I picked up 2.25 lbs (3 punnets) of incredible, organic Swanton Berry Farms strawberries for just $6, but I didn't think it was fair to compare them to the ones on the Safeway site because their weight was not actually specified although from the picture I suspected they were $3.99 for a lb making them more expensive than Swanton's. Cherries presented a similar problem. I'd purchased a lb of beautiful organic cherries for $6 last week, but didn't know whether to pit them against the $2.99 or $7.99 a pound varieties on the Safeway site for the fairest comparison.
You know what, I don't want to argue too much about this with all the naysayers. I think I've made a good enough point for now. I am simply going to smile on my inside, safe in the knowledge that when I go the Ferry plaza Farmer's market on a Saturday morning I'll be surrounded by like-minded, friendly, generous, smart, caring, thoughtful people who all have good taste in food, happy that I am in no danger of bumping into anyone who is otherwise. I hope, one day, I'll see you there.