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Gardening industry blossoms in slump
NEW YORK — High prices at the pump and the produce aisle have sent home gardeners into their yards with a mission: Grow-it-yourself dining. Sales of vegetable seeds, tomato transplants and fruit trees are soaring as enterprising planters grow their own food.
W. Atlee Burpee & Co., the nation’s largest seed company, has sold twice as many seeds this year as it did last year, with half the increase from new customers, the company’s president, George Ball, estimates. “When we saw the gas prices go up, we said, ‘Oh, boy,’ ” Ball said. Interest in growing fruits and vegetables picks up during economic downturns, people in the industry say. Seed companies say a dime spent on seeds yields about $1 worth of produce. Bad economic times also can mean more time to garden — people who cancel their summer vacations are around to water their tomatoes. The housing crunch also works in favor of vegetable gardens: If you can’t sell your home, you can replant it.
“Over the past year or two, when my boyfriend and I went shopping and started seeing how little we got out of the grocery store for how much, we figured we might as well give it a shot trying our own veggies and take some of the weight off our pockets,” said Janet Bedell, who works at a lawn and garden center in Venice, Fla.
That kind of thinking is leading to a big year for companies that sell to fruit and vegetable gardeners. Seed Savers Exchange, a nonprofit group dedicated to preserving heirloom vegetables, ran out of potatoes this year and mailed 10,000 tomato and pepper transplants to customers in early May, double its usual amount. The organization, based near Decorah, Iowa, sold 34,000 packets of seeds in the four months of this year, more than it did all last year.
Dispatch reporter Monique Curet contributed to this story.