July 20 2011|08.00 AM UTC

Samantha Eckles

Does Your Kitchen Garden Save You Money?

Category: Personal FinanceTags: , , , , ,

Kitchen gardens have become more popular lately. It certainly didn’t hurt that First Lady Michelle Obama gave the idea a boost by starting a vegetable garden at the White House. This is the first food garden since Eleanor Roosevelt’s victory garden during World War II. The victory garden was a campaign aimed at reducing pressure on both the national food supply and family budgets in the midst of the Great Depression. Nationwide, there were 20 million “Victory Gardens” planted, which produced 40% of America’s vegetables.

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The recent economic downturn, combined with a renewed interest in local produce, has spurred many Americans to develop “green thumbs” and take responsibility for producing at least some of their own food. But are they saving money?

According to the National Gardening Association‘s 2009 study of home and community gardening in America, U.S. households with food gardens spent an average of $70 annually on their mini-farms. This same study shows that the average food gardener spends about 5 hours a week tending their fruits and veggies, producing roughly 300 pounds of fresh produce from a 600-square-foot plot.

This means, assuming an average price of $2 per pound for in-season produce, the net return on these food gardens is about $530 per growing season.

Other backyard gardeners claim similar yields. Laura, at ModernVictoryGarden.com, reports that in 2010, her Pacific Northwest raised bed garden yielded a whopping 446.75 pounds of fresh fruit and veggies, enough to supply her family with 100% of their produce needs all year-round.

While hundreds of pounds of fruits and vegetables are impressive, is it economically worth the time? If we assume the gardening season runs from May to October, including the time spent preparing the garden, then it takes about 20 hours a month or 120 hours per growing season to save $530 on your annual grocery bill. Those are some significant savings, although your “green thumb” wage only works out to a paltry $4.42 per hour.

While $530 is a lot of money to save each year, it’s important to consider the cost of the garden itself. Creating a garden from scratch can be expensive if you have to buy all the tools and supplies. This cost may mean you won’t even see any savings in the first year. Gardens also take dedication to make sure your plants actually make it to harvest. When you travel for the summer, you will have to find someone to take care of your garden, which may add some additional costs.

For most families, if you have some room in the backyard, a kitchen garden is a great way to save on groceries. It can also be a task that the family does together, making the $5 wage a bit more appealing. Have you had any success growing your own fruits and vegetables?

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Valentin October 26, 2011 at 3:50 pm

Your own garden could be a very fine thing to have, provided you are not in a smog-filled city. The clean vegetables/fruits are priceless – you know what you are feeding them. You can conserve some for the winter/spring and have healthy food all year long, and avoid the mass produced products that sometimes have killer bacteria on them (E-coli in Germany, etc.). Add to that the stress relieving work in the garden and you have more health benefits on your hands. Compare to that driving to the mall/market, picking items, “battling” other customers…

I cannot agree about creating a garden from scratch. I am from Bulgaria, a small country with deep traditions in the agriculture. All my great grandmother needed to till her garden, or the plots we had, was a hoe. My parents moved to a village near my home town – cleaner air and soil, and very, very calm. They started a garden almost right away, with little or no tools – the most expensive tool my father bought was an electric chainsaw, to relieve the burden of chopping wood with an axe.

So one can have a very nice past time/hobby for few bucks, if one is willing to trade some manual labor for expensive tools. As they say here: Need teaches.


Bonnie November 13, 2011 at 11:14 am

I don’t know if this is true, but also every person I have met that has a kitchen garden doesn’t see it as labor, but as a hobby, or like the article said, time to spend with friends and family. Also, the fruit you get from your garden is WAY better and healthier than fruit from the grocery store, which makes up for the cost too.


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