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Crunching the Numbers on the Cost of Backyard Gardening

Cathy Duchamp
10/13/2006

By now you've picked your final tomato from your vegetable garden. And if you're the analytical type you may be crunching the numbers on the cost of backyard gardening. Looking at the cost of a seed packet, it would be reasonable to assume it's cheaper to grow your own vegetables than buying them at the store or farmer's market. But assumptions can be dangerous, as correspondent Cathy Duchamp within Seattle discovered.

I'M AT THE ANNUAL SEATTLE HARVEST FESTIVAL. I THOUGHT THIS WOULD BE A GOOD PLACE TO EXPLORE THE ECONOMICS OF GARDENING. FIRST STARTING WITH THE PROFESSIONALS.

DUCHAMP: "Are you with this farm?"

PERONI: "I am."

DUCHAMP: "Okay so you're probably wondering what I'm doing interviewing your vegetables. "

PERONI: "No not at all."

MIKE PERONI RUNS BOISTFORT VALLEY FARM. HIS PRODUCE STAND LOOKS LIKE A FALL HARVEST STILL LIFE. THERE'S RAINBOW-COLORED CHARD, CRIMSON TOMATOES. HIS CALIFLOWER IS PURPLE. COULD I GROW THE SAME THINGS IN MY OWN BACKYARD? WOULD IT BE CHEAPER THAN BUYING FROM PERONI?

PERONI: "I can't imagine it being any cheaper to grow it than buying it at a farmer's market especially. If you value your time and if you look at the inputs you have to put into a garden, I fully encourage people to garden because it's therapeutic. But from a strictly financial perspective, I don't think you can beat your local farmers market. "

DUCHAMP: "But you're charging four bucks a pound for your yellow wax beans!"

PERONI: "When's the last time you got on your hands and knees and picked a yellow wax bean? "

DUCHAMP: "Never. I used to eat em out of a can as a kid."

PERONI: "Yeah that's what I'm talking about."

THE GUY TO TALK TO ABOUT THE HIDDEN COSTS OF GARDENING IS WILLIAM ALEXANDER. HE WROTE A BOOK CALLED THE 64-DOLLAR TOMATO. THAT'S THE NUMBER HE CAME UP WITH AS THE TOTAL FISCAL COST OF GROWING AN HEIRLOOM BRANDYWINE:

ALEXANDER: " Oh it was just horrible feeling. I think I went through something close to the five stages of grief."

ALEXANDER'S BIGGEST COST WAS BUILDING THE GARDEN. THEN CAME THE MONEY HE SPENT JUST THAT ONE SUMMER:

ALEXANDER: "And this was the real shock that I had spent some 700 dollars on those Saturday morning trips to the garden center, leaving the pruners out in the rain to rust. "

...AND FIGHTING 4-LEGGED PESTS. ALEXANDER ESTIMATES HE SPENT 300 DOLLARS ALONE ON A NEW CHARGER FOR HIS ELECTRIC FENCE TO COMBAT A BIG, FAT, GROUND HOG HE NICKNAMED "SUPERCHUCK. " ALEXANDER'S CONCLUSION- GROWING YOUR OWN VEGGIES IS NOT WORTH THE INVESTMENT. BUT IT IS WORTH THE TASTE:

ALEXANDER: "We had some of our fingerling potatoes last night. We just cooked them in olive oil, a little kosher salt and baked them in a copper pan. And I mean, if you're into this kind of food, this stuff is almost orgasmic."

THAT'S NOT THE CLIMAX OF THIS STORY. THERE IS ONE WAY TO MAKE GARDENING PENCIL OUT. USE SOMEONE ELSE'S LAND:

KASEY: We are at the Interbay P-Patch which is one of about 45 or 50 community gardens in the P-patch program in Seattle.

SUSAN KASEY RENTS A GARDEN PLOT FROM THE CITY. SHE USED TO BE A HOSPITAL ANALYST. SO IT MAKE SENSE THAT SHE'D KEEP PRECISE RECORDS ON COSTS AND YIELDS. KASEY SPENDS 75 DOLLARS TO RENT A 500 SQUARE FOOT SPACE, AND ABOUT 50 DOLLARS A YEAR ON SEEDS AND VEGETABLE STARTS...

KASEY: "So for 125 dollars I get about 500 dollars worth of food."

KASEY SAYS THAT'S BASED ON SUPERMARKET PRICES FROM A FEW YEARS BACK. SHE SAYS THE BIGGEST BANG FOR HER BUCK COMES FROM HER WINTER GARDEN, WHICH SHE STARTS IN OCTOBER. LEEKS, KALE, AND ESPECIALLY FAVA BEANS:

KASEY: "Fava beans are between 60, 70, 80 pounds."

DUCHAMP: "Don't you get sick of fava beans and kale?"

KASEY: "Those I freeze and they're all gone by the time the next ones come in."

KASEY'S ADVICE-START SMALL, WITH A COUPLE SELECT VEGGIES, PROBABLY WITH PEAS IN THE SPRING. IN SEATTLE, I'M CATHY DUCHAMP.

℗ Copyright 2006, KUOW News

07.16.18

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