Did you know that by shopping with your SNAP/EBT Ohio Direction card at a participating farmers’ market, you can receive up to $25 free? If you haven’t heard of Produce Perks, let’s introduce you! For every $1 you spend with your SNAP card, you will receive $1 back for free to be used toward the purchase of fresh produce. The goal of this is to make fresh fruits and vegetables affordable to ALL, while also boosting local food economies and food systems.  At Countryside, we support multiple farmers’ markets in providing the option to not only use your SNAP/EBT Ohio Direction card, but to receive Produce Perks as well. 

 

The Experiment

With this knowledge in hand, Community Food Access Manager Jenna Eastman and New Farmer Academy Intern Heather Brindza, set off to test just how far Produce Perks will get you shopping at a farmers’ market compared to a typical grocery store. Farmers’ markets are sometimes thought of as being more expensive to shop at, which can turn people off from going to them. The reason this may be is that when shopping at a farmers’ market, you’re buying your food directly from the people who grow it, process it, or produce it. There are many upsides to this, one being that you’re supporting your local food economy and small farmers, growers, and makers. Another is that the food you buy is fresh and of high quality! Knowing this, the goal of our experiment was to see if our $25 in free Produce Perks could offset the higher cost of shopping at a farmers’ market, and if you could actually save money doing so (and to come up with yummy and fresh food recipes with our farmers’ market haul!). 

There were a few things we had to consider before starting this experiment. Grocery stores offer us the ability to have access to foods grown out of season and from all over the world, mostly whenever we want it. Farmers’ markets, on the other hand, are ruled by seasonality! We conducted this experiment at the beginning of June when many crops were just beginning to be harvested in NE Ohio. One of the cool things about this is that from week to week, what is offered at a farmers’ market can change, adding variety and excitement to your shopping list! For us, this meant that being adaptable with our shopping list and coming up with recipes that use flexible and easily substitutable ingredients was key. We were able to find a good variety of fresh fruits and vegetables at the market, as well as non-produce items.

 

First Stop: The Farmers’ Market

We set off on our experiment armed with our shopping list (see below), $25 wooden SNAP/EBT tokens good for all non-produce food items (meat, eggs, bread, grains, snacks, desserts, etc), and our free $25 green Produce Perks tokens good for all fresh produce and produce producing plants. Click here for a video on how to use your SNAP/EBT Ohio Direction Card at the market.

Luckily, we were able to find everything on our list except for one in-demand item: strawberries! This hot commodity was all sold out by the time we got to the farmers’ market, leaving us with a few takeaways: shopping early may give you a better chance at grabbing sought-after seasonal items before they sell out, and look into ordering ahead! At Countryside Farmers’ Market at Howe Meadow, there is an option to preorder. This guarantees that you get what you want before it sells out (and you can use your SNAP benefits to pay!). Although there were no strawberries left, we were able to grab some super yummy, locally grown apples which were a perfect substitute.

Our total budget for shopping at the farmers’ market was $25. Of that, we spent all of our $25 in wooden tokens, but only $19 of our free green tokens. This left us with $6 leftover in Produce Perk tokens that we were able to save for the next market.

 

Second Stop: The Grocery Store

Once we had our farmers’ market haul, we headed to the grocery store to compare prices. We budgeted ourselves $50 to buy as close of a comparison to the type of foods and quantities that we got at the farmers’ market.

One thing to consider is that some items sold at the farmers’ market are different than what we typically find at a grocery store. Take the farmers’ market green onions for example. The closest comparison we were able to find at the grocery store is what is sometimes called a scallion. But if you look at our farmers’ market haul picture, those green onions are a little different looking – they huge in comparison! At the grocery store, “green onions” are much smaller, but come with more in a bundle. Both are green onions and both are delicious, but it’s just one thing to consider when buying produce at the farmers’ market vs. grocery store. 

At the grocery store, we found that overall, the price of produce was about the same price as produce at a farmers’ market. For non-produce food items, we found that some items were a bit more – like meat, but of different quality. For example, the chicken wings we bought at the farmers’ market were $11 for two pounds, versus $11.99 for three pounds at the grocery store. Although they were about the same price, the farmers’ market chicken wings were from a local farm that raises animals free-range, with no hormones or antibiotics, whereas the grocery store chicken wings made no such claim. Other than that, the price of non-produce food items at the grocery store versus a farmer’s market was also close to the same price.  

In the end, we spent a total of $41.02 plus tax.

 

Our Findings

We spent $16 more at the grocery store to get the same amount of food. At the farmers’ market, we still had leftover money to save and spend next time. For us, that was a big win! Not only did we spend less money overall at the farmers’ market, but we also had some to save.

 

Market Haul Inspired Recipes

We came up with three recipes with our farmers’ market haul. We hope that you’ll find them just as delicious, versatile, and easy to make as we did! We also hope that you feel inspired to check out some farmers’ markets moving forward and to take advantage of the awesome Produce Perks benefits. All you need is your SNAP/EBT Ohio Direction Card and access to a farmers’ market. Learn more about using SNAP/EBT at the market by clicking here. Happy SNAPing! 

Egg Salad Sandwich

This recipe uses leftovers from the Salt and Pepper Honey Wings recipe, but using any cooked chicken will work (or leave it out altogether for a meatless option). Farm fresh hard-boiled eggs are the base of this meal, with staple ingredients added to spice it up. The egg salad can easily be made into a sandwich or enjoyed all on its own!
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Salt & Pepper Honey Wings

A simple recipe for chicken wings that can be made from ingredients in your cupboard, or substituted with different spices or produce you have on hand. Serve with grains tossed in leftover garlic honey sauce and sautéed veggies for a full meal!
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Sautéed Greens on Toast

If you’re looking for a way to spruce up the classic eggs and toast, adding a few seasonal farmers’ market items may be the way to go. For this recipe, we used bread, eggs, swiss chard, green onions, hummus, and butter.
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