During one of my strolls through the Seacoast Eat Local Winter Farmers Market, I overheard a woman say to her husband “Can you believe they want five dollars for a dozen eggs? I can get the same eggs at Wal*Mart for ninety-nine cents. There’s nothing here for us.”
I’ve thought about this comment a lot since I overheard it. At first, I was incensed. I got up on my green moral high horse and thought to myself “those eggs at Wal*Mart are not the same eggs! They’re old eggs! They are practically rotten. The chickens involved were bio-engineered to live in cages; they had their beaks cut off and they crapped all over the chickens around them for lack of space.”
Some people don’t care about eating old, crapped-on eggs. They care about ninety-nine cent eggs. I’m not going to change their minds with anecdotal evidence about happy chickens frolicking peacefully in verdant pastures.
I started to feel guilty about buying expensive eggs. I decided that each time I bought eggs or got them from my CSA, I’d get some extra eggs and give them to my neighbor who makes soup for me. It was the old “eggs as penance” routine. I have not earned my way into egg-heaven yet, but I continue with this practice.
More recently, I’ve tried to find articles which document the true cost of food at local farmers markets. Many of these articles used the green moral high horse argument when there was no objective data to support the cost argument. This reasoned article by Barry Estabrook provides links to a study done in 2011 which included actual data instead of feelings and anecdotal evidence. The comments are interesting, too. It was the best of the lot of articles I could find.
I did my own on-line research and concluded that the one food item I compared, organic carrots, was the same price at both the local Hannaford grocery store and the Winter Market if I bought them from Brookford Farm in a twenty pound bag.
They key word is “organic.” Commercially grown non-organic carrots can be purchased at fifty cents per pound versus the “organic” carrot which is almost two dollars per pound.
I like carrots. When I don’t have carrots in my refrigerator, I worry. From having tried to grow them myself, I know how much work is involved in planting, thinning, and weeding. Producing organic carrots on a commercial scale is difficult as well as costly. Weeds are a fierce competitor and when the carrot top starts growing above the ground, hand weeding is still sometimes required. Weeds and carrot tops look alike and the first ten weeks after the carrot germinates is critical to growth.
Growing organic carrots is more complicated than growing non-organic carrots because the organic farmer has to use untreated seed. Commercial non-organic carrot growers can use chemically treated seed, which reduces weeds, pests and diseases. The likelihood of pests and diseases in organically grown carrots rises exponentially.
I want to grow my own organic carrots, but I have to be realistic. I work a day job, I write a blog, I volunteer in my current community, and I volunteer in my hometown. I am not a farmer. Uncle Bob is not emotional about carrots and while he might tolerate one season of experimentation with a row of carrots, I’ve already decided our experimental row will be peas this year. I get one experiment per year with Uncle Bob and this will not be the year he babysits a row of carrots for me.
As much as I’d like everyone to support local farmers, I don’t think it’s going to happen if I base my argument solely on price. A price shopper is never going to buy five dollar eggs when they can get ninety-nine cent eggs. A price shopper may not care about carrots at all.
It’s possible that the only orange foods some people ever willingly eat are Pepperidge Farm Goldfish and I have no argument that will compel them to buy five dollar eggs and forty dollar carrots.
This is a puzzling problem while ninety-nine cent eggs are still available at Wal*Mart. Just like modern commercial agriculture, I’m going to rely on science fiction to gracefully extricate myself from today’s post.