Gardening On the Rise in Economic Hard Times


In a time of economic hardship, more and more Americans are choosing to tend their own gardens, literally. Bruce Butterfield, research director at the National Gardening Association (NGA), says that vegetable gardening is on the rise across the nation, according to the New York Times. George Ball, chief executive of Burpee, one of the US’s largest vegetable-seed retailers, says that sales have “skyrocketed,” adding that “the jump began around the time Lehman Brothers collapsed in 2008, when anxiety about money started to rise.”

Specifically, the NGA says that “seven million more households plan to grow their own fruits, vegetables, herbs, or berries in 2009 than in 2008, a 19 percent increase in participation.” 2007 to 2008 saw a 10 percent increase in vegetable gardening. Butterfield also says that purveyors of gardening supplies have seen an increase in sales in the past two years. The main reasons people give for starting to garden are:

  • better-tasting food (58 percent)
  • saving money on food bills (54 percent)
  • eating  better quality food (51 percent)
  • growing food they know is safe (48 percent)

34 percent of households cited the current recession as “motivating them very much (14 percent) or a fair amount (20 percent).”  The NGA estimates that “on average a well-maintained food garden yields a $500 return when considering a typical gardener’s investment and the market price of produce.”

In rural America especially, people are turning to gardening largely for economic reasons. In some cases, not only are they putting food on their own tables; they’re also selling the surplus to supplement their incomes:

Rebecca Frazier, a teacher here, said she had cut her food bill in half by growing her own and preserving and by buying in bulk from local farmers. She recently paid $10 for 40 pounds of sweet potatoes, a fraction of the store price.

“I’m getting twice the food for a whole lot less money,” she said.

61-year-old Wanda Hamilton, described as a “lifelong gardener who sells her surplus vegetables at the farmers’ market in West Liberty” in the Appalachian foothills, says that nearly two-thirds of her customers are elderly residents who use government vouchers.

56-year-old Brenda Engle, who works in an apparel factory, notes a reason for gardening that goes beyond putting food on the table and extra money in one’s pockets: Gardening as therapy. “When I’m in the garden, the world is gone,” says Engle.

Perhaps feeling the pull of my ancestors — all peasant farmers in southern China — I’ve long wanted to start a vegetable garden in our backyard. I still remember the extensive vegetables garden my parents planted at our new tract home in suburban northern California. There were zucchini, tomatoes, Chinese melons, eggplant, carrots and the sunflower I had started growing in a Dixie cup in Mrs. Leonard’s first-grade class. We made lots of trips to a gardening store called Navlet’s and to this day the scent of soil and plants, and the sight of racks of seeds for vegetables and flowers, are comforting. Sadly, we had to let the whole garden go during a drought and I used to wander sadly through the desiccated brown rows. Soon after, we moved back to Oakland and the vegetable garden never came back.

Right now, my New Jersey backyard is on the soggy, pond-y side after Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Leo. Vegetables prices keep going up and up: I’d say it’s high time  for me to follow Frazier and Engle’s example and revive the memory of that long-gone vegetable garden in our California backyard.


Related Care2 Coverage

Gardening for Change: On the Front Lines and the Home Front

Green Your Balcony With a Beautiful Pallet Garden

Community Roots: The Next Frontier for Supplying Local Food


Photo by OakleyOriginals

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Oleg Kobetz
Oleg Kobetz1 years ago

Thank you

Oleg Kobetz
Oleg Kobetz1 years ago

Thank you

Sonny Honrado
Sonny Honrado4 years ago

Gardening saves money.

Dakota Payne
Dakota Payne4 years ago

I think anyone can garden a bit.......even if you live in a small apartment and have no balcony, you can put a couple pots in front of windows and grow herbs, or some vegetables. It is done all the time. You can also use a grow light.,..just make sure you are growing legal herbs, haha

Ruth R.
Ruth R.4 years ago

Good that gardening is becoming more popular.

Myron Scott
Myron Scott4 years ago

Well, I don't know what's "strained" about the article. As usual, a nice job, Kristina Chew.

In addition to coping with hard times, it's good for sustainability, a way of resisting the industrialization of food production, healthier if done right, educational for kids, and generally good for mind, body and spirit.

Unfortunately, realtors, code enforcers, and officious neighbors still living the 50s suburban fantasy present obstacles that need to be overcome. So, a little encouragement in the form of articles like this is a good thing.

If there'd just been something about the option of community gardens the article would have perfect.

Lika S.
Lika S.4 years ago

I live in a flat in the city. I have a small spot, but I do have tomatoes & banana peppers, and I'm hoping to be able to do something bigger, and I'm still figuring out where, since I need a sunny spot, and hope the neighbor doesn't raid my stuff...

Oh, and I also have two hanging strawberry plants. It really helps, even if you get food help.

April Thompson
April Thompson4 years ago

Wish I had space to plant one!

Jane R.
Jane R.4 years ago

I wish I had room for a garden in my yard. But the trees block the sun needed and there's no space for one. I try my best to grow a few things in containers, but the birds and squirels are a problem. The squirels dig in the dirt uncovering some of the roots and the birds get to the tomatoes before they are ripe enough to pick. They even peck on the green ones. I haven't given up yet though. I try again and again. I do manage to harvest a little.

Julianna D.
Juliana D.4 years ago

Once I have my own home+ small plot of land I shall do the same!