After a national study claimed Crook County grocery prices are among the highest nationally, we did our own study

"Based on a national study…"

"A recent nationwide survey has determined…"

"Four out of five dentists recommend chewing…"

Who isn't familiar with the glut of national studies conducted by seemingly thousands of organizations on millions of topics and locations?

Crook County citizens certainly should be. Not only have different groups targeted this community and others regarding everything from personal income and employment to livability and public safety, an organization raised a huge ruckus recently when it labeled Crook County among the most expensive places to buy food in the nation.

Funny thing about national studies: they aren't always as trustworthy as the people conducting them would like you to believe. Sure they aren't all bad, but like many other things in the world, there are bad apples in the bunch, and it didn't take long for people in Crook County to find that out firsthand.

Kudos to NeighborImpact, who shared the same thought that many local leaders and business owners did — as well as some of us here at the newspaper office. One of the most expensive places in the country to buy food? That much more expensive than anywhere else in Central Oregon? Really?

Turns out that the study had a fatal flaw. While it had surveyed the prices of roughly a dozen stores, the list of stores chosen for Crook County left out Ray's Food Place, Ericksons Thriftway, Wagner's and Grocery Outlet — you know, the stores where most people go to stock up on basic food supplies. Nothing against convenience stores or small corner markets, but most people aren't going there to fill up a shopping cart and stock the pantry for a month.

So, where does Crook County really stack up when it comes to food prices? That was the question that members of the Central Oregonian staff, with the help of volunteers throughout the region (and even across the country), sought to find out. Armed with a list of basic grocery items, people visited stores in Prineville as well as Redmond and Madras — communities of similar size — and compared prices. Big box stores were left out of the study because Prineville does not have a Wal-Mart Supercenter nor a Fred Meyer that deals in such high volume. Including those two stores or others like them strips the study of that apples to apples comparison we sought.

It took a little while to compile the numbers as different people took the time to hit the stores in the different Central Oregon communities. But once the dust settled, we found out that Prineville is not vastly different than its neighbors, and actually compares favorably with towns outside Oregon. Sure, groceries cost more in Prineville than a place like Redmond, but not by anywhere near the margin portrayed in the national study.

We encourage you to take a look at the column on today's business page and learn about the findings of the study in greater detail. And next time a national study seems to paint Crook County in an unusually harsh — or even an unusually favorable — light, feel free to question its results and the methods. Just because the results are "based on a nationwide study" doesn't necessarily mean they are correct.

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