I was walking the youngest child around one of our markets recently and saw a sign posted by one of the newer vendors. The sign contained the name of the product they were selling, the price (much higher than you would usually think of as ordinary for that product, but it seemed fair to me given the specialty nature of their product), and then the following phrase “You obviously don’t know how good it is, because you’re not buying any!”
As a farmer, I sometimes share this frustation. We hear from customers that they want the freshest, pasture raised eggs and meats. They say they prefer to consume animals given only organic and/or soy-free feed. Yet we can have trouble selling such products once they’re raised. The perception that healthier food is “too expensive” is a battle we all face. However, this particular farmers market is located in the 35th-wealthiest county in America. The majority of our customers are wealthy by any standard.
The problem may not be in the price of the food but in the mind of the customer. When you’re used to cheap food, anything that costs more makes you think you’re getting ripped off. A recent Mother Jones article points out how Americans spend less of their income on food than any other country by a substantial margin. If you truly care about how your food is produced, you have to be willing to spend more, because it costs more to produce better food. We small farmers are, with rare exceptions, not making a fabulous living raising our animals or produce.
Some call this “voting with your food dollars.” Even on a tight budget, there are ways to eat better food. Often great savings are available by purchasing in bulk. Buying a whole or half pastured hog or grass-fed beef provides substantial savings over buying individual cuts. We are able to offer special deals to customers who purchase 5 chickens or more, or who buy eggs regularly in quantity. If the struggle is more mental than financial, think of it as spending money on your health, as well as improving the health of the land. If you can eat better food and stay healthy, that’s priceless.