I just received a press release from Garden Writers of America on the organization’s 2008 trend survey. The highlight of the survey is a significant increase in the number of homeowners saying they plan to spend money this year on vegetable and fruit gardening. The survey found 39% of homeowners are planning expenditures in the area of vegetable or fruit gardening in 2008 compared to 32% who said they planned to vegetable garden in 2007. That’s a pretty big jump, and makes vegetable and fruit gardening second behind spending on lawn care, which topped the list at 54%. Annual flowers (38%), trees and shrubs (35%) and perennial flowers (31%) filled out the list of landscaping activities homeowners planned to spend on this year.
The press release suggests that rising gas prices, increased food prices and an overall sluggish economy might be the causes of increased interest in vegetable gardening. While I think that’s true, it’s only part of the story. The local food movement, inspired by Italy’s Slow Food and books like Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Vegetable Miracle and Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon’s s the 100 Mile Diet, has increased awareness about the ethics of food choices. Moreover, concerns about food safety, prompted by high-profile cases involving food made in China and food contamination issues involving spinach and peanut butter, have made many people just a bit more wary about the food they buy. In any case, for a whole bunch of reasons related to the environment, the economy, and uncertainty about globalization and technology, more people are turning to gardening.
While the forces propelling it are disturbing, the trend is good. Food you grow is cheap, healthy, fresh as can be, and the effort involved in gardening is good exercise and soul satisfying. I think a lot of us underestimate how much food we could grow, if we chose to. I was reading not too long ago about the Victory Gardens of World War II. These home and community gardens grew about 40 percent of the produce consumed in the U.S. in some of the war years. Could we do that now? I’m not sure. The average homeowner has fewer skills in both growing food and preserving it than the gardeners of the 1940s and we have a perception at least that we are much busier than people were then. But we’ve got the Internet, and I’ve found that nearly every garden question I have can be answered there.
My own garden plans for this spring include at least one additional raised bed for vegetables. Will I grow 40 percent of my family’s produce, even for the summer? No way. But I’m wondering if it might be a good idea to measure how much of our produce I do grow. I’ve never kept track of how many tomatoes, green beans, and raspberries I harvest–I’m often just so thrilled to get anything, given our climate and my personal battles with gophers. It’s an idea. For those growing vegetables for the first time this summer, just enjoy the experience and the rewards.