June 22, 2009
The economic downturn has led to a concurrent resurgence in the popularity of backyard food gardening, according to industry surveys and analysis of this year’s seed orders.
“People’s home grocery budget got absolutely shredded, and now we’ve seen just this dramatic increase in the demand for our vegetable seeds,” said George Ball of Burpee Seeds, the country’s biggest mail-order seed company. “We’re selling out. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
According to a seed sales analysis and telephone survey conducted by the National Gardening Association, more than 50 percent of U.S. residents have already planted food gardens, and another 20 percent plan to do so this year as a way of saving on grocery bills. Seed companies have begun selling out of popular vegetable such as tomatoes, peppers, and onions, while sales of ornamental flowers have plummeted.
According to a Burpee Seeds study, a $50 investment in gardening supplies can translate into $1,250 worth of food savings per year. During a recession, that’s a significant incentive. Even the National Gardening Association’s more conservative estimate of a $500 return is apparently enough for many new gardeners. Burpee recorded a 20 percent increase in sales in 2008, inspiring it to offer a first-time gardeners’ kit called “The Money Garden.” Within the two months, the company sold 15,000 of them.
Community gardens have also seen an upsurge in popularity. According to Lonnie Brundage, who runs the membership list for the Long Beach Community Garden, the waiting list for garden plots has practically quadrupled.
“You figure if they can use our community garden year-round they can save $2,000 or $3,000 or $4,000 a year,” she said. “It doesn’t take a lot for it to add up.”
Some, such as accountant Adriana Martinez, have found wider meaning in gardening. In addition to cutting her monthly grocery bill to $40, Martinez says she is reassured knowing where her food comes from. Gardening has also brought her closer to her neighbors through a neighborhood vegetable cooperative.
“We’re helping to feed each other,” she said, “and what better time than now?”