The True Price of Local Food
by Martha Jackson Suquet
Early morning harvest at Indian Line Farm, Great Barrington.
As we enter the season of outdoor farmers markets, CSA share distributions, and pick-your-own fruit outings, it’s worth reflecting on the full value of local food. The food that was grown with care by the farmer around the corner can sometimes—but not always—come with a higher price tag than alternatives at the grocery store. But when you buy local, you and your community get much more than a meal.

Why is local food often more expensive than what you buy in the aisles of a grocery store? Food costs are based on a complex set of factors. Every farm is unique, and each farmer has to charge prices that cover their cost of production and keep their business viable. Some costs are beyond a farmer's control, like rising feed and fuel prices, or the cost of farmland in their area. Others costs can be more variable: how much to pay workers, whether to use organic or conventional growing methods, or choosing sustainable management practices at the expense of higher crop yields. With all of these variables, prices for the same product may differ even within the local food economy.
East Mountain Farm, Williamstown.
In the Berkshires, land access is limited and good farmland is expensive. Many farms are smaller, and small farms may need to charge higher prices when they can’t take advantage of the economies of scale like a larger operation can. Farm practices that preserve soil health and support animal welfare, like reduced tillage or pasture rotation, can cost more in labor and soil inputs. Many Berkshire farmers have had to raise their prices in the past year due to increased production costs.
Farmers generally charge a higher price when they sell directly to customers in a retail setting like a farmers market, compared to the wholesale price they can get when selling through distributors or grocery outlets. But selling at a farmers market has added costs, too: display supplies and signage, market vendor fees, and staff time to work at the market. Each farmer must weigh the costs and benefits of all market outlets to figure out the right balance for their farm.

In a recent survey of Berkshire Grown member farmers, many respondents acknowledged the challenge of charging the right price for their own needs while understanding the burden that price point can put on customers. Some farmers are trying to keep their prices stable or only slightly increasing them, even as their costs rise. Others must raise their prices more significantly and hope their customers understand. Some CSA farmers offer tiered pricing for shares, allowing customers to choose their cost level based on their financial situation. As one respondent put it, “it’s hard to know the pricing that makes all this work worth it”.
Interestingly, local food prices aren’t always higher – depending on the specific product and season, you can sometimes get more for your money at the farmers market than the grocery store. A 2018 report from the Massachusetts Food System Collaborative found that, for fresh fruits and vegetables in-season, farmers market prices were often lower than those at grocery stores. And there are ways to reduce costs when local food does have a higher price point. Joining a CSA, purchasing meat in bulk, or visiting pick-your-own farms can lower the price of certain local products.
Photo credit Maria Zordan, MX Morningstar Farm, Hudson, NY.
Whether it costs more or not, what is the full value of local food? The effects of shopping locally – at the farmers market, at a restaurant that sources locally, or through a Community Supported Agriculture share – go beyond a simple transaction. Shoppers receive high-quality food that is almost always fresher than non-local options. But local spending is also an investment in the local foodshed: farmland, communities, and ecosystems, and of course – the local economy. The charm of a rural landscape cannot exist if farmers are not able to keep stewarding the land. Regularly supporting local farmers allows them to build viable farm businesses, weather the ups and downs of farming, and continue choosing farm practices based on more than just their bottom line.
Meet Berkshire Grown's New Staff Member
Stephanie Bergman,
Director of Development

Berkshire Grown is thrilled to announce the hiring of our first Development Director, Stephanie Bergman. Stephanie brings more than 20 years in the nonprofit field with extensive experience developing, implementing, and directing programs that meet critical community needs. Though fundraising was not the primary focus of the first half of her career, Stephanie discovered a passion and talent for this work early on.

Having worked for several small and medium sized nonprofits, Stephanie understands the many challenges, actual and perceived, that organizations face to advance philanthropy and achieve their long-term objectives. Stephanie believes strongly in the transformative power of philanthropy—not just for organizations, but for donors as well. She guides organizations to thoughtfully tell their story, a powerful tool to share impact, broaden outreach, and build relationships.

In her free time, Stephanie expresses her creativity through poetry, building furniture, native plant and organic vegetable gardening, and baking. She can be found hiking trails and looking for wildflowers in Western Massachusetts where she lives with her husband, two children, and two dogs.
Check out the 2023 Guide and learn more about Berkshire Grown programs!
Find locally grown food and products from Berkshire farms and businesses in the 2023 Guide to Local Food & Farms
The 2023 Guide to Local Food & Farms remains the region’s most comprehensive guide to local farms, farmers markets, and restaurants offering local foods. Use it to find farm stands, CSA farms, pick-your-own farms and orchards, as well as locally sourced value-added products like charcuterie, preserves, and fermented foods and locations and hours of food pantries spread across the county.

