Friday, August 13, 2010

Watermelon, $1.25/pound!

That's the price of these round watermelons last weekend at the Fair Food Farmstand in the Reading Terminal Market. More than twice as expensive as at Iovine Brother's Produce at the RTM or at any supermarket.

Now, they may be wonderful watermelons, but that's a price I am unwilling to pay. Which brings us to the larger question: have we been spoiled by industrial food production?

While there's a lot to not like about today's industrialized agriculture, from overuse of chemical fertilizers and pesticides to trans-continental shipping, it does bring a wide variety of wholesome fruits and vegetables to the consumer.

Now, local farmers producing premium local produce deserve a profit, and I doubt whoever grew the $1.25/melon is a rapacious profiteer. Yet, one has to wonder how commercial watermelon growers who supply both supermarkets and Iovine's can bring their melons to market at such a tremendously lower price than the smaller scale farmers. Volume, of course, is one reason, and undoubtedly the use of chemical adjuncts improves yield.

We're blessed in this country with very low food prices. This summer I spent a month in Norway. While the costs of housing, education and medical care in that Nordic nation are considerably lower to the consumer than here, food costs are considerably higher. Chicken at the supermarket (not organic, small-farm chicken, mind you, but chicken from the same type of industrial poultry industry as here) is more than twice as costly as in the U.S. The same goes for produce.

Still, one has to wonder why there's such a huge price disparity between the watermelon at the Fair Food Farmstand and Iovine's. Won't a dime a pound cover the difference instead of six or seven dimes? And if it won't, why?

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