Are your flowers getting crowded out by zucchini, lettuce and heirloom tomatoes? If you’re growing more of what you eat these days — whether to save money, enjoy fresh ingredients or ensure your food is healthy and chemical-free — you’re far from alone. Surveys conducted a few years ago by the Garden Writers’ Association and the National Gardening Association found that approximately 40 million Americans are growing food in backyard or community gardens. As edible gardens multiply, so do opportunities to share surplus harvest with friends, neighbors and the rising number of individuals in need.
A boom in edible gardening
The two surveys tracked a significant increase in the number of U.S. households growing food. For example, 19% more households expected to grow vegetables, fruit and herbs in 2009 than in 2008. (Updated survey results are expected soon.) The economy was a big factor for many of these edible gardeners, who hoped growing food would help lower household grocery bills while also improving the safety and taste of their food.
While only 3% of gardeners surveyed participated in community gardens, many said they would like to do so. They also expressed interest in having their children learn about gardening at school. In a separate survey, the National Gardening Association found a big uptick in organic vegetable gardening, which climbed from 5 million in 2004 to 12 million in 2008. When asked why they preferred all-natural fertilizers, insect and weed controls, gardeners said they wanted to protect the environment, including the watershed, and reduce their exposure to chemicals both in the yard and in their diet.
A cornucopia of benefits
While growing your own food takes effort, the benefits are many.
- Edible gardening can make you a bit more self-sufficient in these unsettling times.
- You may be able to cross a number of items off the weekly shopping list, at least during growing season (or longer, if you’re using hoop houses, cold frames or a green house).
- With so many exotic and heirloom varieties readily available today, even the novice gardener can produce a cornucopia… and spice up the daily menu.
- You can truly say you “know where your food comes from,” and that it is safe and healthy, particularly if you’re growing without the use of synthetic chemicals.
- The work involved in gardening offers great exercise as well as the opportunity for peaceful reverie.
Gardeners also have a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the earth they’re working and gain a sense of empathy for the farmers who still provide us with the lion’s share of our food. And with hunger affecting some 50 million Americans today, growing our own food may be one of the most direct ways we have to address the nation’s “food insecurity.”
Sharing the bounty
If you want to share the surplus harvest from your garden with friends, family members or members of the community who are in need of food assistance, consider these alternatives.
- Put a bow on it. Your friends and relatives who don’t grow their own will probably love getting a basket of fresh-picked items from your garden as a gift. If you harvest herbs or make jams, pickles or vinegar, your garden can be a source of gifts all year long.
- Barter. Find a few friends or neighbors who grow things you don’t and arrange to swap veggies on some regular basis. Less food will go to waste and you’ll all enjoy a more diverse diet.
- Grow an extra row. You can help address hunger in the Delaware River Valley by participating in Philabundance’s Share the Harvest program. For more information, go to www.Philabundance.org or see the April 17 post, “Philabundance Offers Opportunity to Share Your Harvest With Neighbors In Need.”
- Donate. AmpleHarvest (www.AmpleHarvest.org) makes it easy to locate local food pantries that will take fresh produce. Americasgrowarow.org (www.americasgrowarow.org) is a local New Jersey-based organization that supports the Flemington Food Pantry.
1. The 2009 Edibles Gardening Trends Research Report, from the Garden Writers’ Association (www.gardenwriters.org).
2. The Impact of Home and Community Gardening in America survey, from the National Gardening Associations, www.garden.org.
3. The 2004 and 2008 Environmental Law and Garden surveys, from the National Gardening Association.
4.The USDA estimates that about 50 million Americans do not have regular access to enough food to feed themselves and/or their families.