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superhost in madisonwi

Can you actually get bargains at the farmer's market?

Blog posts like this one make me sad.

I have never gone to a farmer's market in Madison and spent less than $25 unless I went there to get just one or two things and I purchased absolutely nothing else, like only strawberries or just a couple of pounds of tomatoes. I have yet to encounter the mysterious 25¢ bunch of cilantro or the "cosmetically challenged" peaches for 50¢ a pound. Shopping at farmer's markets here is as expensive, or more, than a trip to Whole Foods. It's an exciting and rare moment when I find ugly, banged-up tomatoes marked down a few cents from the pretty ones. I don't care what the food looks like, I'm just eating it, but the frugal-living crowd recommends seeking out these bargains and I never find them.

I do NOT hit the market on the square with good intentions only to end up with three pies, a few pounds of cheese, an organic sustainably-raised gold-plated chicken, a hand-woven wall hanging etc. I go for vegetables, and that's what I bring home.

I admit I'm not shopping at farmer's markets often (because I don't have that kind of money to spend weekly) so maybe I'm missing something. Have you found good deals at the farmer's markets? What did you get, and at which market?


Really only on rare occasion do I find deals like that. The smaller markets around town (Middleton, Southside are the ones I've been to more recently) seem a bit less expensive than the big one on the square and more prone to deals... I got cheap tomatoes at the Hilldale one once 4 or 5 years ago, that was exciting. Beyond rare sales here and there, the end of day ones are usually the best shot of getting good deals at most of the vendors, on the square anyway.

I think, in direct response to that blog, it depends where you are and how motivated to move the product the vendor is... Farmers Markets are very "on trend" in Madison so I wonder if the prices aren't higher just because of that. When I lived in NM vendors practically gave food away, I think likely due to lack of storage space for all that produce in the heat of dessert summers, AND because it wasn't so much a "thing" people did as an "activity" like it is here. We used to get crateloads of peaches and plums, bunches of salad greens, and strings of peppers for next to nothing.

In this area I have far better luck getting great deals at the little farm stands on the outer areas of town. Usually they've got a sign out for corn or eggs, and if you stop in they've also got tomatoes or strawberries or whatever else is in season for sale at far better prices than the markets... but it's more of a hunt.
I work for one of the larger organic vegetable vendors at the Saturday downtown market. They also wholesale to some local grocery stores, and I was at Metcalfe's tonight, so out of curiosity inspired by your post, I checked prices.

The vendor I work for is not cheap (neither is Metcalfe's), but it's cheaper at the market. The biggest difference I noted was eggplant ($2.50/lb at market, $4.49/lb at Metcalfe's). Herb bunches that are $2 at market were $2.50 or $3 at the store. Beets were the same, and kale was actually cheaper at the store. There was something else that was much cheaper at Metcalfe's, but it also was clearly marked SALE!

About 15 years ago, I worked for a similar (though smaller) vendor at the Saturday market, and on their farm (they no longer are at the market, but still do CSA and wholesale). That farmer told me he priced things at the market to end up being about 75% of what the stores would sell at.

I also think that in recent years, the organic/local/foodie contingent has really driven prices up -- seriously, there are some things we sell I can't *believe* how much people people are willing to pay for! We sell asparagus at, I think (spring was so long ago...), $5 for *a half pound*, and sell out every week we have it -- but the farmer is also a marketing genius, and has built some serious brand loyalty.

I also shop at the Sunday northside market, and I think the prices are better there (although since I work on Saturday, I rarely get to walk around to compare). I also rarely buy from certified organic vendors -- I usually buy from the Hmong vendors, because while they're not certified organic, most either don't use pesticides, or use very little--and it's usually better priced.

Also, neither of the vendors I have worked for have done 'end of market' discounts (partly because there's often still a wholesale market for unsold produce, partly (I think) to not de-value the produce), but I do see smaller vendors doing that, and I see it at the Northside market.

So, to sum up, I think you can get better prices at a farmer's market for fresh, local produce, especially if you shop the smaller markets--but, in Madison, you're not likely to find a $25 deal like in the blog post you linked. And you might find better prices for conventional, trucked-in produce at Copp's or Woodman's, but it's not going to taste nearly as good. My two cents :) .

August 2015



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