“Farmers Markets Are Too Expensive”

Farmer and Agricultural Economic Michal Smith

I hear this from time to time both at the market and also from the general public even in the agricultural community. It elicits a response longer than what I can usually muster as I pull my quill of sharpened microeconomic arrows of defense around to meet my macroeconomic bow. I’ve usually already lost most when I say, “well actually it’s cheaper”. 
The cost of food isn’t the problem. It’s more about what and how you eat. And I’ve gotten the usually rebuttals of “well Kraft Mac and Cheese and a pound of ground beef feeds a family of 4 for $5”.

Sure. it does. For the average family of 4 the median household income averages to $67,500, or per the Census Bureau:


Average Food Cost per Month – In-Depth Analysis and Trends

These figures are based on USDA data as of April 2021 and have eroded over time. But we will keep this as a basis point for comparison. 
Now for the assumptions to build our calculation per person per meal. I am going to be very conservative with these estimates and make the following assumptions, again, very conservative:

1. The family does not eat outside of the home. No meals other than grocery store bought, meaning no McDonald’s, vacation eats, IHOP for breakfast. This is keeping in line with the source data from the USDA where ‘all meals are prepared at home’.

2. The children have one meal provided during school..most schools over the past five years have had either selected or district wide free lunch programs. This is in both large school districts as well as rural. 

Here is our calculation: 

Adults at 3 meals a day 365 days a year = 1,095 meals per annum

Children at 2 meals a day during school year = 322 meals, non school = 612

Total meals required  = 2,029

Average grocery bill = $12,500
Cost per meal per person $6.16, per family $24.64

Again this is conservative and we will not get into the Dollar Menu Weeds. We are looking for what the USDA looks at and trends, on average. 

Almost $25 per meal, or $75 a day. I get it…a pound of chicken breast is around $9 just for starters.

What if I told you I could beat it? 

Let’s start with the menu. 

For tonight’s dinner, we are going to have fettuccini alla marinara with chicken meatballs.

Prep time: 30 minutes. Cost . . . well, well, well . . .

A pint of marinara that is 80% from my farm is $5 will get enough gravy on the plate. (I am sourcing olive oil and chianti to get local at least while the olive tree gets going).

Large bag of egg fettuccini pasta from pasture raised chickens and flour from Deaf Smith County, TX $10

Ground pasture raised chicken $5 per pound. We like to sell the whole chicken. Buy a grinder and save some $$ and make wonderful soup stocks, choice cuts, and grind a blend of dark and white meat. You will also need 2 eggs, $1 and spices and bread crumbs, $0.25. 

Grand total $21.25

You can also forego the meat and get straight to $15. Egg pasta and the marinara both contain plenty of protein. 

Buying my wares for this meal alone nets that family of four almost $3 in savings. Or the vegetarian option $9 in savings, or throw in a side salad of my $4 bag of field greens and dressing and $5 per meal savings. 

This is only the direct cost benefit.

If we extrapolate the larger, unseen macro costs of climate catastrophe and the directly related uptick in insurance premiums we are now looking to future savings. How? 

My tomatoes are farmed around 100 miles from two major metro areas, Austin and Houston. An overwhelming 60% of our produce comes from Mexico and is brought in by the ton via diesel truck. Almost all tomatoes are grown in Mexico as well. The amount of carbon burned to get food to market is immense. This carbon drives up climate catastrophe probabilities as evident by the past 20 years being the most destructive. 

Average Food Cost per Month – In-Depth Analysis and Trends

Which in turn drives up flood insurance, car insurance and homeowners. 

We as a farming community try to burn as little fuel as possible. We sequester carbon with mulch and compost. Why? It’s cheaper for irrigation costs, compost keeps soils moist. We also collect factory farming waste byproduct to use as soil enrichment. Why? Chemical fertilizer is expensive, and sometimes is not in a form the crop can use directly.

That said, in the long run, your local family farming community will actually be cheaper, more sustainable, and less prone to logistics shock for the future of food. 

The only expensive food I see is at the big box grocers.