If Sister Isabelle (my junior high school math teacher) and Mrs. Sorrentino (my junior high home economics teacher) could see me now, I am not sure who would be prouder of how I looked at the numbers published in the 2022 Maine summer farmers market produce report to figure out which items are most economical vis-à-vis similar veggies trucked in from away during this period of skyrocketing grocery bills.

In supermarkets, according to USDA numbers, the cost of eggs has soared 38 percent. Flour is up 22.7 percent, chicken 17.6 percent, milk 15.6 percent, ground beef 9.7 percent and bacon 9.2 percent. Fruits and vegetables got 9.3 percent more expensive. There are myriad reasons for the increases: avian flu, the war in Ukraine, droughts in Brazil, labor shortages, lingering supply chain problems, and crazy-pants gas prices, to name just a few. But the fact remains, the price of food sold in grocery stores has risen more in the past year than it has at any other time since 1979.

When a link to the University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s new Maine Farmers Market Price Report landed in my in-box, I figured it was my chance to see how the prices of locally produced vegetables measure up against the same vegetables sold in grocery stores. My gut feeling was that this report would fortify my “buying local is best” argument because the price delta between mass-produced grocery store vegetables and small-scale, locally grown ones has shrunk considerably.

As part of this 10-week pilot study, researchers spearheaded 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 Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, or MOFGA, collect weekly data on eggs and 10 varieties of produce, from as many as 17 producers that sell these items in markets throughout southern, midcoast and central Maine. The survey collected data for 10 weeks, starting June 27. The online tool lets viewers slice and dice the data by product, region, date and growing method.

The thinking behind this project is that up-to-date, market-specific price data is important to farm businesses as they refine business plans, apply for financing and manage day-to-day operations. It was funded by the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry, the Maine Federation of Farmers Markets, Maine Farmland Trust, MOFGA and the UMaine Cooperative Extension.

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

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I’m not going to lie. As a former farmers market manager, I geeked out looking at this data. I wanted to know why local eggs are steadily priced at 50 cents each (the girls are consistent?), why organic lettuce was at its cheapest in early August (a glut due to home gardeners reaping what they sowed?) and why the price of slicing cukes doubled between June 27 and July 25 (effects of the drought on this watery veg?).

But I digress. The point for this column was to look at the data, visit my local grocery store (Hannaford) and figure out how the prices compare. Based on that data, I found it is always cheaper for me to buy bunches of local organic greens (kale and chard) and organic broccoli at my farmers market. If I specifically shop around to find the lowest farmers market prices for non-organic cherry tomatoes, slicing tomatoes, slicing cucumbers, zucchini, organic eggs and carrots, I could pick them up at the same price, and sometimes even a little bit cheaper at the farmers market, than in the store.

From where I sit, the smartest – and in an age of rising national food costs – the most economical choice I can make is to buy my vegetables from the farmers market. It means I am supporting local farmers, reducing my carbon footprint, improving my family’s nutrition (vegetables lose nutrient density as they sit on trucks), and helping local money stay in the local economy. I plan to keep an eye on this evolving data set to see how things continue to ebb and flow.

Stir-frying the onions and kale. For all sorts of reasons, including the price, buy the veggies at your local farmers market. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Stir-Fried Kale and Cherry Tomatoes with Ramen Eggs

This recipe serves one, but it is easily doubled, tripled or quadrupled to serve how many eaters are sitting at your table.

Serves 1

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

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil and then stir in the onions. Cook for about 2 minutes or until the onions are soft. Add the garlic, ginger and kale and stir occasionally; cook until the kale is softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Mix the soy sauce, miso, sriracha, sesame oil and 1 tablespoon 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, sliced in half.

Jammy Soy Eggs

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

Makes 6 eggs

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

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

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Carefully put 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 done, transfer them to the ice bath.

Once the eggs are cool, peel them under the surface of the ice water. Transfer the eggs to the soy sauce mixture and marinate in the fridge for at least 2, and up to 6, hours, making sure they are completely submerged. Remove the eggs from the sweet and salty solution, saving it for another round of eggs. The eggs will keep, refrigerated in a tightly sealed container for 7-10 days.

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


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