Wednesday, March 11, 2009

GARDENING: on the rise during recession

East Valley Tribune
March 8, 2009
Mesa, Arizona

James Scott is just one of about 7 million Americans planning to weather the recession this year in part by growing his own food. Scott, a Gilbert resident and father of four, said he was already an avid gardener.

But after getting laid off from Freescale Semiconductor last week, the 43-year-old electrical engineer said he plans to triple the amount of food he normally grows.

"We're really putting more effort into our garden, and this is definitely a strategy to save money," he said.

The National Gardening Association said 43 million people like Scott plan to supplement their diets in 2009 with home-grown produce - a 19 percent jump from 36 million households in 2008.

Twenty-one percent of households reported plans to start a garden this year, while 11 percent will simply increase production in their existing gardens.

Seed and nursery retailers are reporting increasing sales, said Bruce Butterfield, the association's research director

"We've seen this before (in downturns)," he said.

Butterfield said even a fairly modest-sized garden can create huge savings for a family.

"The nationwide average food garden - is about 600 square feet," he said. "One can expect to get about a half-pound of fresh produce ... per square foot of garden area. So, that means a 600-square-foot garden would give you 300 pounds of produce, and that's more than a family's going to eat unless they're really into it."

Scott, who grows everything from cantaloupe to cabbage, estimated his savings will reach more than $700 a year.

"Anything I can grow out of the ground is free," he said. "The water, you pay for, but it's pretty cheap. (For) 20 bucks more of water a month, you can raise all of your own vegetables and any of the fresh produce that you would normally get from the supermarket."

Scott added that he'd like to start raising chickens, but "we have HOA restrictions, so that's not possible."

Queen Creek Mayor Art Sanders, who tends a garden of his own, said it helps people refocus energy away from their worries and into something tangible for their family.

He said he had once hoped to get the town to help promote gardening, but added that officials are limited by budget constraints.

"Back in the day, World War II, they used to have those victory gardens," he said.

"I'd like to start having some kind of a community fair where (you could) bring your watermelons and your tomatoes and your corn, and let's have some sponsors give away prizes for it," he said. "But to make that all happen right now would be expensive and I just don't want to spend any of the town's money."Gardening on the rise during recessionMSNBC