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Venting on the Price for (somewhat) Fresh Vegetables


scottmcl
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I bought two large fennel bulbs yesterday - cost me over $7 !!!!!

I intend to use them in a oven slow braised (sweet spice rub, wine, stock, capers, herbs, mirepoix, dried cherries, etc.) largish pork shoulder.

The big pork shoulder itself only cost about $11 !!! So the total vege/herbs/wine/etc. "condiment" component of the dish is going to DWARF the protein component of the dish?

Wasn't this the other way around once upon a time?

What's going on with produce prices? What the hell gives?

Scott

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I bought two large fennel bulbs yesterday - cost me over $7 !!!!!

I intend to use them in a oven slow braised (sweet spice rub, wine, stock, capers, herbs, mirepoix, dried cherries, etc.) largish pork shoulder.

The big pork shoulder itself only cost about $11 !!! So the total vege/herbs/wine/etc. "condiment" component of the dish is going to DWARF the protein component of the dish?

Wasn't this the other way around once upon a time?

What's going on with produce prices? What the hell gives?

Scott

I made bouillabaisse a little while back and balked at the $3.50 a pound price for fennel bulbs at Giant. Went to Grand Mart and found them for $1.99 a bulb. Swiss chard can regularly be found for about $1.29 for a large bunch. The asian grocery stores are definitely the way to go if you are looking to save money on produce.

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Here's a second recommendation for Grand Mart, Great Wall, or Super H depending where you live. In addition to their produce being much lower in price, there is excellent turnover, so it is a lot fresher than what can be found at the big stores. I love a store that has three guys doing nothing but continuously stocking the produce section. :rolleyes:

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Here's a second recommendation for Grand Mart, Great Wall, or Super H depending where you live. In addition to their produce being much lower in price, there is excellent turnover, so it is a lot fresher than what can be found at the big stores. I love a store that has three guys doing nothing but continuously stocking the produce section. :rolleyes:

I will caveat that while the produce is lower in price, and has fast turnover, it's not always the highest quality. Produce I buy at Great Wall or H Mart seems to turn quicker than stuff I buy at Giant or Whole Paycheck.

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I agree with all of the above. I buy a lot of my vegtables at the asian market, yet shop at whole paycehck and harris tweeter for some items. I am self boycotting Giant and Safeway (buy will buy door busters). I will be going to Merrifield for freadh mushrooms and veggies tonight, for use tomorrow.

I will caveat that while the produce is lower in price, and has fast turnover, it's not always the highest quality. Produce I buy at Great Wall or H Mart seems to turn quicker than stuff I buy at Giant or Whole Paycheck.
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(buy will buy door busters)
Please explain.

* * *

I wonder what costs go into growing vegetables vs. raising animals. I do know the price for organic seeds went up 40% this past winter at the same time that other requirements for farming got much more expensive. Not sure how these things translate into the costs of groceries.

I am much more ignorant than I would like to be about such matters, but where was it that I read that farmers usually get about a dime for every $2.00 you spend at supermarkets for the things they produce? Perhaps they're now getting 12 cents, instead?

Of course, when it comes to fennel, you're getting a vegetable that gets served in very few homes in the U.S. Supplies are limited. Fewer options for distributors. Much gets peeled off and trimmed in stores. Tossed. There's the cachet factor, too. Turnip greens and kale sold loose at Giant, Safeway and Harris Teeter are less than a dollar a pound.

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I buy a lot of fruit and veggies at the asians stores mentioned in the thread. It is true that variety, price and turnover are all good but the freshness on certain items are questionable. Stuff I have to watch consistantly are grapes, berries and peppers. My brother in law calls them "lot B". not sure if that is a technical/industry trade term but no matter the turn over, they are starting (IN SOME Products only) with product that is not as fresh off the vine as some of the other stores.

For the variety and price on produce local asians store can not be beat. Just careful on what you buy and use them quickly.

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It is interesting to hear about the freshness - spoilage factor. I haven't had this problem, but I tend to shop two or three times a week and cook that day or the next, relying on what looked really good in the store rather than planned recipes. This is a result of living in Southern Illinois for a while where I couldn't rely on any store having what I wanted for any specific dish. I'm also pretty picky about what I buy. There were some weeks recently when I passed through the entire section of the Grand Mart at LRT and didn't buy a thing except some citrus fruit.

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... I tend to shop two or three times a week and cook that day or the next, ...

I just don't have the time to invest to shop like this, though I wish I did. Between soccer, baseball, dance, gymnastics, piano, etc. we're in twelve places at the same time every night. I do a large grocery run on Sundays, and sometimes I can make a quick trip sometime during the week.

If I buy produce on Sunday that is unusable by Thursday, that's a problem for me.

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If I buy produce on Sunday that is unusable by Thursday, that's a problem for me.

Absolutely!