You can also find the best in locally grown food and products near you by using Berkshire Grown's searchable map!
Berkshire Farmers Markets
The summer outdoor market season has begun!
It's that time of year when farmers and producers in the Berkshires and surrounding region, who have worked very hard over the winter season, bring their local products to the outdoor Berkshire Farmers Markets.

Farmers markets are a great way to meet your local farmer and producer, shop for fresh food grown in nearby fields. Farmers Markets allow us to connect and engage with our local community. Add music, performance, the scent of food grilling, special blend brews and spices, seedlings, flowers and plants, hand built yarns and crafts, and maybe some knife sharpening, each of the Berkshire Farmers Markets are literally unique.

Use SNAP or HIP? Many of the markets offer Market Match and other dollar boosting programs. Visit Berkshire Farmers Markets for dates, locations, and more information on where SNAP, HIP and other benefits are honored.

Double Your SNAP With BAV
Berkshire Agricultural Ventures’ Market Match Fund is helping farmers markets across the Berkshire-Taconic region provide a $1-for-$1 SNAP match, up to $30 for a total of $60 to spend at their partner farmers markets. Learn more about how to access these Market Match dollars at farmers markets here.
  • Markets included in BAV’s Market Match Fund will match $1-for-$1 when you check out – up to $30 per visit for a total of $60 to spend! 
  • Spend your tokens at any farm stand selling SNAP-eligible foods

Massachusetts Healthy Incentives Program (HIP)
What is HIP?
HIP puts money back on your EBT card* when you use SNAP to buy healthy, local fruits and vegetables from HIP farm vendors.
*up to a monthly cap of $40, $60, or $80.

Click here to learn about HIP program basics and frequently asked questions.
What we are reading:

Rice Gets Reimagined, From the Mississippi to the Mekong
By Somini Sengupta, reporting from Arkansas and Bangladesh, and Tran Le Thuy, from Vietnam for The New York Times, May 20, 2023.
A farmer surveys his field. Sometimes he grows rice, he said. Other times, shrimp.
Rice is in trouble as the Earth heats up, threatening the food and livelihood of billions of people. Sometimes there’s not enough rain when seedlings need water, or too much when the plants need to keep their heads above water. As the sea intrudes, salt ruins the crop. As nights warm, yields go down.

These hazards are forcing the world to find new ways to grow one of its most important crops. Rice farmers are shifting their planting calendars. Plant breeders are working on seeds to withstand high temperatures or salty soils. Hardy heirloom varieties are being resurrected.

And where water is running low, as it is in so many parts of the world, farmers are letting their fields dry out on purpose, a strategy that also reduces methane, a potent greenhouse gas that rises from paddy fields.

The climate crisis is particularly distressing for small farmers with little land, which is the case for hundreds of millions of farmers in Asia. “They have to adapt,” said Pham Tan Dao, the irrigation chief for Soc Trang, a coastal province in Vietnam, one of the biggest rice-producing countries in the world. “Otherwise they can’t live.”
In China, a study found that extreme rainfall had reduced rice yields over the past 20 years. India limited rice exports out of concern for having enough to feed its own people. In Pakistan, heat and floods destroyed harvests, while in California, a long drought led many farmers to fallow their fields.

Worldwide, rice production is projected to shrink this year, largely because of extreme weather.

Today, Vietnam is preparing to take nearly 250,000 acres of land in the Mekong Delta, its rice bowl, out of production. Climate change is partly to blame, but also dams upstream on the Mekong River that choke the flow of freshwater. Some years, when the rains are paltry, rice farmers don’t even plant a third rice crop, as they had before, or they switch to shrimp, which is costly and can degrade the land further.

Read the entire article here.
Berkshire Farmers Tell Their Stories
Bruce Howden, Howden Farm
Melissa and Peter Martin, Dandelion Hill Farm
Topher Sabot, Cricket Creek Farm
Jim Schultz, Red Shirt Farm
Sharon Wyrrick, Many Forks Farm
  To pay via check or phone, make payable to Berkshire Grown, mail to:
PO Box 983, Great Barrington, MA 01230 or call (413) 528-0041
Contributions are tax deductible to the fullest extent of the law.
Stay in Touch

Berkshire Grown's e-newsletter comes out monthly. 
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Margaret Moulton, Executive Director
Stephanie Bergman, Director of Development
 Ian Brunell, Business Members Program Manager
Ren Constas, Livestock Working Group Coordinator
Maeve Dillon, Food Access Program Manager
Sharon Hulett-Shepherd, Membership and Office Manager
Martha Suquet, Winter Farmers Market Manager
Alyssa VanDurme, Mobile Farmers Market Program Manager

Join Berkshire Grown here.