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NYT – Vegetable Gardening Popular
Banking on Gardening
CASSANDRA FEELEY prefers organic ingredients, especially for her baby, but she finds it hard to manage on her husband’s salary as an Army sergeant. So this year she did something she has wanted to do for a long time: she planted vegetables in her yard to save money. “One organic cucumber is $3 and I can produce it for pennies,” she said.
For her first garden, Ms. Feeley has gone whole hog, hand-tilling a quarter acre in the backyard of her house near the Fort Campbell Army base in Kentucky. She has put in 15 tomato plants, five rows of corn, potatoes, cucumbers, squash, okra, peas, watermelon, green beans. An old barn on the property has been converted to a chicken coop, its residents arriving next month; the goats will be arriving next year.
“I spent $100 on it and I know I will save at least $75 a month on food,” she said.
She is one of the growing number of Americans who, driven by higher grocery costs and a stumbling economy, have taken up vegetable gardening for the first time. Others have increased the size of their existing gardens.
Seed companies and garden shops say that not since the rampant inflation of the 1970s has there been such an uptick in interest in growing food at home. Space in community gardens across the country has been sold out for several months. In Austin, Tex., some of the gardens have a three-year waiting list.
George C. Ball Jr., owner of the W. Atlee Burpee Company, said sales of vegetable and herb seeds and plants are up by 40 percent over last year, double the annual growth for the last five years. “You don’t see this kind of thing but once in a career,” he said. Mr. Ball offers half a dozen reasons for the phenomenon, some of which have been building for the last few years, like taste, health and food safety, plus concern, especially among young people, about global warming.
But, Mr. Ball said, “The big one is the price spike.” The striking rise in the cost of staples like bread and milk has been accompanied by increases in the price of fruits and vegetables.
“Food prices have spiked because of fuel prices and they redounded to the benefit of the garden,” Mr. Ball said. “People are driving less, taking fewer vacations, so there is more time to garden.”
Each spring for the last five years, the Garden Writers Association has had TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence, a polling firm, conduct a national consumer telephone survey asking gardeners what makes up the greatest share of their garden budgets. “The historic priorities are lawns, annuals, perennials, then vegetables, followed by trees and shrubs,” said Robert LaGasse, executive director of the association. This year, vegetables went from fourth place to second, which Mr. LaGasse called “an enormous attitude shift.”
People like Rita Gartin of Ames, Iowa, are part of that shift. Last year she kept a small garden. This year it has tripled in size into a five-by-seven-foot plot because, Ms. Gartin said, “The cost of everything is going up and I was looking to lose a few pounds, too; so it’s a win-win situation all around.”
Ms. Gartin, who fits gardening into her 12-hour workday as an interior designer and property manager, is not intimidated by the 20 kinds of vegetables she has planted: she was raised on a farm with a giant garden. A fence has been erected to keep the deer and people out, and it’s where the pole beans and snap peas are already climbing.
She is ready to take a stab at canning, but reserves the right to freeze everything instead, she said.
“I probably spent maybe $50 for everything and that’s less than a week’s cost of groceries or the price of a gym,” she said.
Seed companies and garden centers say they didn’t see the rush coming. (continued)