I have bought some fruits and veggies from of the Asian markets that barely made it 3 days. If you end up pitching it because it rots are you really saving?

It is amazing how fast stuff from any grocery goes bad when you compare it to stuff from the farmer's markets.

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I just don't have the time to invest to shop like this, though I wish I did. Between soccer, baseball, dance, gymnastics, piano, etc. we're in twelve places at the same time every night. I do a large grocery run on Sundays, and sometimes I can make a quick trip sometime during the week.

If I buy produce on Sunday that is unusable by Thursday, that's a problem for me.

I think that your situation is much more common than mine. The way our schedules work, it's best only to have a few day's worth of perishables on hand. It minimizes waste when one of us goes out of town unexpectedly. I also imagine it is much more time consuming shopping for a crowd instead of for two.

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Absolutely!

I have bought some fruits and veggies from of the Asian markets that barely made it 3 days. If you end up pitching it because it rots are you really saving?

It is amazing how fast stuff from any grocery goes bad when you compare it to stuff from the farmer's markets.

I actually have the equal and opposite problem -- I walk past maybe six grocery stores on the way home, so anything I buy from there is usually for eating that night. It's the stuff bought on impulse at the farmer's markets that goes bad, because I never get around to figuring out what I want to make with it or I never get in the mood. I realize it's a shortcoming on my part but rotted farmers market stuff is a lot more expensive than the stuff from the Mercado Internaciale that goes bad.

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I actually have the equal and opposite problem -- I walk past maybe six grocery stores on the way home, so anything I buy from there is usually for eating that night. It's the stuff bought on impulse at the farmer's markets that goes bad, because I never get around to figuring out what I want to make with it or I never get in the mood.
Same here, and the reason I have been avoiding the market for the last few months - the stuff gone bad was wreaking havoc on my food budget.
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Perhaps the guys at the market need to slap French names and vintage years on their vegetables, mark them up 33.333333% and call them regional specialties to get them not only into those quaint straw bags w leather handles, but into our stomaches quicker before they rot.

Or at the very least, figure out how to get bunches of greens to ferment pleasantly as to make us tipsy instead of pissed about the cost.

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i tend to buy more than i actually need at the farmers market, but spoilage per se isn't usually the issue. most perishable things purchased on a sunday morning, wrapped up in wet dish towels, can be stored fine at the bottom of the refrigerator at least through the middle of the week. i try to cook first the food that goes the fastest. what turns out to be the waste of money are the things that are still there one week later when it's time to clean out the bins and make room for fresh stuff.

i am just coming out of winter hibernation and reliance upon whole foods for produce, which is good enough, i suppose. but the difference between what you can usually find at the grocery store and what you typically find at the farmers market can be startling. the radishes at the market yesterday were good enough that you could make a meal out of them. i have found radishes in the store almost as good, but rarely.

no matter whose advice i follow, i have had rotten luck with keeping basil longer than a day or two.

vegetables at the market are expensive, but not as expensive as meat and fish, which -- with a few exceptions -- i primarily eat at restaurants and not at home.

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no matter whose advice i follow, i have had rotten luck with keeping basil longer than a day or two.

We have had good luck with the Wegmans basil with the roots. Throw it in a glass of water and it lasts for weeks - and also continues to grow.

As with the above, we have had great luck with Super H for veges. We do also find that the "American" fruits and veges, such as strawberries, grapes, etc. do turn quickly and are not nearly the quality (or price) we pay at say Costco or somewhere like that.

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I have had the same problem with buying from the Farmer's Markets and stuff going bad. And I guess depending on what one buys, the situation can be different at the Asian stores. I've bought napa cabbage, japanese yams, carrots, pears, maitake mushrooms, apples, oranges, asparagus...all these have lasted in my fridge for much longer than I want to admit. :rolleyes: Whole Paycheck and Giant produce just doesn't seem to last as long for us. (I do recall that some persimmons I bought went bad fairly quickly, however)

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I actually have the equal and opposite problem -- I walk past maybe six grocery stores on the way home, so anything I buy from there is usually for eating that night. It's the stuff bought on impulse at the farmer's markets that goes bad, because I never get around to figuring out what I want to make with it or I never get in the mood. I realize it's a shortcoming on my part but rotted farmers market stuff is a lot more expensive than the stuff from the Mercado Internaciale that goes bad.

I guess I was not too clear as I was not talking about stuff left too long. I was talking about buying produce that should last at least 3 days only to find it has gone bad when I go to use it. I was pointing out that fresher produce (farmer's market or not) will last much longer, if stored properly.

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I guess I was not too clear as I was not talking about stuff left too long. I was talking about buying produce that should last at least 3 days only to find it has gone bad when I go to use it. I was pointing out that fresher produce (farmer's market or not) will last much longer, if stored properly.

