Wednesday, February 25, 2009

GARDENING WITH MALAYSIAKINI: Growing food a necessity

Growing food may become a necessity

By Michael Tidemann
February 21, 2009

Remember that garden that Grandma had in her backyard and the tasty beets, green beans and sweet corn that she had?

Were you maybe thinking of doing the same thing this spring?

You aren't alone.

As the recession hikes up prices on the grocery shelf, more and more people are looking at backyard gardens as a way to help recession-proof their monthly food bill.

Family gardens could in fact be changing from hobby to necessity.

In California, which by far grows more produce than any other state in the nation, federal water managers say they may have to cut off all water to some of California's largest farms as a result of the prolonged drought in the state.

In fact, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials said Friday that parched reservoirs and patchy snow and rainfall this year would likely force them to completely cut surface water deliveries, the first time that's been necessary in 15 years.

The cost in real dollars to producers could total $1 billion as well as 40,000 jobs in such labor-intensive areas as the Imperial Valley.

Earl and Virginia Erickson, who operate a truck farm along Highway 4 at the north edge of Wallingford, are regulars at the farmers market on the southwest corner of Central Avenue and 13th Street in Estherville in the Four Seasons Floral parking lot.

When asked whether higher prices on the grocery shelf could bring more traffic to the farmers market, Virginia said, "I think somewhat."

"Most importantly it's the flavor," Virginia said. "We try to go as organic as we possibly can."

Still, the Erickson's try to remain as competitive as possible.

"We compare to Fareway and that's how we set our prices," Virginia said.

While customers are willing to pay a premium for fresh produce at farmers markets, that doesn't mean they can't get an occasional deal. Virginia said if there's a bumper crop of cucumbers, for instance, customers might be able to pick them up for a dime apiece.

"It kind of goes on supply and demand," she said.

The Ericksons took the Master Gardener course through ISU Extension and Virginia highly recommends it. Master gardeners are available for consultation to the public in exchange for the training their received. "We're paying back for getting that training," Virginia said.

Virginia encourages anyone interested in starting a backyard garden plat to do so.

"It's a wonderful hobby," she said. "A lot of our customers are gardeners."

The farmers market in Estherville will open June 6 from 8-11 a.m.

Farm Service Agency Director Larry Niles in Estherville acknowledged there could be more visits to farmers markets if water shortages drive up the price of California-grown produce.

"It probably will help a little bit," Niles said.

On the other hand, he doesn't see a lot of corn and soybean growers switching over to tomatoes and pumpkins, something that's a lot more labor intensive.

"I don't see a great escape from our regular programs," Niles said.

Gardens could help cope with recession
Estherville Daily News, Iowa