Monthly Archives: September 2011

Is Fast Food Cheaper than Home Made? Nope

Above is cost break downs for three meals from a  NY Times article by Mark Bittman, Is Junk Food Really Cheaper?

The obvious answer is no.

Fast food does not cost less despite all of the $1 menus.

A while back, I wrote a post The $3-5 meal challenge with the idea that anyone can make a meal at home cheaper than the cheapest of fast food $1 menu meals.

I even made a meal for less than a $1, which was a bowl of lentils stew with sweet potatoes and feta.

In fact, I probably could create the fast food meal minus the soda for less than McDonalds at home even with organic ingredients

1/2 lb of grass fed beef $3
1/4 LB of cheddar cheese $2
3 Lbs of organic russet potatoes $3
3 Home made buns $1 (.33 per)
1/2 pound of chicken breast $3
1 organic egg and bread crumbs $1
olive oil $2 (for pan frying chicken and oven roasting potatoes)
various condiments and toppings $3
beverage (water)

I figure the same, actually better meal made at home would be $18 compared to $28. And I figure that all ingredients were health food store or farmers market prices. If fast food use grass fed beef their meal would be more.

My at-home meal gives me an extra $10 to spare, which I could use to add some veggies or fruit to the meal or even make a second meal with.

So is fast food cheaper?

NOPE!!!!

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Farmers Market Vendor Bartering

I am a bartering machine.

For two seasons, I have been a vendor at the Westside Farmers Market in Ann Arbor.

The market is Thursday from 3:00-7:00p.m. As closing time approaches, I jump into action. I look at my inventory and I start to walk around and see who has what and who (other vendors) might want to trade.

This practice came about because I sell sprouts, which will not last until next weeks market. I can only eat so much, so the leftovers will go to my backyard woodchucks.

This means that anything I could get in trade would be a bonus (sorry woodchuck).

I also make baked goods, which includes seasonal fruit and berry pies and other items like cookies, and breads. These are also on the list for trading at markets end because I only sell fresh made that day baked goods.

My rule for barter is that I trade for equal cash value for my items for their items. For example if my pies are $5 I say, “Give $5 worth of zebra tomatoes.” Usually I throw in extra and so do other vendors.

Most vendors are happy to trade for their extra produce.

Bartering is something that I just did and I did not think much of it, but it seems that I started a trend. Other vendors have followed my lead.

Before my bartering, most vendors would pay cash with other vendors usually at a slight vendor courtesy discount and not even consider trading, but now since I started trading many offer to trade first.

Every body wins.

A vendor is not required to trade and many don’t until the market is about to end, but many other vendors do and trading takes place during market times.

Many times I trade for my baked goods during the market to hungry vendors who want a snack. We settle up after the market.

The great thing about bartering is that we all get goods at a discount price. My pies did not cost me $5. Nor did their potatoes, lettuce etc…

It is great way to unload excess produce, which in many cases need to be sold that day or the vendor will take a loss.

I even now bring items to market with the intent to trade. Like for example, this week I made extra cookies more than I thought I could sell so I could trade them.

I feel that a side benefit of trading is that it helps to create a market where there is more variety. If everyone is selling the same thing then there will be little trading for example.

There is also something very farmy about trading. Before Big Ag took over, bartering was a way of life for farmers. Most farmers could not afford to pay cash for everything, so they barter. “You plow my field, I’ll help you harvest yours…and so on.”

I feel that bartering can make a come back. It will not work for everything, but in these days where global capitalism cannot seem to figure which way is up, bartering can take us back to a simpler way of doing things.

Here is a breakdown of this weeks bartering
1 pie, 1 cookie for home-made granola
3 cookies for 3 1/4 pounds of apples
1 pie and 1 cookie for jar of turnip pickles
1 pie and 1 cookie for 1 LB of chicken sausage
1 pie and 2 cookies for 7 acorn squash
2 cookies for heirloom garlic bulbs
1 cookie for 1 bag of french green beans

I figure that I bartered for $41.50 worth of farmers marker fresh food. This was a little more than average, but I will say this.

On days that it rains, which usually is a wash for most outdoor markets, I bring extra baked goods with the assumption that vendors will be primed to trade.

What I lose in sales I make up for some what in extra trading.

