Economics of home-grown veggies

June 9, 2008 § 2 Comments

I heard a story repeated on KOPB this past week about home gardens, and how the resurgence in backyard gardens is occurring in the Pacific Northwest in response to the world food crisis, as well as the higher cost of food at grocery stores.

Last week, the Wall Street Journal ran an article about this phenomenon, and featured a couple of different families partaking in a “Victory Garden” endeavor: The Vegetable Patch Takes Root.

Following these stories, today, I read a blog from Huffington Post contributor Laura Vanderkam, entitled “The Case Against the Victory Garden.” Vanderkam has been writing about the new “home economy” and has taken the examples given in the WSJ article and conducted her own economic critique of home-grown vegetables. She argues that time is money, and that your backyard garden may not be a financial boon when the amount of time to tend the plot is considered. Vanderkam says:

“In Barbara Kingsolver’s best-selling memoir, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, she calculated that the value of the vegetables, chickens and turkeys her family harvested during a year of labor on their small farm was $4,410. That’s a fair chunk of change. But it comes out to $85 a week – including meat. If a part-time farm contributes $85 a week in meat and produce, it’s unlikely that a 10-by-12-foot vegetable patch is going to produce more than $25 of weekly savings. At 10 hours a week, that comes out to less than minimum wage – which explains why gardening remains a hobby for most people.”

I agree with the premise: Time is money. And scale is important — a small plot may not produce enough food to really be a financial help to a family, but as plots size is scaled up so is productivity, and thus the dollar value of the food produced.

One of the figures cited in the WSJ article and Vanderkam’s post, was that it takes about 10 man hours for a 10 x 12 foot plot. My thought is that seems incredibly high. I usually tend my garden, a 15 x 30 foot plot two to three times per week for no more than two hours each time. Once the garden is in, this is reduced to 30-minute visits and an occasional intense-weeding session of about 1-hour. If I was an ultra-busy mother with children to tend to, this would be more inconvenient, certainly. But at this point the alternative activities I would be participating in could hardly be considered “work,” (like watching TV or reading blogs). But as a result of this article, I will try to more accurately track the amount of time we spend on our plot and try to provide an economics perspective on the value of produce harvested.

Let me know if you have anything to share on this economics front. I’d be interested in hearing from anyone who has started gardening for economics reasons, or anyone who stopped growing their own produce because of the amount of time and relatively small proceeds from a home-garden.



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§ 2 Responses to Economics of home-grown veggies

  • Eugenia says:

    It’s true that gardening is expensive, and to cut costs, the labor multiplies exponentially (I’m thinking, for example, of growing tomatoes from seed instead of buying starts — a ton of work). I grow my own garden mainly for play, since I don’t rely on it for a sole source of summer produce, but I do get jars of pickles (bean, green tomato) and put up my canned tomatoes, and have fresh herbs almost year-round regularly. And depending on the year, I get store onions or garlic or shallots and lots of spring greens. And I’ve only been gardening at this particular house for two years. Over time, I’m sure I’ll get more dividends. I think that gardening is, like any capital investment, needful of a big outlay for a while, then it starts to be more economically sensible. Does this help the working poor? Probably not. 😦

  • GardenGrrrl says:

    What bothers me is people who write about gardening on windowsills or in containers as if that was going to produce a bunch of food. Another way to think about it for folks who don’t have a lot of money (like my household) is that a garden allows a diversity of food that we wouldn’t be able to afford to buy otherwise. If I wasn’t gardening for the 5-ish hours a week a spend on my garden I wouldn’t be working. There is a limit to the number of hours a week I can spend earning money. Many people can’t get a second job because of their schedules, so a garden is a flexible way to help a bit with supporting your family.

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