Inflation, supply chain issues, and shortages – All of these are great reasons to grow your own food. While there are some minimal up-front costs, multiple studies show it can save you money and improve your health. Food inflation is running about 7% worldwide, and it may/will probably get worse due to the war in Ukraine – which is the “bread-basket” of the world. One way to try to save some money, and cut back on expenses, is to grow your own food. If you do it right, and stick with it, you can both save money and get fresher, healthier fruits, vegetables, and produce.
Rapidly rising prices mean you’ll spend significantly more to fuel up the car for that trip to the grocery store. Ukraine is one of the top grain and corn producers in the world, and with their production (as well as Russia’s) being taken offline, shortages (and inflation) are only bound to get worse.
The other challenge is the lack of supply at a grocery store. When you get there, you may find that ongoing supply chain disruptions have resulted in shortages or unavailability of products you need. If they are in stock, you’ll likely pay significantly more for them than you did previously.
Wouldn’t it be great to be more self-sufficient and have the ability to produce at least some of your own food? What if you could do that and save money, too? Vegetable gardening and food preservation are nothing new. The many benefits they offer are common knowledge and you may be surprised at how easy it is to get started.
Well, you would have a garden if you only had enough space…
You can grow your own food even if your only garden space is an apartment patio as long as it gets enough sunlight. You may not be able to produce enough to satisfy all of your needs, but the amount of food you can get from container gardening in a small space would likely surprise you. For decades, horticulturists have been developing varieties of fruits and vegetables that do very well in pots. You can even find watermelon hybrids created to grow in containers and small spaces.
If you have a small lawn, consider purchasing or building a raised bed or two. You don’t need to buy a tiller or cultivator. Just fill your raised bed with a high-quality organic soil mix formulated for vegetables and you’re ready to garden.
If you have an existing flower bed that gets plenty of sun, you may be able to add things like cabbage, lettuce, peppers, tomatoes, strawberries, and more into that space you’ve already cultivated and fertilized. Vegetables and berry plants can be decorative, too.
There is a wealth of information readily available online from sites like Almanac.com (the Farmer’s Almanac site) to help you get started. Your county’s agricultural extension office and the knowledgeable employees at your local garden center are also great sources of information and assistance. These resources can help you decide which type of containers would work well in your available space, which plant varieties will yield the best results, when to plant in your area, and much more.
Growing your own food, and preserving it, saves money
Depending on your garden space and whether you’ll need to purchase containers, raised beds, and soil, the startup cost for your garden can be a bit of an investment. Even that being the case, it will generally be less than $100 for most households. The good news is that you can reuse what you purchase year after year.
As far as the plants go, vegetable seeds aren’t expensive, nor are most seedlings. For example, you can purchase a package of organic cucumber seeds for about $2. It depends on the brand, but you’ll generally get 30 to 40 seeds in a package. A single cucumber vine will produce approximately 10 cucumbers in a season. An organically grown cucumber currently costs around $1.50 at the supermarket. So, in return for a seed that cost you about a nickle, you can expect to get $15 worth of cucumbers.
Tomato seedlings start at around $4 each. Depending on the variety, you can get 10 to 20 pounds of tomatoes from a single plant. Stores currently sell tomatoes for anywhere from $1.39 to $3.50 per pound. This means that, at a minimum, you can expect to get about $14 worth of tomatoes in return for your $4 investment. On the high side, the tomatoes produced by your $4 seedling could cost as much as $70 if purchased at the produce counter.
Some garden plants are perennials, meaning they come back year after year and reproduce on their own. Strawberries are a good example. Although they will not produce much fruit the first year, they will come back every year and they multiply rapidly. By year two, you may find yourself not only having all the fresh strawberries you want but also selling your excess baby strawberry plants to friends and neighbors.
While the exact amount of annual, recurring savings will depend on many factors, such as how much you typically spend on food each year, the type of fruits or vegetables you grow, your commitment/attention to doing it correctly, and more, most people do save money when they garden. Various studies show that families who garden claim they save, on average, about $900 per year per the National Gardening Association (NGA) as well as Census Bureau. Some families save much more. And remember, those are annual savings that result from the one-time start-up costs.
And the best part is your can save money on your food each and every year – as gardening is an annual, recurring process. In fact per the NGA most people start to save even more money in year 2, 3, 4, etc. as they get more effective at gardening, appreciate the mental and health benefits, and turn into an ongoing hobby. There are also many other ways to save money on groceries.
Preserving what you grow is easy, inexpensive, and can give you a year-round food supply
There are some acidic vegetables (like tomatoes) that can be preserved using the water bath canning method. You don’t need a pressure cooker or any other expensive equipment. You can make your own sauces and salsa and easily preserve them for a year or more on you own. Sites like HealthyCanning.com will provide you with all the information you need to get started.
You can learn to dry the vegetables and fruits from your garden in your oven, in the sunshine, by air drying, or by using an electric food dehydrator (they start at around $60) from sites including learn.eartheasy.com/guides/a-beginners-guide-to-dehydrating-food/.
For longer-term storage, as you may want for emergency food supplies, you could also add a vacuum sealer to the mix for as little as $40. Vacuum sealing extends the shelf life of dried foods and also allows your produce last longer in the freezer. You’ll need to blanch your vegetables before freezing them. You can learn how to do that at sites including one from Better Homes and Gardens (bhg.com/recipes/how-to/cooking-basics/how-to-blanch-vegetables/). Without a great deal of gardening space, you can produce and preserve enough food to last all year.
Home grown tastes better
If you like tomatoes and know someone who grows their own, ask if you can have one that was vine-ripened. Now get one from the grocery store and do a side-by-side taste testing. You’ll be amazed at how much better the vine ripened tomato tastes.
That’s because vegetables you buy in the store had to be harvested before they ripened to prevent them from going bad prior to reaching the produce counter. As the USDA reports that about 55% of the fresh fruit consumed in the US was grown overseas and about 33% of vegetable are from overseas. Most of the other produce you eat probably comes from another state as well. All that shipping and transportation takes away from the freshness and quality of what you eat.
When fruits or vegetables are picked early, they don’t have time to produce all the natural sugars that make vine-ripened veggies taste so good. And, what limited sugars they have produced immediately begin converting to starches as soon as they’re plucked off the plant. Home grown vegetables always tastes better.
Gardening promotes physical and mental health
Gardening is good for you both physically and mentally and great for kids (if applicable). Enjoying the sunshine is naturally relaxing and supplies your body with vitamin D. If, like many, you’ve gotten more sedentary as a result of the pandemic, the exercise you’ll get while gardening will be beneficial as well.
Studies, including from the University of Texas at Austin and Cornell, have also shown that kids who help their parents in the garden eat more vegetables and fruits. They enjoy eating the food they helped to grow and, in the process, they get the benefits of eating their veggies. The studies show that a majority of children will eat 10% to almost 50% more fruits and vegetables if they help their parent garden.
As one more added bonus, if you grow your own vegetables and fruits, you can ensure that they aren’t exposed to anything toxic. When you buy produce, you have no way of knowing whether it was exposed to insecticides or other potentially harmful chemicals.
Any more excuses?
In today’s world, being more self-sufficient and saving money wherever possible are great ideas, especially given the ongoing supply chain disruptions, product shortages, and price increases. The pandemic has emphasized the importance of physical exercise and emotional health. Humans have reaped the many benefits of growing their own food for thousands of years. Isn’t it time you give it a try?