Local and organic foods usually get slammed for being more expensive, the luxuries of rich people, elitist, and so on. I demolished the assumptions about organic consumers in my book, citing a body of consumer market research that has shown income has no bearing on an organic purchase. In short, people earning $150,000 a year are just as likely as those earning $50,000 a year to buy organic food. The Hartman Group, which studies such things, has found income one of the least useful indicators in targeting this market.
Now to the farmers' market, which also feeds such perceptions. Ethicurean points to Becks and Posh, written by Sam Breach, who actually took the time to compare farmers' market prices with Safeway supermarket. This was just not any farmers' market, but the San Francisco Ferry Plaza market, which has a reputation for being the most elitist in the nation. What did she find? On a fixed list of items, she spent 29 percent less at the farmers' market.
As for the elitist argument, we have thriving farmers' markets in wealthy and lower-income sections of Washington, DC. Actually, the latter, in Anacostia, operated by the Capital Area Food Bank and opening for the season next week, does well because it has no competition. The neighborhood has had no supermarket since 1998 so the only food sources have been high-priced convenience stores and a lot of fast food joints that don't tend to offer fresh produce. In other words, fresh food could not be had at any price before this farmers' market opened.
On this score, Whole Foods has been complaining for some time that people perceive it as pricey, when it's actually quite competitive compared with Trader Joe's and other supermarkets across the same items. In Washington DC, I've found they are the price leader on organic milk but have not done an in-depth comparison on other products. We encourage any shopper out there to do the comparison (so we don't have to).
- Samuel Fromartz