Farmers markets, local produce stations offer cheap, fresh ways to save cash

June 15, 2009

Ah summertime. It's finally here and that means time for backyard BBQs, beach days and farmers markets. As a college student living off a baristas salary, I can't afford to shop at specialty grocery stores like Whole Foods and Fox & Obel every week. But I do appreciate good food and I've discovered a way to buy fresh, locally-grown and sometimes even organic produce at an often lower cost than your traditional grocery stores like Dominick's and Jewel. This summer, say so long to the grocery stores you've become familiar with and opt for one of Chicago's farmers markets to cut cash and support the local economy. At a farmers market, you buy directly from the people who grow a summertime favorite like tomatoes. And let's weigh the costs. You can find tomatoes almost anywhere, but how much are you willing to spend? On Monday morning Whole Foods and Dominick's lists tomatoes for $2.99 per pound, while Jewel charges $2.79. Stanley's Fruit & Vegetables has them for $2.49. It's too early for Illinois tomatoes now, so picking tomatoes from a low-cost grocery store is the best way to save green. Farmers markets have specific hours that may not fit into your schedule, and that's OK! If you can't make it to the farmers markets, Chicago has inexpensive markets like Stanley's Fruit & Vegetables and Localharvest.org lists other locally-owned grocery stores. Don't live in Chicago? Don't fret, your town probably has one too. That same site, Localharvest.org, lists farmers markets, recipes and restaurants in your area. So here's my goal for this summer: Shop locally. My goal for you this summer: Post low-cost recipes using the ingredients you can find at one of Chicago's dozens of farmers markets and produce stands -- and tell us what you paid. Farmers markets can cost more, but this site offers money-saving tips like this one:
Come to the market with a flexible palate. Often it is the case that common items (e.g. carrots, potatoes and onions) are more expensive at the market than at conventional grocery stores. However, seasonal and specialty products that are outside of mainstream consumption (ethnic, heirloom, or rare vegetables, for example) can be purchased far below those prices demanded at the local supermarket. A flexible palate will not only introduce you to foods you never knew existed; you'll also enjoy big savings.