Every now and again I get asked how much money you can save by growing your own fruit and vegetables. Of course this is a very narrow way of looking at the benefits of gardening. The exercise and fresh air, the sense of working with nature and the health benefits of freshly grown produce are all very important factors and for many people this will outweigh the economic benefits. Yet the question of monetary value is still a valid one - increasingly important as food prices continue to rise and new building developments have to balance the desirability of garden space against extra houses. So just how cost-effective is a productive fruit and vegetable garden...?
There are so many things to take into account when calculating yields and values of crops. Some elements are measurable such as the quality of the soil, which will partly determine how much can be grown. Other factors are more subjective like how much extra you would be willing to pay to have fresh organic produce straight from the soil. If environmental costs are taken into account then we should add that home grown crops don’t have to be delivered to shops, have no packaging and are guaranteed pesticide free if grown organically. All of these make it very difficult to put a precise monetary value on what comes out of a garden.
However, it is possible to quantify what is produced and that’s exactly what Roger Doiron (founder of Kitchen Gardeners International) and his family set out to do over the past twelve months. Every time they harvested anything from their modest 1600 square foot (150 square metre) garden, they recorded it (I can certainly empathise with how tedious that must have been!) Then they compiled these figures into a spreadsheet and came up with an amazing 834 lb (380kg) of total harvest. From this they computed three sets of prices, comparing what the produce would have cost if bought:
- A regular grocery store would have charged $2196 (£1500)
- Their farmers’ market would have charged $2431 (£1760)
- An organic grocery store would have charged $2548 (£1850)
Put like this these figures are rather impressive. OK, so Roger is a pretty good gardener and he doesn’t include any charge for the amount of time he and his family spent in the garden. On the other hand, seeds and materials cost him just $282 (£200) and they didn’t include the produce eaten while in the garden in their calculations (always a considerable amount in my experience!) or the money saved from not having to drive to a store so regularly (and the associated items that mysteriously make it into the basket!) Moreover, they were growing a range of crops many of which, such as potatoes, are considered ‘low value’. As mentioned in my previous blog article on Value to Space Rating, many people prefer to concentrate on growing what is expensive or tastes much better and this would have led to even higher returns.
Even more impressive though is this fact: If you extended Roger’s garden to a larger area you would find that it yielded $60,000 (£43,000) of consumer-sold crop per acre. By any standards that is very high and it serves to highlight just how efficient home gardening is. We hear a lot in the news at the moment about looming world food problems, yet few people link this to the vast patchwork of land in homes and cities. When these are mentioned there is often an assumption that they would be less productive than farm land, yet this is clearly not the case. Intensive urban gardening is high-yield, high-value and highly good for the environment!
I’m glad Roger and his family went to the trouble of quantifying all this. Of course there are many other factors which make a garden so much more valuable than just money saved but as a force for change these figures can help. Increasingly a new ‘green economics’ is emerging as we need to balance the drive for profits with the threat of climate change. Home vegetable gardening may just be a small part in that story but governments would do well to consider just how big an impact it could have, given the size of the population who can garden. I may not be dedicated enough to weigh every last tomato but I am increasingly convinced of the value of encouraging home owners everywhere to make their gardens productive. Growing your own is one of the best things you can do for your health, for your soul, for the environment and, yes, even for your pocket.