Is the Challenge of the Locavore Challenge Cost?

September 24, 2009 at 9:09 am

Rob Gardner

Last night I had the privilege of moderating and participating in the panel for the Green City Market’s Locavore Challenge Town Hall.  In preparation for the event, I drew up a list of thirty-two or so questions.  Pretty soon after starting the discussion, I went to question sixteen.  The question I hear asked all the time.  What do you think about the costs of eating local.  The answers may have surprised you (unless you were there and already know what was said). 

Rick Gresh from David Burke’s Primehouse said it first.  He runs a big, big operation, with weddings and banquets and blow-out steak dinners.  His commitment to local foods lowered his food costs.  Local Beet contributor Pat Sheerin, of the Signature Room, echoed Gresh.  Repeating something he’s said on the the Local Beet: going local has lowered his costs too.  Finally Sarah Stegner from Prairie Grass Cafe chimed in, and said that at last year’s Town Hall, a participant mentioned that her food costs went down after she took the locavore plunge.  How could this be when it the most accepted truism of local food is that it costs more. 

How do we get our arms around these assertions when we see five dollar pints of blueberries at the market.  It has to be that they buy in bulk right.  Right next to that five dollar sign is usually another sign: two for nine.  We imagine we’d get three for twelve or something like that.  And we would.  Farmers will eagerly sell you a bushel of berries for a fraction of what that pint cost.  Still, bulk savings cannot account for chef savings.  I mean they buy a lot.  They would buy a lot if it came from local farms or if it came from Sysco.  Volume pricing applies in either circumstance.  Something else must apply.

Like I said above, I had thirty-two questions or so to cover, not to mention time for the thirty-two or so questions the audience had.  We never really got far on the whys of lower costs.  In my position of moderator, I did offer the idea that buying in season contributed.  If one went shopping for asparagus about now, he or she would find it much more expensive than the vegetables in season.    Focusing on what is in season does get you to cheaper items, but it still does make that in-season pint of blueberries cheaper.  Still, the kernel of cost controls does lie here, I believe.

Anyone know the woman who came forward last year to say her food costs went down when she took the Challenge?  I’d love to have her post something for the Local Beet.  We could get to the bottom of this.  How did she lower her costs.  Waiting her testimony, I’ll offer my idea.  You get lower costs when you turn yourself over completely to local foods.  You do not have to be a 100-mile zombie, but when you go local you find yourself without many of the narcotics of modern eating.  You have carrot sticks and tiny tomatoes instead of other junk food.  That five dollar pint of blueberries, it seems, goes a hell of a lot further than a bag of kettle chips.  More, you pay $6/lb for hamburger, but then you eat it only once or twice a week, dropping your meat budget line item.  That hunk of Brunkow cheese may have seemed pricey until you made it the centerpiece of your ploughman’s lunch.  We have to see the difference between the costs of local foods and the cost of eating local.

We have heard the testimony.  The costs of local foods may appear higher, yet the costs of eating local are not.  Let’s not fool ourselves that the Locavore Challenge contains no challenges, even certain cost challenges.  It still takes work to fill your pantries, fridge and freezer with a diet of local food.  It will always take more work to process and prepare local foods.  You may only eat meat once a week, but it does not mean you don’t want more steak.  You have to get what is actually the cheapest even if it means you have yet to acquire a taste for rutabagas.  There are gives and takes, compromises and tasks we accept.  In return, as pretty much all will acknowledge, it tastes better.  And it supports the areas around us, the land and the people.  Go local.  The costs will not be your challenge.



  1. Heather says:

    I don’t know who that woman was, and I’m reading this blog from Minneapolis/St Paul because I really enjoy much of the content, but I recently blogged about how shocked I was at the affordability of eating sustainable food. I can’t say I’m entirely local but I currently get my meat, veggies, fruit and most cheese from organic farms via CSA shares. I was shocked to actually do the math and find that we are spending the same or LESS than what we were before at our local Cub Foods store. And that was with having to bargain hunt & clip coupons like a crazy lady! No more having to spend time coupon clipping and ad scanning and we are still making out just as good if not better!

    Here’s my original post:

  2. Rob Gardner says:

    Heather, thanks for adding that bit of evidence.

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