Inspired in part by Daphne of Daphne’s Dandelions, this year I decided I wanted to see if my gardening habit came even remotely close to paying for itself by comparing expenses to the value of what I produced based on market prices. I have always looked upon gardening as more of a hobby obsession with edible results. I chose varieties based on color (the panoply of purple vegetables) or in the spirit of trying lots of new varieties, or foods I haven’t eaten, let alone grown, before. Even though I had decided I would track expenses, I still ordered too many seeds, and new varieties to try even though I had some of a different variety. I decided I just couldn’t focus on reducing costs versus the pleasure I find in trying new things. After all, if my aim was really to save money, I wouldn’t garden at all, but would just grocery shop at Wal-Mart, ick.
I also haven’t decided what to do about the big-ticket items, such as the hoophouse and my mini-tiller. The mini tiller has applications beyond the vegetable garden, how to parse out the expense of that? Suggestions, anyone?
Given my indecision, here are my expenses to date:
Yikes, $258.16! Of course, the seeds do include quite a few packets of flowers. Ahem. I’m sure that added significantly. My penchant for trying new varieties is expensive, and who can resist the catalog copy, with words like succulent, slow-bolting, sweet, long-season, never-bitter…. Still, I did actually go a little overboard this year, I think because I was so crazed between work and my Master Gardening class that I just duplicated some items at Fedco and Pine Tree Seeds. At least they are things that are viable for a number of years!
Determining my crop values is a bit trickier. The last time I was at the farmer’s market I checked the prices of things I am currently harvesting: lettuce, spinach, leeks, and scallions. I decided to use Farmer’s Market prices rather than grocery store as they are more comparable to what I grow in quality –indeed, that is why I grow them.
WOW! $162.62! Holy cats, it is much higher than I would have expected. On the one hand, I can’t imagine paying $9/lb for lettuce right now, BUT I can completely support buying locally grown-harvested-processed lettuce. Not only does it TASTE way better, it is so much fresher it can only be more nutritious, and buying it at the Farmer’s market keeps the dollars I spend in the local economy.
What would I do if I were not growing my own? Would I just choose not to eat lettuce, and stay true to the eat in season mantra? I doubt it, given my efforts to reduce calories/increase raw vegetables in our diet, I would probably purchase organic lettuce in the supermarket, switching to Farmer’s Market lettuce as it becomes more available.This small exercise really drives home the point about the challenges in our food system, though. Eating fresh foods is far more complicated and expensive than pre-packaged food.
I won’t go into the other, non monetary benefits of gardening, as they are probably incalculable, but they are real: the immense satisfaction of growing your own, the taste, reducing your carbon footprint, the opportunities to greatly broaden your food horizons by trying new kinds and varieties of vegetables.
I’ll be updating this post, making it a page accessible through a link under “Gardening Resource Pages,” and plan to update it weekly throughout the season. Currently things stand at:
Expenses: $258.16. Crop Value: $161.62 TOTAL $-96.54