I got my mail; dug up a few sweet potatoes; picked a fistful of basil, some tomatoes and cucumbers; and came inside to make dinner. Adding some rice, beans, and a few flavorings, I figured that dinner cost about a buck or so a person, as I had already “paid for” my garden in harvested value by something like April of this year. This got me thinking about the economic impact of gardens, especially with news articles every day now saying how this year’s record drought across the United States will cause food prices to rise by early next year, on top of how much they seem to keep rising each year as it is. I’ve already computed that the value per pound for organically-grown produce averages out to about $5–this is actually a low estimate if you are a heavy grower of greens and herbs, as their market value is much higher. Plus, I know we can grow an easy two pounds per square foot per year in our metro-Atlanta climate, so a simple 32-square-foot raised bed can grow 64 pounds per year for a value of $320. I thought that would be the end of my “economic impact of gardening” story for you.
But then I got to thinking more as I was gazing out the window while plucking the basil leaves off the stems to make pesto. The average movie ticket in the United States is now $8.12 (this includes matinee and senior/student pricing), according to a recent report in the LA Times. Ball games, concerts, and all kinds of other entertainment options, while nice, are also going to set you back a bundle. Even meeting a friend for coffee costs a few bucks, and browsing at the mall always ends up with a purchase or two. Getting together for a few hours at a community garden, however, costs nothing, and gardening alone in my yard, for free, certainly provides as big an escape as a dark movie theater (although I did thoroughly enjoy the new Woody Allen movie recently), so there is an economic impact to gardening in the entertainment dollars I save as well.
What about healthcare? Well, this is probably hard to quantify, but if I’m having herbal teas instead of over-the-counter remedies and it’s making me feel good, that’s money saved at the pharmacy, isn’t it? And if eating healthy food helps me out in other health-related ways, then I don’t have to take time from work to go to the doctor or buy prescription medication and that saves me co-pays plus a few hours I can use for earning money–both of which, of course, have an economic impact. Plus, I don’t belong to a gym (which costs). I don’t buy fancy sporting equipment (which costs). I garden, when I want, where I want, with whatever I have.
And that’s not all. Let’s talk energy costs. Did you know that mature trees that shade your home can reduce your energy costs? Make these trees fruit trees, and you get the value of the fruit as well. Some friends and I pick the fruit from a particular pear tree in my city to donate to those in need, and this year we got 623 pounds from that one tree. (Trees can also boost your resale value, by the way, but who wants to sell once you get a good garden and orchard going?!)
If you can help your children’s school lessons come to life in your home garden (and I’ve yet to see a lesson that you can’t somehow relate to a garden), you may be able to boost your child’s learning and avoid having to hire a tutor one day (which can be very expensive). And let’s not forget the therapeutic effects of gardening! You may find that “telling your troubles to your therapist” means tending your tomatoes, and that certainly has a positive economic impact on your budget.
Let me not end without pointing out one of the most exciting economic impacts of gardening–keeping your dollars close to home when you purchase supplies at a locally-owned garden supply store like Farmer D Organics. Farmer D Organics buys local lumber, hires local service providers, supports other local businesses, and thereby multiplies the effect of every dollar you spend right here in our communities (see more on this here).
Considering all that, the little bit of money you spend on gardening is a deal.