augusta free press news

Farmers market prices holding steady season to season

foodPrices at Virginia farmers markets have held the line against inflation for the past five years, according to an analysis of prices for 18 common items compiled by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

In fact, the five-year average price for sweet corn has dropped by 28 cents for a dozen ears, while the price of broccoli and green beans has risen only 2 cents a pound over that period.

“I probably haven’t raised my prices in two years or more. I try to stay competitive with the grocery stores,” said Christopher Hatch, a Loudoun County beef producer, Loudoun County Farm Bureauboard member and member of the Loudoun Valley Homegrown Market Cooperative. “My prices are maybe just a little bit higher. Many times the grocery stores are selling it a lot cheaper than I can raise it.”

The monthly market report also summarized average prices for the past nine years for strawberries, and 2015 was a high-water mark for the beloved fruit. The average price was $5.50 a quart last year, compared to the low average price of $3.25 a quart in 2006. Most years strawberries sold for about $4.50 a quart.

Kathryn Willis, manager of farmers’ markets in Leesburg and Cascades, said supply and demand sets the price, not the growers.

“Oh my gosh—get there early if you want any strawberries. They’ll be gone by the end of the day,” she said. “Strawberries were higher last year. Otherwise I believe prices for most products have remained stable over the past few years. They may go up at certain times for certain products, but they’re competitive.”

Hatch said vendors know market customers compare prices and will supplement their farmers’ market purchases with goods from the grocery store. “So they’re not blind. But they really like knowing ‘their’ farmer. People like to identify with who’s growing their food.”

The retail farmers’ markets report is published monthly during the growing season and is available atvdacs.virginia.gov/pdf/fm.pdf.