When I am eating local, I tend to eat less. Partly because of the cost, and partly because of feeling satisfied with less. One of the most common things I hear people talk about when eating local, is the fact that they would shop locally more if it were cheaper. If you are used to shopping conventional or with coupons, making the shift to purchasing local food can seem much more expensive.
So let’s break down why it is more expensive:
- Local food is sometimes more expensive than conventional produce because small local farmers do not receive government subsidies. Conventional – Big AG farms prdouce 80% of our country’s food with commodity crops like corn and soy and still only make less than $30,000 a year. Most of these farms would not survive without subsidy payments and off-farm income. Local farms are true working farms that need to bring in income to pay for their business and create a livable wage for themselves and their team.
- Most local farms do not use heavy pesticides and therefore, it requires more labor in the field. Large farms use huge machinery to spray their crops with obscene amounts of pesticides. This cuts down on the labor bill of tending to the crops, thus making the food cheaper.
- Conventional food is often not from the USA – which equals lower labor costs. Last week I went into Whole Foods and needed an apple for my juicing. Every single variety of apple was from Fiji. Relying on food from across the world means that we have no idea of the labor practices and laborer rights. One thing is for certain, labor costs are cheaper outside of the US, so it makes the food cheaper. Many companies are using offshore labor that is a fraction of the cost of ours on land that pays little or no taxes and insurance compared to our fixed costs here.
- Smaller local farms have smaller yields and more loss – Local produce is often an heirloom variety, usually picked very close to ripe, so it has shorter shelf life, so more of it gets thrown out. The stuff in grocery stores is usually a variety hybridized (or engineered) for early picking, cold shipping and storage and long shelf life. The seeds in general are more expensive than a high yielding chemical (engineered) seed.
- Small Business operating costs are higher – our economy runs on the fact that small businesses are more expensive. This is true if you go to a locally owned bookstore vs buying on Amazon or from Walmart. Same goes for farming.
However, the reality is buying local food can be cheaper. Being intentional about where you are spending your money, how much you are buying, and only buying what you need cuts down on cost. (See my post on how to Stay on Budget at the Market) We are programmed to buy foods that we see advertised for a cheap “deal” and are constantly being convinced to buy things we don’t need. It is a shift in thinking and it takes some time to work out the kinks, but buying locally will save you money in the long run. Just imagine the money you’ll be saving from not having to buy Tums and Pepto Bismol just to digest your meal.