Farmers markets are not just for yuppies anymore

EBT Quest cards accepted at all Seattle markets

COLUMBIA CITY - When I asked Farmer George Vojkovich - a long time Columbia City Farmers Market (CCFM) vendor - how poor people were supposed to afford his $5.25-a pound organic chickens, he said he gets more flack about his prices from Bellevue shoppers wearing $30,000 worth of jewelry than from South Seattle immigrants using food stamps.


Vojkovich went on to explain that some of his best customers are immigrants from Africa and Latin America where people tend to "live closer to the earth" and know what good, quality food really is. He said they come to CCFM complaining that "American food [sold in grocery store chains] has no flavor" and snapping up his spent laying hens to make endless pots of flavorful soup.

He said his CCFM regulars simply won't eat the cheap, nutrient-deficient, water-injected chickens sold at local grocery chains that many Americans mistakenly confuse with being moist and succulent.

"They're mostly water and have very little flavor or nutritional value compared to our organic 100 percent pastured chicken," said Vojkovich. "My old laying hens - if you know how to cook them - are so flavorful, some of these women make three pots of soup from one bird."

But he doesn't have to explain this to the 15-20 low-income shoppers who line up at his CCFM stall 30 minutes prior to opening each week to clean him out of his fresh, organic, Omega 3-packed eggs. They're using their Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) Quest cards, formerly known as "food stamps," and Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and Senior Farmers' Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) coupons wisely to purchase the most nutritious and flavorful food possible, while avoiding major grocery store chains that tend to feature foods that are indeed cheaper, yet typically full of preservatives and ingredients such as high-fructose corn syrup and sodium.

"It's a whole different mindset that we tend to have here," added Vojkovich. "These people are more interested in quality than in getting a deal."

That said, a recent pricing study conducted by a Seattle University professor and her business statistics class that compared the cost for organic produce at the Broadway Farmers Market, QFC and Madison Market Co-op made a surprising discovery. Pound for pound, the farmers market was cheaper than the bigger stores - especially QFC - on most items used in the study.

For example, organic asparagus from the farmers market was $3 a pound, versus $5.29 at Madison Co-op and a whopping $6.99 at QFC. And organic rhubarb from the market was $2.99 a pound versus $3.49 at Madison Co-op and $4.99 at QFC. Organic red leaf and romaine lettuce was also significantly cheaper at the farmers markets, with the overall difference on all items combined $.75 more at Madison Co-op and $2.11 more at QFC. In fact, even with the few items that were priced higher at the farmers market, the total farmers market grocery bill was still lower than the other two stores studied.

Who said the farmers market was only for well-healed yuppies?

Now, for those taxpayers who are concerned that individuals collecting federal food stamps have money to burn, according to the United States Department of Agriculture's Thrifty Food Plan program (intended to provide a nutritious diet at a low cost), the maximum benefit that a family of four with two school-age children can receive is $121.30 a week.

I discovered this right around the time that my husband and I decided to buy a home in Seattle. Since we pretty much have to go vegetarian anyway to afford our new mortgage, we thought this would be a good opportunity to meet the "food stamp challenge" and try to feed the family on less than $500 a month. I'm hoping George and Eiko will help. I'll keep you posted on our success.

Better yet, why don't you join us?

Skagit River Ranch is a small, family-owned organic farm in the fertile Skagit Valley about one and a half hours north of Seattle. Owners George and Eiko Vojkovich provide organic, 100 percent grass-fed beef, pork, pastured chicken and fresh eggs. Eiko can be found selling their local food at the Columbia City Farmers Market every Wednesday through October 31. Visit Skagit River Ranch on the web at

Mount Baker writer Amber Campbell may be reached via

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