Green Plate Special: At farmers markets, bargains are a growing trend

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If Sister Isabelle (my middle school math teacher) and Mrs. Sorrentino (my middle school home economics teacher) could see me now, I don’t know who would be more proud of the way I looked at the numbers published in Maine’s Summer Farmers 2022 Market Produce Report to determine which items are the most economical compared to similar vegetables imported by truck during this time of skyrocketing grocery bills.

In supermarkets, according to USDA figures, the cost of eggs has gone up by 38%. Flour is up 22.7%, chicken 17.6%, milk 15.6%, ground beef 9.7% and bacon 9.2%. Fruits and vegetables have become 9.3% more expensive. There are a myriad of reasons for these increases: bird flu, war in Ukraine, droughts in Brazil, labor shortages, ongoing supply chain issues and outrageous oil prices. gasoline, to name a few. But the fact remains that the price of food sold in grocery stores has risen more in the past year than at any time since 1979.

When a link to the new Maine Farmers Market Price Report from the University of Maine Cooperative Extension landed in my inbox, I thought it was my chance to see how prices for locally produced vegetables compare to same vegetables sold in grocery stores. I had a hunch that this report would strengthen my “buying local is better” argument, as the price gap between mass-produced grocery store vegetables and those grown locally on a small scale has narrowed dramatically.

As part of the 10-week pilot study, researchers led by UMaine Professor of Agriculture and Natural Resources Tori Jackson, UMaine Assistant Professor of Agricultural Economics Jonathan Malacarne and Nicolas Lindholm, organic marketing and business specialist for The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, or MOFGA, collects weekly data on eggs and 10 product varieties, from 17 growers who sell these items in markets in southern, mid-coast and central Maine. The survey collected data for 10 weeks, starting June 27. The online tool allows viewers to slice and dice data by product, region, date and cultivation method.

The idea behind this project is that up-to-date market-specific price data is important for agricultural businesses when fine-tuning their business plans, applying for financing and managing day-to-day operations. It was funded by the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry, Maine Federation of Farmers Markets, Maine Farmland Trust, MOFGA and UMaine Cooperative Extension.

Jackson explained that the scope of the pilot project was limited by funding. Given the positive response to the data it has made available, the team is exploring how to secure permanent funding and include a wider range of products and markets.

I’m not going to lie. As a former farmer’s market manager, I took a look at this data. I wanted to know why local eggs regularly cost 50 cents each (girls being consistent?), why organic lettuce was at its lowest price in early August (a glut due to home gardeners reaping what they sow?) and why the price of slicing cukes doubled between june 27th and july 25th (effects of drought on this aquatic vegetable?).

But I digress. The purpose of this column was to look at the data, visit my local grocery store (Hannaford) and understand how the prices compare. Based on this data, I’ve found that it’s always cheaper for me to buy bunches of local organic greens (kale and Swiss chard) and organic broccoli at my farmers market. If I shop specifically for the lowest Farmer’s Market prices for non-organic cherry tomatoes, sliced ​​tomatoes, sliced ​​cucumbers, organic zucchini, eggs, and carrots, I could buy them for the same price, and sometimes even a little cheaper at the farmers market, than in the store.

From where I sit, the smartest choice – and in a time of rising national food prices – the most economical choice I can make is to buy my vegetables at the farmer’s market. This means that I support local farmers, reduce my carbon footprint, improve my family’s nutrition (vegetables lose their nutrient density when in trucks) and help local money remain in the local economy. I plan to keep an eye on this evolving dataset to see how things continue to fluctuate.

Sauté the onions and kale. For all sorts of reasons, including price, buy the vegetables at your local farmer’s market. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Sautéed Kale and Cherry Tomatoes with Ramen Eggs

This recipe serves one, but it’s easily doubled, tripled, or quadrupled to serve the number of eaters seated at your table.

For 1

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 medium sized sweet onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon chopped ginger
3 cups chopped cabbage
2 teaspoons of soy sauce
1 teaspoon of white miso
1 teaspoon sriracha
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
6 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cup cooked rice
1 jammy soy egg (see recipe)

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil then stir in the onions. Cook for about 2 minutes or until the onions are tender. Add garlic, ginger and kale and stir occasionally; cook until kale is softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Combine soy sauce, miso, sriracha, sesame oil and 1 tbsp water in a small bowl. Add this mixture and the tomatoes to the kale. Stir to combine and cook until heated through.

Serve with rice and a jammy soy egg, cut in half.

Candied soy eggs

This recipe is adapted from the one used at Momofuko in New York.

Yields 6 eggs

2 tablespoons of sugar
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon of rice vinegar
6 eggs at room temperature

In medium bowl, whisk sugar with 1/4 cup hot water until sugar dissolves. Add soy sauce and vinegar.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Carefully drop the eggs into the boiling water and cook for exactly 7 minutes, stirring slowly for the first 1 ½ minutes to distribute the heat evenly. Meanwhile, fill a large bowl with cold water and ice. When the eggs are cooked, transfer them to the ice bath.

Once the eggs have cooled, peel them under the surface of the ice water. Transfer the eggs to the soy sauce mixture and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 2 and up to 6 hours, making sure they are completely submerged. Remove the eggs from the sugar-salty solution and save them for another set of eggs. Eggs will keep in the refrigerator in an airtight container for 7-10 days.

Local food advocate Christine Burns Rudalevige is editor of Edible Maine magazine and author of “Green Plate Special,” both a sustainable food column in the Portland Press Herald and the name of her cookbook from 2017. She can be contacted at: [email protected]


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