The grocery store is currently selling strawberries from California for $1/lb. The local berries cost $3.95. For people on a budget, like the pensioner I met, said she would love to buy the local berries, but finds it hard to justify the cost when she could get 4 times as many strawberries if she buys the ones from California. I have that dilemma too, but sometimes I can pick my own for $2/quart. If there was a way for people to obtain local produce for less then I think more people would be buy it.
This question raises a dilemma that has no obvious or quick answer.
In season, produce at the farmers market is usually similarly priced to what's in the grocery store. This is mostly true of onions, potatoes, eggplants and greens. Fruit tends to be more expensive because farmers are picking them by hand.
At the West End Farmers Market, as produce come into and goes out of season (and are thus more rare), they become more expensive - that's the law of supply and demand. Agribusiness supplies cheap out-of-season fruits to grocery stores by picking them where they are in season, like California, and shipping them long distances. Produce picked in California has to be picked before it is ripe, irradiated to keep the ripening process at bay, irradiated again at the endpoint to start the ripening process again, and so on. The result is a fruit or veggie that looks shiny and beautiful, but perhaps has lost its taste, and has certainly lost its nutrient value.
Agribusinesses receive massive subsidies from the government to ensure relatively low prices. For example, the corn industry received 250 billion in subsidies from the federal government.* Small farms cannot compete at that level, nor do they receive those kinds of subsidies. And they must charge according to what will support their farms.
So how can you eat local and not overspend your budget? Buy what's in season, at the height of the season when you can purchase at lower or similar prices to the grocery store. Canning or freezing produce at the height of the season ensures that you will have healthy, tasty, nutritious food all year long at reasonable prices.
Freezing is remarkably easy. You can just place berries in small resealable bags, take the air out, seal them and put them in the freezer. Don't wash before putting them in bags because the water will freeze them in weird ways. Wash after you take them out and thaw them. And in January, just when you are going crazy for some summer fruit, you'll have some on hand.
Sometimes a person just needs a strawberry, even if it is January, and you don't have any frozen ones on hand. This is the time to practice indulgence-awareness. Maybe only purchase strawberries every now and then, not every week. Life should be fun - neither extravagantly hedonistic or guiltily abstemious. The challenge is striking that balance.
*See NPR, Newsweek and EWG for confirmation