Save on Food: Tips for Eating Local Produce - TheStreet

Save on Food: Tips for Eating Local Produce

Roadside stands and farmer's markets can often provide fresher, cheaper food than the alternatives.
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Floods in the Midwest and fuel surcharges have pushed up food prices at the chain supermarkets so high that becoming a locavore might be the answer.

Locavores generally eat only foods from within a 100-mile radius. But you might not need to go to those extremes to save money -- just shop at local farmers markets and roadside food stands. Not only are you supporting your local economy, but you also get a fresher, better-quality product.

Make a Trip to the Farmers Market

Nina Planck, an expert on farmers markets, runs the farmers market in Washington D.C. and agrees that shipping and packing are much cheaper when it comes to local foods.

"Just about everything about local and traditional food makes it relatively cheaper when fossil fuel gets expensive," Ms. Planck says.

Most large grocery chains buy produce from wholesalers and in bulk, which traditionally has given them a low-price advantage. The farmers markets tended to be higher priced, but consumers accepted that you paid extra for better quality.

But now, that food chain has been interrupted, with less product coming from the large corporate farms of the Midwest due to destructive weather patterns. Plus, wholesalers are tacking on fuel surcharges.

Restaurants are Buying Local, Too

Agnes Devereaux of the

Village Tearoom

in New Paltz, N.Y., has some farmers deliver directly to her and makes trips to others. Her restaurant tries to buy as much locally as possible, and while some products are more expensive, like dairy, others are cheaper when she picks it up herself.

"I cut out the middleman. The wholesalers would just have to buy from the farm and then resale to me," said Devereaux.

Laura Pensiero of

Gigi's Trattoria

in Rhinebeck, N.Y., changes her restaurant menu every quarter according to local availability. For example, she says, "strawberries are abundant and much cheaper in June, so lots of strawberries on the menu then."

Don't Pass By the Roadside Stand

No matter whether you by a ton of stuff or just a bit, you can save money.

Raychel O'Shea Patino was able to buy two boxes of strawberries in a farm stand in Rochester, N.Y. for $3, when it normally costs her the same price for one box. Abby Goldstein stopped at a roadside stand in Maine and found the prices to be cheaper than in her local grocery store. Kristi Conn of Orange, Texas, said that while driving down Highway 87, she passed numerous trucks filled with vegetables and watermelons.

Some states are able to grow more variety than others, like Texas, but most states do have small farms nearby. Even New York City has access to many farms located in the Hudson Valley that provide products sold at

Greenmarkets

throughout the city.

By being flexible in purchasing decisions, such as buying what's in season, a consumer can cut the food budget without cutting back on quality.

Buy a Farm Share

Another way to save is through CSAs, or community supported agriculture. A person can buy a share of a farmer's crop for a set amount of money. Each week, they get a variety of the items the farm grows.

The consumer does accept the risk of vagaries in the crops; i.e., tomatoes may be bad one year, while the onion crop is outstanding.

Devereaux says there were only two CSAs when she moved up to New Paltz years ago, and now there are six -- and they are sold out.

"Several deliver to New York City," she pointed out.

Shares can be a family size, basic size or larger and can run roughly $450 to $500 for a basic share depending on the farm.

Be a smart shopper. Saving money on food doesn't necessarily mean eating Ramen noodles. You can support your local farmers and cut costs.

Resources to find local foods include the

National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service

,

Local Harvest

and the

Rodale Institute

.