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Crops and cash: High food prices, where they come from and what can be done

The prices on the grocery store shelf have read like a book over the past few years, and it has not been a particularly upbeat tale.

The prices of nearly every food commodity meaning raw, unprocessed foods; think corn, not Corn Pops have increased markedly, some more dramatically than others.

According to figures from the US Department of Agriculture, the price of a dozen eggs rose 28 percent between May 2007 and May 2008. A box of lemons, $8.12 in 2007, cost $20.77 a year later. Wheat jumped 80 percent to almost $9 per bushel. Then there's corn, which is fluctuating in the $6 and $7 range per bushel.

All in all, the consumer price index for food is forecast to increase 4.5 to 5.5 percent by the end of 2008, according to the USDA. Food commodities as a group had risen 60 percent over a two-year period as of May.

Area consumers have noticed the changes.

"My mother and father never looked at prices," said Ronda Jeffer, an Albany resident who was shopping at a Price Chopper grocery store in Delmar. "Now she is looking at prices for the first time in 37 years."

Jeffer continued: "I used to buy whatever I wanted. Now I'm more careful. I don't throw anything out, and if I see something on sale, I'm going to buy 10 of them."

Delmar resident Angela Leary echoed those thoughts.

"Everything I bought was on sale," she said, pointing to her shopping cart.

"I've been shopping at different stores. I got to Wal-Mart to get the things I can't get on sale."

The situation is being felt by the area's needy population as well. Lynda Schuyler is the executive director at Food Pantries for the Capital District, a group that helps 48 food pantries across Albany and Rensselaer counties meet their goals. She said that food pantries had taken in over 55,000 pounds of food at the end of July 2007. They've collected just 37,587 pounds so far this year, and she suspects the disparity isn't a lack of generosity.

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