One of the hurdles people often face when trying to buy locally-produced organic food is the cost.
However, with the rising prices in grocery stores, that price gap is getting smaller and smaller.
According to a new BCCDC report, the cost of feeding a family of four on the North Island was about $1,300 per month, calculated last year. Taking into account the increase in food costs since then, the gap has shrunk even more. The latest Consumer Price Index (CPI) statistics released by the province in May show that the cost of food was up 7.5 per cent in April over the same time last year. Store-bought food specifically was up 8.5 per cent, with bakery and cereal products leading the way at 13.7 per cent. Beverages were next at 11.3 per cent, followed by dairy and eggs (8.1 per cent), fresh fruit (7.9 per cent) and meat (7.4 per cent).
The Capital Region Food and Agriculture Intiatives Roundtable (CRFAIR) executive director Linda Geggie said on Instagram that this year “local good prices from local farms are on par, if not cheaper, than many of the foods that you’re seeing in the grocery stores.”
Campbell River Farmers Market co-manager Sue Moen said prices in Campbell River are “pretty close” to equivalent.
“Having been involved with farmers markets and local foods for 20 years, we have always said that the food in the grocery stores is artificially priced lower than local food,” she said.
That lower price is due to things like economies of scale, as well as government subsidies and other market forces, Moen said.
“Local food has always reflected that the true cost of growing healthy foods in the most sustainable manner possible,”she said. “The environmental impacts of choosing local foods are so low compared to grocery stores that we’ve always argued that local pricing is true … Finally people are getting an idea of the true cost of food and especially healthy food.”
The CPI does not list farmers market costs, but Moen said that anecdotally she has not seen any notably higher prices at the market so far this season, despite the fact that local food producers have been seeing increased costs for things like seeds, water, labour and equipment repairs.
“We’re just getting their early, early stuff,” she said. “But if we look at the mushrooms, their pricing looks to be exactly the same as last year. Some of the early crops the cold weather crops, they’re all holding the line from last year.”
The higher cost of food at the grocery store already seems to be driving more attendance at the farmers market. Moen said the attendance numbers are up and she expects more people to come this weekend as the provincial Farmers Market Nutrition Coupon Program starts up again for the year.
“That’s sponsored by the Ministry of Health. So that’s a clear indicator that it’s not just an economic issue,” she said.
The recent BCCDC report says that food insecurity “is a population health issue that stems from systemic inequities, and it disproportionately affects individuals and households who experience the negative impacts of social, economic, geographic and structural inequities,” which are the intended recipients of the program.
Though grocery bills are higher no matter where shopping takes place, Moen said that markets — especially paired with coupon programs — combined with subsidized local food boxes like the Greenways Land Trust Good Food Box program will get people more bang for their buck in the long run.
“Don’t be afraid to come to the farmers market because the farmers love to talk about what they do and they love to talk about the food they produce,” Moen said. “Try anything that was just picked that morning and your body will tell you that that there’s a difference.”
“The data is out there about the economic impact of supporting local,” she added. “This may be an opportunity for people to maybe connect some of those dots for themselves.”