Waffle Cakes

Ever since my last waffle maker broke, I have missed my favorite lazy morning brunch treat. The frozen ones really do not cut it, but I refuse to buy a new waffle maker because I had two that both stopped working.

Three is a charm I know, but I just can’t get myself to fork out the money again for a kitchen gadget that only has one purpose, all be it a pretty cool purpose at that.

So what am I to do?

The answer is the Waffle Cake.

Emily prefers a more waffly batter for her “pancakes.” The batter for waffles and pancakes are very similar with the addition of another egg for waffles. For her the second egg does the trick because it prevents the mega carb pancake energy crash.

I do not have a huge problem with carbs, but a dose (over dose) of pancakes can do me in. That is why I am a fan of waffles (but not waffle makers)

The picture above shows the finished cake. They are large, fluffy and on the thicker side than the traditional pancake.

The batter is also thicker and it scared me the first time I made. I wanted to thin it down with some water or milk to create a pancake consistency.

The batter is thick, but trust me it works.

Waffle Cakes can be used for both sweet and savory dishes. For savor dish like cream fresh and smoke salmon and red onion omit most/all of the sugar in the recipe.

Waffle Cakes: Makes 8-10 (depending on size)

2 cups of all-purpose flour
2 Tablespoons of fine ground cornmeal
1/4 cup of sugar
1 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
2 eggs
4 tablespoons of melted butter
1 3/4 cups of buttermilk
1 tablespoon of maple syrup
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

In a bowl, mix together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt, and baking soda. In a separate bowl, mix the eggs. Melt the butter set aside to cool enough, so it will not scramble your eggs in the batter.

Make a well with the dry ingredients and the eggs, buttermilk, vanilla and maple syrup. Mix up a few times then add the egg. Mix to incorporate the batter,. which will be on the thick side for a pancake.

Heat a sillet for a few minutes on medium. Scoop out batter on to the hot skillet to the desired size waffle cake. Place a lid on the skillet pan and cook for a a minute or so. The lid capture some heat to let these thick puffy cakes cook through. Flip and cook for about a minute. Repeat with the rest of the cakes.

Serve hot off of the skillet with butter, real maple syrup and berries.

Variation: For a savory version, omit the maple syrup, sugar and vanilla (if desired). Make them small for appetizer size of larger for meals.

Winecap Mushroom Update

Ann Arbor FoodOK for weeks I have been walking out to my pile of winecap mushroom spore inoculated  oak wood chip in the hopes of seeing a large flush of burgundy color mushrooms.

Winecaps are pretty fickle because you never know when they are going to fruit. Other mushrooms are more consistent. It is because of the random natural of winecaps that they are not widely cultivated commercially.

I have talked to people who say that it can take 1-2 years for a wood chip pile to colonize and begin fruiting mushrooms. I started the pile in October with the plan to have mushrooms ready for sale at the Westiside Farmers Market before the season ends in late September.

Well it looks like there is a chance of a harvest. I discovered this little (partly eaten) winecap mushroom in my wood chip pile.

I take this to mean that there can be more to come this season.

Are There Too Many Farmers Markets? Post Two

I posted my take on a NYT article, Are There too Many Farmers Markets

Below are follow up comments via email from Michigan Farmers and/or Farmers Market Managers.

Here are a few of my own ideas to get more people into Farmers Markets instead of the super market.

1) Shuttles: Work with big institutions like Hospitals, Colleges, Large Business Campuses, Churches Etc and offer a schedule shuttle service and/or encourage them to schedule a weekly shuttle using their own transportation.

2) Weekly Promotional Flyers/Emails: Have vendors give a heads up with what will be ready next week including prices. The super markets have weekly flyers all of the time and it works great to bring people into the store for certain things.

3) Offer Debit Card Wooden Token Service: I have had many shoppers run out of cash by the time they come to my booth. Offering an ATM with tokens that can only be spent at the market (or even every market in the state) may keep them shopping and coming back to spend their tokens.

4) Shopping Buddy Program: I just thought this one up. The thought is that instead of shuttling people to the market, one or a few people can go to the market each week and shop for a bunch of people at once. People can take turns shopping/delivering the groceries.

