Lingering Downturn Helps Keep Gardening Boom Going
Many of the millions of people who turned to gardening to save money during the recession appear to be sticking with it during the recovery as food prices remain high and interest in safe, fresh and local food grows nationwide.
Forty-three million American households planned to grow at least some of their own food in 2009, a 19 percent increase from the estimated 36 million who did the year before, said the National Gardening Association, citing the most recent figures available. Spending on food gardening - including growing vegetables, fruit trees, berries and herbs - jumped 20 percent in one year to $3 billion in 2009 and stayed at that level last year, said Bruce Butterfield, research director for the nonprofit association.
"It’s a perfect storm for food gardening," Butterfield said, noting the downturn coincided with growing interest nationwide in eating locally produced food.
While the recession started in December 2007, he said the economy really "tanked" at the end of 2008, fueling the gardening boom the following year. And, Butterfield said he expects the trend to continue with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s switch from a food pyramid representing its nutritional guidelines to a plate encouraging people to eat more fruits and vegetables, and people spending more time at home, either because they’re unemployed or avoiding expensive vacations.
"A lot of folks, I think they kind of look at the evening news or read the paper or read something online, saying `Jesus, this world is out of control and I can’t have any influence on what happens out there but, by God, I can control what happens in my backyard,’" he said.
Seed supplier W. Atlee Burpee & Co. said its sales of vegetables seeds and starter plants have jumped substantially in the past several years, with 30 percent growth in 2009, 15 percent to 20 percent growth last year and another bump in March. The company based in Warminster, Penn., speculated recent rises in gas and produce prices have prompted more people to try to save money by growing their own food.
Ann Janda, 43, of Hinesburg, Vt., estimated gardening saves her and her husband $75 a month on groceries about eight months out of the year. They rarely buy any vegetables from June to August, relying on their 16-by-50-foot garden to feed them. In the fall, they use tomato preserves for a lot of what they cook, and they freeze and can vegetables to use in the winter - everything from pickles to tomato sauce, frozen peas, pesto and kale.
Janda, who planted her first garden when she moved out of the city four years ago, said it’s easy to "overspend" on supplies and equipment, but she and her husband try to do it as cheaply as possible. They use dead elm saplings from nearby woods as stakes, start most of their plants from seeds in reusable pots and trade seedlings with other gardeners. Their tools are a spade, shovel and hoe, and their landlord tills the garden for them in exchange for vegetables later on.