18 August, 2008

Local Food: Our Small-Town Produce Store

Summertime often brings lower prices on fresh produce, thanks to farmers' markets and bountiful backyard gardens. But summer doesn't last forever, and even during the growing season, there are fruits and vegetables that just aren't available unless one goes to a traditional retail market.

Supermarket prices are steadily rising, but it's likely that your hometown has alternatives to the big supermarket chains and their cartel-like control over food pricing. In my town, for example, we have the Enfield Produce Market on US5.

Although I buy a lot of produce at roadside stands in my area (we're lucky to still have quite a bit of farm land in the Connecticut River valley) when I buy veggies and fruit at retail, Enfield Produce is where I go. Right now, the store is filled with native and regional vegetables - corn, tomatoes, peppers, beans, lettuce - as well as things like iceberg lettuce and celery that isn't normally grown right here, but which we still can't do without. I like shopping here. For one thing, this store is locally owned (something I can't say for the majority of the supermarkets here, which aren't even owned by American companies, let alone local ones.) And for another, the prices are generally half that charged by the supermarkets, and sometimes less. Those signs shown in the window in the photo above are current prices: Lettuce 99 cents a head; Asparagus $1.29 a pound; Cubanelle peppers 99 cents a pound; Celery 89 cents a bunch. Summer prices indeed, you may say, but those are also the prices at the market over the winter (with the exception of asparagus, which wasn't available.)

Enfield Produce Market also sells eggs and a limited selection of dairy items (yogurts, Eastern European fresh cheeses, etc.) and a good selection of Eastern European specialties (pickles, canned veg, candies, cookies, jams and jellies, etc.) Some of these imported items are pricey by their very nature and yet they still find a way to keep the prices lower than those charged by the "gourmet food stores" where you'd normally have to go to find them.

Shopping at the Produce Market is not an elegant experience. The store is clean but in an older storefront. The cashiers encourage shoppers to tote their purchases out in the corrugated cardboard boxes the veggies arrive in - both to recycle the boxes and to save the price of bags. In the winter, the store's heat is turned down to a minimum because chilly temperatures are better for keeping things fresh. The carriages and shopping totes are second-hand. But the prices are low, the quality is good, and the owner greets his customers with a smile, a handshake, and some small talk. He lives here in town, after all, and many of us have been shopping at his store since the day it opened.

Enfield Produce
565 Enfield Street (US 5)
Enfield, CT 06082

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