Local on a Budget

Gabriella DiGiovanni

Gabriella DiGiovanni › Gabriella is a local food supporter, new-found vegan, lover of the outdoors, music enthusiast and college ...


There I stood, with the wonders of local and organic food spread before me drawing me in like a warm and longed-for invitation. The electric colors of fresh produce and tantalizing smells of simmering dishes are enough to make anyone prepared to shell out whatever funds he or she has, all for the love of food. But there I was, mouth watering, at the Ithaca Farmer’s Market like many a college student, equipped only with my more-than-full desire for whole foods and my less-than-full wallet. The perception that local and organic foods are more expensive than what can be found in the supermarket often discourages people on a budget from shopping at a farmer’s market. However, with a little planning and some tips, everyone can enjoy whole foods:

Get What’s Most In Season: Crops in most abundance tend to cost much less, and it never hurts to ask your farmer for a discount if you buy in bulk (keeping in mind that certain crops can be frozen for use in the off season). Combine purchases with staples like rice, flour and beans bought from your local supermarket so you can add local to your diet while still being budget-friendly.

Ask for “Seconds”: Sometimes farmers will have a “second” bunch of produce that has physical blemishes or other harmless characteristics. Many farmers would be glad to sell these for less! Going to the market towards the end of the day can allow you to get ahold of deals on produce that didn’t make the cut.

Look Around for the SNAP Table: In Tompkins County, and in a similar wave across the U.S., many local Food Market’s are starting to accept food stamps. The process is easy, and allows a member to directly choose the amount he or she wishes to spend at a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) table set up to redeem tokens which can be spent at farm stands. Don’t be afraid to ask the market manager if you can’t spot the table.

Think of the “Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen”: Certain foods are more susceptible to penetration of synthetic chemicals due to their physical biology, while others are less or not affected, which can help you figure out what is worth buying. Products with particularly porous skin are better bought organic while others that are less susceptible and can be purchased conventionally grown in the supermarket.

Buy a Share in a CSA: CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture, is when a consumer buys a share directly from a farm, which serves to provide that member with an abundant weekly portion of fresh foods. These are a great deal for your dollar; talk to your farmers to see who is part of a CSA.

Think of the Long Term Health of You and Your Community: According to Rick, a 20-year farmer and owner of Humble Hill Farm, although sometimes local and organic can cost more than the supermarket, what you spend on organic foods “you don’t spend on the doctors.” Not only does eating local give you a chance to raise awareness of foods and eat healthy, but also your funds are being attributed directly to the producer in your community, keeping money in the local economy.

So next time you see those white stands and oodles of fresh foods, walk confidently into that market knowing that it’s possible for anyone to contribute to local foods at some level, even a college student living on the cheap!

Photo Credit: Gabriella DiGiovanni