Farmers' Markets May Be More Affordable, an Old Knife Sharpener

Categories: Talking Points
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Today's notes on national stories, local trends, random tastes, and other bycatch dredged up from the food media.

1. Are Farmers' Markets More Affordable? The venerable Barry Estabrook reports the results of a Vermont study that compared the prices of conventional and organic produce at farmers' markets against their counterparts at grocery stores. The findings: The conventional produce was often lower in price at the farmers' markets, and the organic produce was significantly so. These differences vary somewhat by region ― Estabrook cites two other studies that found slight reductions in price at farmers' markets.

The study makes sense when you consider that many grocery stores consider organic products a premium product, which they can maintain slightly higher margins. It would also be interesting to study whether grocery stores lose more of their produce in spoilage than farmers do, and have to charge accordingly. In my own experience, I buy most of my conventional produce at the Alemany farmers' market, where it's much cheaper (and fresher), but the organic stuff I buy at my local neighborhood farmers' markets seems to be about the same price as what I pay at Rainbow (and definitely cheaper than produce from Whole Foods). You?

Jonathan Kauffman
Look how they gleam.
2. Knives as Good as New. I have never woken up in time to get my knives into the sharpener at the Ferry Plaza farmers' market. And when I took my knives in to Bernal Cutlery last week to give it a try, owner Josh Donald said he was taking the rest of the month off from sharpening, since his wife was just about to have a baby. So I took my knives to the same place I've been using for 15 years: Columbus Cutlery (358 Columbus at Vallejo). The ancient woman who used to run the place retired eight years ago, but the current owner charges the same prices ― I paid $15 for three knives instead of $1 an inch, which would have cost me $26 ― and finishes the job in a couple of days.

I've had the same Wüsthofs since my cooking days, and since I no longer cook every day they serve me fine. Back when I needed to have my knives sharpened every month or two, I also appreciated Columbus Cutlery because they took enough off the blade to maintain a great edge, but they didn't butcher the knife the way the roving sharpener who serves many restaurants did (I have a 9-inch chef's knife that's now basically good for paring fruit). Columbus did shave down my utility knife (left) a little more than I would have liked, but the edge is beautiful ― the fruit I was slicing up last night felt like soft butter. Now I'm waiting for the inevitable blood sacrifice. A sharper edge is always a safer edge, it's true, but my just-sharpened knives always exact their revenge at least once for being so violently ground down.

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