Think of say two Church members shopping for say themselves and 10 others or Student Co-Housing members taking turns getting food for the house.

The issue with Farmers Markets is that they are set times unlike the super market and if you are working or busy on those times you are out of luck even if you really want farmers market produce. This can solve for that. It also allows one person to shop on a bad weather days for a group.

Rain can be a deal breaker for shoppers, but with this shopping buddy idea, the person still shows up at the market and shops because they are responsible for the group even if their turn was a rain day.

5) Work with Party Planners/Caterers: A few weeks ago, a shopper was buying up the market for a large party she was hosting for I think 50 people. Her bags were packed and I thought, “We can use more people like her at the market.”

6) Participate in food assistance programs: The Westside has been very active in supporting food assistance programs like EBT, Double up Food Bucks, Prescription for Health and others.

7) Get more people cooking: This is the most challenging. The people who come to the market know what to do with an ear of corn, a bunch of beets, a head of broccoli and a create of tomatoes. We need more of these people (home cooks) if we want more customers at Farmers Markets. Food demos and recipes suggestion can go a long way.
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Farmer/Vender/Market Managers Comments:

I have thought about this question for the last few years.  I do a market in Northern part of Michigan,  The market has been going on for 20= years.  Well, about 5-6 years ago, the group that was in charge of the market decided they didn’t need the funds from the market and they couldn’t get any one to take over.  Having said this, we now are run in part by a Farmers Market board, which has 5 business 2 farmers from our market, 1 crafter from our market, and 1 local resident who asked to be on the board.

One of the things I have noticed in the last 5 years, it is not so much the number of markets that are around.  But, the fact that if the vendors are not from our local area.  Then  they should be bringing in some customers from where they are from.

Yes our market is one of the few who allow crafts, but, our market has grown (what I think) so large that even if the people in the area came and made purchased at the market they only have so much money to spend.  So, if you have alot of vendors from other area, then they should be bring customers with them.  I’m not saying that they cannot come to sell their items at the market.  But, you should ask that they at east bring some new customer with them.   Our market runs from 8am – 12 noon, which, if you want the freshest produces, meat, eggs, breads, that you have to get to the market early.

I have told the board that the that the products we sell which ARE ALL HANDMADE ITEMS, and they are also jury into the market, so we have to tell them what we are selling, what the product is, how it is made, the materials are used to make the item, and how the item is used.  This process in its self has caused some problems for the crafters.  It has not hurt the sales of the farmers, but our market has grow to twice to four times what it was when I first started going to the market.  I do understand that you want to have a variety of items at the market, and that compatition is a good thing for everyone, but how much is too much.

We have a 30 miles radius for vendors of our items, unless you have a special item then you can sell at the market.  When we first started doing this market, we would make $100+ on a Wednesday and then $200-300, on a Saturday.  Now we are lucky if we make $200 total for both days.

I do feel there are too many markets, out there, and now there is really no one really watching to make sure that things are being done correctly, first and fore most for the consumer, and then for the vendor.
There is no easy answer to this, and I’m sure there are going to be as many who think we need more market, and the ones who think we have too many.  The best thing you can do for your market, is be sure people know about you, word of mouth is the best advertising there is.  And if need have some type of event to get people to stop, once you get them to stop, it will be natural for them to stop on the way home, to work, ect.

I hope this makes things a bit clearer for you.  I could talk your ear off about Farmers Market, but, if you have a good product, people will come and get it.

Susan Oelke
Vanderbilt, MI
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Hi,
I believe there are too many farmers markets. It has opened wider the door to reselling of farm produce and fruits from whatever source. While the seller might be “local”, can we say the same for the produce and fruit?
Oakland County Market.