FWIW, after reading many pros and cons on the issue, I finally broke down a few days ago and bought some Debbie Meyer Green Bags to try them out. So far I've tried grapes and a banana just to see what happens, and lo and behold they do seem to have some positive effect. I'll report back later after some more experimentation. They aren't cheap by a long shot, but the directions claim you can reuse them 8 to 10 times. We'll see. If they really do work they will certainly pay for themselves.

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no matter whose advice i follow, i have had rotten luck with keeping basil longer than a day or two.
Depending on how recently basil has been harvested, I am usually able to keep it going for at least a week, sometimes two. First, treat it like fresh-cut flowers: with a knife or scissor, snip off a small piece from the bottom of the stems. Put the bunch of freshly trimmed stalks into a glass filled part-way with cold water. Take a clear plastic bag and loosely cover the whole bunch and the water glass so that it can still get some air at the bottom--you are creating a miniature greenhouse/humid environment. Place it in a spot that gets light, never in the refrigerator. I keep mine on the edge of my kitchen sink. Change the water every couple of days.

A few days ago, while I was in L.A., I went into a produce store in a funky old storefront on Fairfax Avenue. The prices were shockingly low--onions were 25 cents a pound. Red bell peppers were 69 cents a pound (unwrinkled, too.) Zucchini 99 cents a pound. Everything seemed to be first quality. By contrast, typical grocery store prices for produce in L.A. are roughly equivalent to what they are here, even though much of it doesn't have to travel as far. So this place was a shock. My mother, who loves to pinch pennies, was in heaven. I overheard the shop's owner, a lady with a Russian accent, as she rang up the purchases of an affluent-looking woman who had filled her shopping cart and was exclaiming about the bargains: "I don't know why more Americans don't shop here. I get my stuff from the same place that Ralph's gets theirs." In other words, the wholesale produce market. I suppose that profit margins and less overhead are the explanation.

My problem is my refrigerator--no matter how I adjust the thermostat, the stuff in the bottom of my vegetable drawers gets frozen.

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Sometimes how long something lasts doesn't have much to do with "freshness", but more to do with the weather conditions in which it was grown. For example, lettuce grown in CA and shipped to the East Coast for 5 days will last longer than local lettuce grown in rainy, hot, humid temps on local farms picked the prior day. Where the nights are cool and dry, it seems veggies last longer. Also, buying at farmers markets make everyone feel good, but in my experience, larger farm operations that sell mainly to grocery stores (like Lady Moon, Chesapeake, One Straw Farms) are better growers and have higher standards. Not only that, they have the facilities to handle the product properly- if you're buying your greens from a local farmer at a farmers market at 11:00am any time after mid-May, the odds are that that particular product has been out of refrigeration for AT LEAST 6-7 hours at about 80 degrees or so. Imagine taking a head of lettuce and leaving it on your countertop for 6 hours- it takes A LOT of life out of it. Some farmers will even pick their stuff the day before and not be able to refrigerate it.

And a lot of local product is sold at supermarkets- what you need to know is when it comes in- and you should ask. If a local farmer is dropping at a grocery store at 6:00am, it's going straight into refrigeration/hydration. Again, if you buy something at a farmers market at 11:00am, that product is going to lose some life. Finally, I've found that grocery stores get really high quality product (larger and prettier items), since they have a lot of buying power and it's at the retail level (not being sold at restaurants for cooking).

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Also, buying at farmers markets make everyone feel good, but in my experience, larger farm operations that sell mainly to grocery stores (like Lady Moon, Chesapeake, One Straw Farms) are better growers and have higher standards.
You might consider talking to farmers and management at the market most convenient to you whose participants only sell the foods they raise and grow themselves. That is, if you don't have specific examples of inferior local growers and lower standards in mind.

I know Smith Meadows--a local farm that boasted early on of Barton Seaver's patronage (eggs)--is inviting the public for a visit. Consider signing up.

(Italics my own.) (Original post edited radically.)

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....Also, buying at farmers markets make everyone feel good, but in my experience, larger farm operations that sell mainly to grocery stores (like Lady Moon, Chesapeake, One Straw Farms) are better growers and have higher standards....
Can you give us some more insight as to why you believe that?
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I know Smith Meadows--a local farm that boasted early on of Barton Seaver's patronage (eggs)--is inviting the public for a visit. Consider signing up.
Sounds like a road trip. Is there any interest in going? This is definitely the type of experience I was looking for after the Top Chef farm challenge episode. Thanks Anna Blume!
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I like having the option to shop at farmer's markets, but will weigh in on the freshness issue - produce I buy at MOM, or Whole Foods, or the TP/SS Coop, will very often keep longer than my market purchases, especially in the summer.

Another reason I look for produce bargains: my family can eat $25 worth of market fruit and vegetables every day. We don't have that kind of money.

