12 June 2008

NYT - Vegetable Gardening Popular

We are not alone in our quest for great fresh produce from our own garden.

Getting exercise and saving money while growing healthy food has hit a new high.

Click on the link to read the article.

Banking on Gardening in the New York Times

Photo: SWEATING FOR DINNER Doreen Howard, of Roscoe, Ill., has quadrupled the size of her vegetable plot because of the economy.

Published: June 11, 2008


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.”

Seed companies and garden centers say they didn’t see the rush coming. There wasn’t any buildup last year, said Barbara Melera, the co-owner of the D. Landreth Seed Company in New Freedom, Pa., who takes the pulse of gardeners at the 13 garden shows she attends around the country each year.

“We pack for all the shows and bring 16 different beans, 10 packets for each kind,” Ms. Melera said. In earlier years, by the time the shows end in March, she said, “we are lucky if we have sold two of the 10 packets.”

“This year,” she said, “we sold out the first show and literally sold hundreds. We never sell any corn; this year we sold out of corn by the end of the season. We saw the same thing in the mail order business.”

Thrilled as gardening experts are about this phenomenon, they know that many first timers don’t have any idea how much sweat equity is involved.

Mr. Ball of Burpee knows some of the new gardeners won’t stick with gardening beyond the first year. “Some people can’t get with the idea of digging a hole; getting buggy, sticky and hot,” he said. “Gardening is an active hobby; it’s a commitment.”

Doreen G. Howard, a former garden editor for Woman’s Day and now a writer for The American Gardener, is one of the committed. She has had a vegetable garden for most of the last 25 years.

This year she has quadrupled the size of her vegetable plot in Roscoe, Ill., because of the economy and because she thinks the quality of store-bought produce has deteriorated. Once vegetables were just 5 percent of her garden; now they are 20 percent.

Some of Ms. Howard’s increased harvest will also go to food pantries through an organization called Plant a Row for the Hungry, which encourages gardeners to plant extra vegetables to share with the poor.

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