Think Organic Food Is Too Expensive? Try the Farmers Market Instead of the Supermarket

Corporate food companies are selling more and more organic products—but they aren't passing along to consumers savings generated by increased production.

(Photo: Visions of Our Land/Getty Images)

Nov 11, 2013· 1 MIN READ
Steve Holt is a regular contributor to TakePart. He writes about food for Edible Boston, Boston Magazine, The Boston Globe, and other publications.

Here’s a sure sign the economy is rebooting after the Great Recession: More of us are buying organic food than ever. The USDA Economic Research Service reported in October that sales of organics totaled $28 billion in 2012—an 11 percent increase from the previous year—and have completely rebounded after declining between 2007 and 2009.

That shoppers finally have a bit more money in their pockets now that the recovery is well under way certainly has contributed to Americans’ ability to buy more organic products. What we can’t credit for the organic bump, however, is lower bills for such foods at checkout. And the continually high cost of organic foods is prohibitive for many middle- and low-income Americans.

“Many [organic companies] are depending on factory farms and imports from China, India, and other Third World countries to enhance their bottom line,” said Mark Kastel of the Cornucopia Institute, which promotes family-scale farming. “They are taking advantage of the goodwill of organic consumers. And the prices are not coming down accordingly.”

Consumers may be shocked to learn that, most likely, their favorite organic brand is owned by a multinational agribusiness, Kastel said. An infographic every advocate for healthy, sustainable food should see shows the top 100 organic brands in the United States—and their ties to Big Food.

“They know what organic consumers are hungry for: the story behind their food,” Kastel said. “And they are willing to spin that story.”

The story that is too often not told, he said—one that is, perhaps, a solution to the organic pricing conundrum—is about the boom in locally grown food. More consumers are buying directly from nearby farmers, either at markets or through community supported agriculture (CSA).

And get this: Local, organic food is becoming increasingly available to even low-income families through nutrition assistance programs. The USDA reported earlier this year that 3,200 farmers markets and direct-marketing farmers accepted the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefit in 2012—up from just 750 in 2008. During this time, these outlets saw a sixfold increase in SNAP redemptions, according to the report. Nearly all CSAs, according to Kastel, offer food grown using organic practices, even if they aren't explicitly certified.

For healthy, affordable food, consumers may be better off looking to their local farm stand rather than their local supermarket. Kastel said publicly traded mega-companies are making money hand over fist on the organic boom and proudly reporting to their investors best-in-industry profit margins—profits they have yet to pass on to consumers in the form of lower prices.