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Well, overall, I am seeing some decline in numbers of buyers.  Possible causes – we have some changes each year in vendors – we do only produce and value added (baked goods, jams, syrup, wool).
We have 3 markets within 7 miles and about 8 more within the county, two more started this year.  We also have a CSA..
Answers? None specific, but I know having live musicians has helped.  Creating a “glad to see you” street party atmosphere helped.  Having a coffeeshop with great coffee across the street, and free parking, helped. The cottage food bill helped.   What has given us the kick in the pants was the economy and a little bit of greed on part of marketers.   I had people going to a different market because his quarts of tomatoes were $3 instead of $4.  Market was 7 miles away (okay, so I know they spen t that dollar on gas).
But yes, people will buy.  They’re just buying less, on a budget.  The buying is down, but there is a constant flow.  People are trying new stuff (sprouts), flowers, herbs.  We have, in past years, given away recipes.  Everyone will give growing advice.
As a volunteer manager, I have done this 7 years.  We try very hard to have farm grown and farmer-direct (ie.blueberries) and not auction produce.  I had someone say our produce was more expensive than Horrock’s.  Well, yes, we don’t get it dropped off at the doorstep.  Somebody has to go weed! Hmm, guess I gotta go do that this morning!
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good morning,

     my name is Melissa Gavin of gavin orchards- coopersville, michigan..the article mentions too many farmer’s markets, i see that as only part of the problem.

The explosion of farmer’s markets has really at some level put both the consumer, and the farmers at risk.

Right now in our community at most of the farmers markets i attend, it is about how many vendors they can get. no matter what they are selling , or if they even grew it. and i bet most vendors don’t even know where the commodities they are selling were grown. if in fact even in  michigan. i feel this is a huge risk to the consumer. what about food safety? how are these vendors keeping thier product cool? do they know the right temperture each one should be at to maintain quality and safety!..

So what i am saying is too many markets? not real sure on that answer, i do believe it is a great venue for the farmer to sell thier products straight to the consumer, but when a farmer has to sell most of it to wholesale distributors who then sells them to a person(vendor-reseller) to be sold at local farmer’s markets for a quick buck, i dont feel that is fair..especially when they are attending the same markets you attend and then are undercuting you..because they have no overhead or risk at stake. because they are not going to be held liable for the product and it’s safety..like the farmer is.. with food safety audits, liability insurance, taxes and for that matter a business liscence. and a recall! wich by them not having the equiptment or knowledge of keeping food safe, is a likely senerio..

I am not mad, i am just very frustrated. i feel all these farmer’s market and thier managers need to re-evaluate, what is important to thier communities. i am hoping it is food safety.
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I have seen this debate before and it is an interesting one. Can there be too many markets in a area? For sure, but more and more markets seem like they can only be good for the movement. We are into our second year as a market and at least 90% of our customers rarely, if ever went to another market. Have we taken customers from other markets? Yes, we have, but I think it’s putting pressure on other markets to do what we do: music, demos and special days.

The Westside Market has for sure put pressure on the old standby, the Ann Arbor Farmers Market, and that is a good thing. Adding an evening may hurt Westside, but I doubt it. Less gas to get to a market can be part of the equation.
The key thing about markets, is that whatever food business we do, we are statistically insignificant. If we steal 1/10 of 1% from the grocery stores, then we should look at expanding our base and get up to 1/5 (I have no idea what the real numbers are). To act like there are a limited number of market customers is the big mistake. To make it a goal to convert new customers to the movement is what’s important here. Whole Foods Market and CSAs hurt farm markets too, but is that to say that we should discourage either one of those, when they are both an excellent thing?
We are a small market and we have 250-300 people at our Saturday market, and I say to myself every week, how can we grow that number with new customers? The food is good, the vendors are nice, the thing is fun. Who wouldn’t want to come? Yes, we have 6-8,000 homes within 20 minutes, yet the local Kroger is doing our yearly gross in a couple of hours. I’m sure some would says this is not important, but I want to know how markets can be more than a blip in the economy?
I have one small farm that travels to 5 markets a week. With all that gas, it may negate the benefits of being local at all. There are detractors that say farmers like this uses more energy than transporting the same amount all the way from Florida or California. This is a whole different debate, but should be considered in the debate of too many markets too.
I have another vendor that stopped going to Eastern Market because with our market and their new farm stand, they don’t have to travel as far to sell all their product. This is the ideal situation, and the impact is so much better all around.
Market Managers should be asking themselves every week how they can get more customers to the market. Vendors and farmers should be asking their customers to tell their friends about what makes their market so good, so markets can make a bigger dent in the food system. Farms are businesses. Markets are businesses too (though non-profit) and the free market always has a way of working things out the way they need to be.
Sean McClellan
Dundee Farmers Market.
(734) 529-2688