I often get asked by people, why is the food at the farm stand and the farmers market so much more expensive than the grocery store?
Or on a similar note, I get questions on forums and facebook on, "how much is the going rate for..." and you can fill in the blank from Tilapia to Lettuce, Corn, Tomatoes, Eggs, ect.
There are two aspects I want to talk about that go into pricing your produce.
1. You're not comparing apples to apples.
Let's take eggs for example. If you factor in quality organic chicken feed, the time it takes to move your chicken tractors each morning, hand collecting eggs, packaging, and the replacement cost of these birds every two years, plus a profit margin of at least 20%, you have to charge at least $5 - $6 for a dozen. Meanwhile at the mega-chicken-factory, they have 200,000 birds in one warehouse sitting in little 2x2 cages with their beaks cut off, living a miserable existence eating a chicken feed with a formaldehyde based binder, never seeing the light of day, but the chicken-factory can crank out more eggs at a lower cost and they can afford to sell them for less than $1 a dozen.
What's the difference? Chickens are meant to scratch and forage for seeds and bugs and succulent green
plants, to take in the sunshine and produce vitamin D, not live in a swealteringly hot warehouse never being able to move and having their beaks removed so they don't attack the other chickens or break their own eggs so their offspring won't have to live in these unnatural conditions.
There is a fine line between worshiping nature and abusing nature, and that is where the responsible farmer comes in. We give animals the chance to live out their lives in the way God created them, and then harvest them responsibly. Same as with our vegetable production. We don't rely on modifying genetics, or dousing them with petro-chemicals, instead we practice safe and responsible horticultural practices and natural pest control.
This is called nature management, and it's the idea that everything is interlinked on your farm. We pasture raise our animals so we don't have to worry about manure disposal, or lawn fertilizing. Our Egg layers become stew pot chickens at the end of their life instead of going into a landfill that pollutes our own water source. Our aquaponics system has a zero discharge system so the small amount of waste that is produced is actually still providing nutrition in another part of the greenhouse, instead of filling up a stinky lagoon. If we take care of every part of our production, then our infrastructure is nurtured, and if we manage our infrastructure well, it takes care of our production.
2. You deserve to make a living.
When you go to the doctor for some ailment and they charge you $500 for 10 minutes of their service, do you balk at the price? Maybe, but you still pay it right? Of course you do, but why? It's because they are an expert in the field of medicine and they are worth the price. The same goes with the mechanic, or the sign maker, or the caterer, or the attorney, and the list goes on and on.
But the rub comes when I look at grocery store prices and farm stand prices. Without knowing that the majority of the stuff you buy at the store, despite being FDA approved, isn't worth feeding to the pigs. What are the four major ingredients found throughout the grocery store?
High Fructose Corn Syrup
And the items that aren't made directly with those three ingredients are fed those items or are many times fertilized with the manure from people and animals that eat those things.
There will never be a comparison in prices between the grocery store items and the farm stand produce because Big Farm Inc. produces commodities that are sold en mass and small independent farms produce high quality craft foods that can only be found right here on your farm. Take pride in that, and know that the hard work you do to produce the high level quality food that you offer deserves to be recognized and is worth making a profit from.
The problem in America is that individuals overvalue themselves and undervalue others, and this is seen in the food industry all the time. I remember being looked down at by a substitute teacher when I was in High School who referred to us as "poor dirt farmers". She ironically died from cancer after eating factory food her whole life.
The other problem is that between mass production and government subsidies, the food in America is fairly cheap. We sacrifice freshness and nutrition to get food into our stores cheaply and regularly. Most people have no idea where their food comes from, how it's made, or the amount of work it takes to produce it. I'd be amazed if they even know that a truck brings the food to the store.
I remember an old guy that I used to see with his pickup truck parked at the bend in the highway just outside of town. He would always have fresh berries, sweet corn, green beans, carrots, onions, beets, cabbage, lettuce, and more. He would sit on his lawn chair and their was always customers coming and going. I was always amazed that he neither looked rich or poor, but he always looked happy. He loved his customers, he loved his produce, and he loved making money. I was young at the time and trying to advance my career as an IT professional, and I thought there wasn't any money in farming, but this guy always had a roll of dough and could always make change when needed. One day it was really hot outside and I doubled back to town and bought him a large ice tea at the fast food joint to bring to him, and he was thankful and offered to pay for it, but instead I asked him about his business. He didn't tell me about farming, or about selling, but said that if you love what you do then you'll never "have to" work another day in your life. As I spent the next 15 years working for one jerk after another who didn't understand what I do all day, never placed any value in my work, and eventually let me go for some pretentious reason, I realized that I hated my line of work and the people I relied on for a job, and that maybe that old farmer knew something that I had forgotten when I moved to the city.
You don't need to be defensive about your prices, but as Joel Saladin says when asked about "high prices", you can simply say “Great question, Beth! We decided early on to raise handcrafted beef (or milk, eggs, veggies, etc.) so our costs are much higher than commodity products you find in the store. You won’t find this level of high-quality, handcrafted items anywhere else — only on our farm.”