Arts & Culture

Is it more expensive to eat local?

Prices between farmers’ markets and supermarkets reveal an advantage to eating local

Is it more expensive to eat local?
written by David Fright
January 30, 2016 9:58 am

It is often remarked by critics that eating local is nice, but too expensive for most people to enjoy. It is even portrayed as elitist, an indulgence limited for the select few. Is local produce more expensive than the conventional large-scale multinational alternative? No. Indeed, the opposite is true. My investigation reveals that local produce is almost always less expensive.

 

Aside from the immediate benefit of lower prices, there is also the added quality and the environmental and economic benefits. Is an organic apple grown on a massive plantation in California and shipped the vast distance to Nova Scotia superior to an apple produced in the Annapolis Valley that was grown with care and attention to the local environment but does not meet the stringent requirements for organic certification? Most of the items sold in the farmers’ markets are not “organic” in this sense, but I would argue that they are in every way superior from an environmental perspective to the organic produce sold in the supermarkets.

 

In my analysis, I compare the price of local produce purchased at the farmers’ market to the price of conventional produce typically available in the supermarkets. Of the 19 items I compared, 84 per cent were less expensive when purchased locally. The difference in price between local and conventional produce is staggering: local parsnips are 53 per cent cheaper, local cabbage and squash are 33 per cent cheaper, local apples are 28 per cent cheaper, local turnips are 24 per cent cheaper, and local beets are 15 per cent cheaper.

 

Compared to imported “fresh” items, preserved local produce is also much cheaper. A can of Canadian tomatoes costs $1.15/lb compared to fresh imported tomatoes at a price of $4.99/lb. The canned Canadian tomatoes were preserved at their peak ripeness, whereas the imported fresh tomatoes are unripe and were turned red using artificial means. For cooking purposes, the canned tomatoes are far superior. Frozen Canadian green beans are 65 per cent cheaper than imported beans. Frozen Canadian broccoli is the same price as fresh imported broccoli. However, the frozen broccoli contains 1lb of florets and is arguably superior to the fresh broccoli which is mostly stalk and contains maybe less than a quarter pound of florets.

 

Eating locally is not only possible in a challenging northern climate, it is considerably less expensive. The only exceptions are potatoes, haddock, and eggs. However, the potatoes in the grocery store tend to come from the Atlantic provinces anyway. Potatoes can also be transported and kept at minimal cost. As such, they can be grown in areas where the impact of other human activities is minimal and they also offer some environmental benefit by providing wetlands for migratory birds in the winter, which offsets some of the harm they cause.

 

Indeed, much of the seasonal produce in the large grocery stores tends to come from the Atlantic provinces. It is, therefore, possible to eat locally even if a large grocery retailer is the only source available. While free range eggs are more expensive than the conventional alternatives, I think that a 43 per cent increase in the price of a relatively inexpensive item is a worthwhile expense to eliminate the cruelty suffered by chickens in industrial battery farms which offer them a life that is joyful and rewarding.

 

Produce that is picked, processed, packaged, distributed, and warehoused mainly outside of Nova Scotia offers little economic benefit to this province. About the only benefit Nova Scotia receives is from the small amount of fuel that is purchased in this province for regional trucking and the labour required for warehousing and retail. Few of the companies that provide these services are owned and operated in Nova Scotia. This is to say nothing of the greenhouse gas emissions that result from shipping all that produce thousands of kilometers.

 

It is almost always less expensive to purchase local produce at the farmers’ market than it is to purchase the conventional industrial produce available in most supermarkets. It could even be argued further that access to farmers’ markets is a basic provision for ensuring access to low cost food.

 

ItemLocal

Produce ($/lb)

Conventional Produce ($/lb)Price Difference (%)
Apples1.201.66-28%
Beets1.261.49-15%
Broccoli*3.993.990%
Brussel’s Sprouts3.53.99-12%
Cabbage1.001.50-33%
Carrots1.001.25-20%
Celery Root2.002.99-33%
Green Beans*1.754.99-65%
Kale3.993.990%
Leeks3.504.99-30%
Onions1.001.25-20%
Parsnip1.863.99-53%
Potatoes1.660.70137%
Squash1.001.50-33%
Tomatoes*1.154.99-77%
Turnip0.750.99-24%
Haddock Fresh8.507.996%
Haddock Frozen7.507.99-6%
Eggs5.003.5043%
* Preserved Vegetables vs. Conventional

 

 

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