If Sister Isabel (high school math teacher) and Mrs. Sorrentino (my middle school home economics teacher) could see me now, I’m not sure who would be more proud of the way she looked at the numbers published in Maine’s 2022 Summer Farmers Market Report to find out More economical items versus similar vegetables being trucked in from afar during this period of soaring grocery bills.
In supermarkets, according to USDA figures, the cost of eggs has increased by 38 percent. Flour rose 22.7 percent, chicken 17.6 percent, milk 15.6 percent, ground beef 9.7 percent and bacon 9.2 percent. Fruits and vegetables are 9.3 percent more expensive. There are countless reasons for the increases: bird flu, the war in Ukraine, drought in Brazil, labor shortages, ongoing supply chain problems, crazy gas prices, to name a few. But the fact remains, the price of food sold in grocery stores has gone up more in the past year than at any other time since 1979.
When Link In the new University of Maine Cooperative Farmers’ Market Price Report in my inbox, I realized this was my chance to see how locally produced vegetables are priced against the same vegetables sold in grocery stores. My gut feeling was that this report would strengthen the “better buy local” argument because the price delta between mass-produced groceries and small-scale locally grown vegetables has shrunk considerably.
As part of this 10-week pilot study, researchers led by UMaine Professor of Agriculture and Natural Resources Tori Jackson, UMaine Associate Professor of Agricultural Economics Jonathan Malacarn, and Nicholas Lindholm, organic marketing and business specialist at the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, or MOFGA, collect weekly data on Eggs and 10 different types of produce, from as many as 17 producers sell these items at markets throughout the South, Central Coast, and Central Maine. The survey collected data for 10 weeks, starting on June 27. The online tool allows viewers to segment the data by product, region, date, and growth method.
The thinking behind this project is that updated market-specific price data is important to agricultural companies as they improve business plans, apply for financing and manage day-to-day operations. It was funded by the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, the Maine Farmers’ Market Federation, the Maine Farmland Trust, and the UMaine Department of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Cooperative Expansion.
Jackson explained that the scope of the pilot project was limited by funding. Given the positive response to the data it has made available, the team is exploring how to secure permanent funding and include a broader cross-section of products and markets.
I will not lie. As a former farmers market manager, I took an interest in looking at this data. I wanted to know why local eggs are steadily priced at 50 cents each (girls are consistent?), why organic lettuce was at its cheapest in early August (a glut due to home gardeners reaping what they planted?) and why the price of lettuce doubled shredded cukes between June 27 and July 25th (antiquities drought on these aquatic vegetables?).
But I digress. The point of this column was to look at the data, visit your local grocery store (Hannaford) and see how prices compare. Based on this data, I’ve found it’s always cheaper for me to buy bunches of local organic vegetables (kale and chard) and organic broccoli at the farmer’s market. If I specifically shop to find the lowest farmers market prices for non-organic cherry tomatoes, sliced tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, zucchini, organic eggs and carrots, I can get them for the same price, sometimes a little cheaper at the farmers market, than in the store.
Where I sit, the smartest — and in an era of rising national food costs — the most economical choice I can make is to buy vegetables at the farmers market. This means I support local farmers, reduce my carbon footprint, improve my family’s nutrition (vegetables lose nutrient density as they sit on the trucks), and help local money stay in the local economy. I plan to follow this cutting-edge data set to see how things keep ebb and flow.
Fried cabbage and cherry tomatoes with ramen eggs
This recipe serves one, but it’s easy to double, triple, or quadruple it to serve the number of people sitting at your table.
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 medium onion, sliced
1 clove minced garlic
1 teaspoon minced ginger
3 cups shredded cabbage
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon white miso
1 teaspoon sriracha
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
6 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cup cooked rice
1 egg soy gummy (see recipe)
Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add oil and saute onions. Cook for 2 minutes or until onions are soft. Add garlic, ginger and turnip and stir from time to time. Cook until turnip is softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Mix soy sauce, miso, sriracha, sesame oil and 1 tablespoon water in a small bowl. Add this mixture and tomatoes to the turnip. Stir and cook until completely heated up.
Serve with rice and jam soy eggs, cut in half.
Jamie soy eggs
This recipe is adapted from the one used at Momofuko in New York.
Makes 6 eggs
2 tablespoons of sugar
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
6 eggs at room temperature
In a medium bowl, whisk together sugar with 1/4 cup hot water until sugar dissolves. Add soy sauce and vinegar.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Carefully place the eggs in the boiling water and cook for exactly 7 minutes, stirring slowly for 1 minute to distribute the heat evenly. Meanwhile, fill a large bowl with cold water and ice. When the eggs are cooked, transfer them to the ice bath.
Once the eggs have cooled, peel them under the surface of the ice water. Transfer the eggs to the soy sauce mixture and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours and up to 6 hours, making sure they are completely submerged. Remove the eggs from the sweet and brine and reserve them for another egg turn. Eggs will be kept refrigerated in an airtight container for 7-10 days.
Local food advocate Kristen Burns Rudalevig is editor of Edible Maine and author of “Green Plate Special,” both a column on sustainable eating for the Portland Press Herald and name of the 2017 cookbook. Contact: cbur[email protected]