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Thanks to all on the suggestions and comments. I live in Woodley Park, so I really need to motivate and check out the Asian grocery stores in VA. From what I've read here, I'm sure to find many other yummy treasures there.

Wow, I've never thought that fennel bulb was a specialty item - all the grocery stores nearby carry it. It's quite tasty and just a root vegetable, IIRC. If it is some "luxury" item, we've got a real problem here in the USA. Man cannot live on just potatoes + tomatoes + carrots + broccoli + onions + ice berg lettuce! (not exhaustive, I know)

Now that i think of it, I've also been really po'd that shallots and leeks seem to carry an unreasonable premium over other types of onion - they're yummy, essential for many dishes (like shallots in a simple deglaze pan sauce) and in the end just vegetables eaten all over the world. I've even read that the ancient Vikings grew leeks in the unforgiving Scandinavian soil.

Oh well, maybe my son will be able to make tasty food at a reasonable price when he grows up :rolleyes:

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Can you give us some more insight as to why you believe that?
Another factor that sometimes puts the small guy at a disadvantage is a management/labor issue. For example, one local farm we've used will occasionally send us below-par product. Why?... it's because either their young kids are picking the product or they haven't trained the ones who are picking properly- or given the hectic schedule of a small farmer, they haven't had the chance to pick the product at it's peak. Getting the product refrigerated immediately after picking is critical, as noted in my original post. Lady Moon farms, which is a huge local operation, does a good job at this- which is why their product is so outstanding and lasts so long.

I like farmers markets and they serve a great purpose, but America has romanticized the experience of shopping at them. The product is not always better. I've prepped, washed, and set produce for 18+ years and the best product I've seen FROM LOCAL FARMS is usually in the grocery store.

It's even worse for roadside stands! You don't know how many times I've driven by a roadside stand (often located on a farm) and seen product that I KNOW they couldn't possibly be growing themselves- they're getting it from the warehouses in Jessup.

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btw- to the topic at hand of high produce prices...

I was told by the largest produce distributor in the country of organic produce that prices are actually down this year about 10% compared to last year. People started buying less of it when the economy tanked- largely because it can get expensive when it cooks down to size so much.

A LOT of food manufacturers this past year price gouged, using higher fuel costs as an excuse for rising prices. Check the profits of public food manufacturers and you'll see, like the oil companies, 2008 was one of the most profitable years for them in history. And of course, they haven't gone down now that fuel is cheaper...

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It's even worse for roadside stands! You don't know how many times I've driven by a roadside stand (often located on a farm) and seen product that I KNOW they couldn't possibly be growing themselves- they're getting it from the warehouses in Jessup.

I hope this is a thing of the past, but I recall shopping at the Silver Spring Farmers Market (at the old armory) in the late 70's and spotting bananas for sale. Of course I'm certain they were local bananas :rolleyes:

One time I sold some basil I was growing in my DC back yard to one of the farmers at the market. She picked it up on her way that morning--I went up there later and sure enough there was my basil being sold. Guess that makes me a really local farmer--my backyard was within walking distance of the market.

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I hope this is a thing of the past, but I recall shopping at the Silver Spring Farmers Market (at the old armory) in the late 70's and spotting bananas for sale. Of course I'm certain they were local bananas :rolleyes:
It's not a thing of the past. Drive out to the beach and throughout the Eastern Shore you'll see roadside stands- some designated with signs "we grow our own produce". They do that because many of the other stands DON'T grow their own product- i.e. they buy it from wholesalers in Jessup. Just look and you'll see plenty of cantaloupes and tomatoes in May- and if I recall correctly, corn as early as June.
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My neighborhood Harris Teeter has the words "Farmers Market" on its produce bags.

* * *

As for the bananas in SS many years ago--or the ones I bought in a terrific, inexpensive street market near Washu in St. Louis--there's a reason for the distinction drawn between "producer-only" markets and others.

Also the buzzword "local" deserves scrutiny since it refers to food from New York and New Jersey in large companies w distribution centers that accommodate an expansive region.

But that's beside the point. This discussion has strayed far from the topic established by the title and first post.

Perishable vegetables are going to cost more than frozen ones, say, or canned ones, since they don't always sell before they rot. Also, stores can't charge as much for even a fennel bulb as they can for Lean Cuisine's Pasta Biologica della Mama con finocchio.

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It's even worse for roadside stands! You don't know how many times I've driven by a roadside stand (often located on a farm) and seen product that I KNOW they couldn't possibly be growing themselves- they're getting it from the warehouses in Jessup.

Last year, in May or June, I think, I saw tomatoes at my favorite roadside "local produce" stand.

"Tomatoes this early? Where did you get them?"

"Poolesville"

aha! "Where did [name of well known place in Poolesville] get them?

wry grin: "Florida"

Caveat emptor. "Local" is another word abused and mishandled by marketing.

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