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Calculating the Savings in Growing Your Own Food

We all know that growing our own food offers multiple benefits—for our health, our taste buds, and our pocketbook. But how many of us know how much we’re actually saving?

For the past few summers, I’ve conducted a little experiment to see just how much I would save by growing veggies myself versus buying their supermarket counterparts. You may be surprised at the results!

Why Grow Your Own?

Before getting to the numbers, let’s review the many benefits of growing your own food. They include:

Personal satisfaction: When it comes to self-sufficiency, there is nothing more elemental than being able to feed oneself. I love the early-evening ritual of wandering down to the vegetable garden, colander in hand, to pick whatever’s ripened and prepare it for my dinner that same evening.

Lessening your environmental footprint: By reducing your reliance on foods grown far away and trucked hundreds or thousands of miles to your local grocery store, your food consumption contributes less to smog and global warming. By growing your vegetables, you’re also doing your part to reverse the globalization of the food supply.

Superior taste and freshness: Homegrown fruits and vegetables simply taste better than produce that’s been allowed to ripen in trucks during transport and sit on store shelves before you’re ready to eat it. Even if you’re not a verifiable foodie, the taste, flavor, and freshness of homegrown produce is reason enough for many gardeners to devote a portion of their yard, patio, or terrace to growing vegetables.

Better nutritional value: Because less time elapses between harvest and consumption (say, about an hour when I harvest my own produce compared to days or weeks when I buy it in the supermarket), homegrown vegetables deliver higher nutritional value. And if you choose to grow your produce pesticide-free like I do, you’ll get the added health benefits of consuming organic produce at little-to-no extra cost. 

But for the budget-minded among us, a fifth important benefit of growing your own food is…

The ability to reduce your grocery expenses: In today’s challenging economy, nearly every consumer is looking to save a few dollars wherever they can. Growing your own vegetables can substantially reduce your grocery bill throughout the summer. If you freeze or can your surplus, you can extend your savings into the winter months. 

The Economics of Homegrown

This is the third season I’ve tracked my garden’s output, not only by the pound, but by its monetary value.

My garden plot is modest in size, about 120 square feet. It was not intended to feed a large family, although the inevitable surplus is freely given to friends and neighbors. In its current form, it’s L-shaped (to detour around a small juneberry tree) and located in my front yard, to take maximum advantage of sunlight.

Die-hard gardeners can spend lots of time experimenting with heirloom varieties, growing plants from seed, and researching the best soil amendments, fertilizers, compost, and mulch covers. Yet you can fumble along, make mistakes, and still wind up with a respectable harvest, provided there’s ample sunlight and adequate watering.

Due to my own laissez-faire attitude about plant diseases, my garden is succumbing a few weeks early to blight and powdery mildew. With the harvest about 95 percent in, I’ve tallied up my pickings for the season.

To determine their monetary value, I checked the prices of comparable produce at Shop Rite, my grocery store of choice. Whenever possible, I used prices of Shop Rite’s organic produce. But for about half of what I harvested, I couldn’t find organic equivalents and was forced to use the non-organic price in my comparison. Because produce prices fluctuate regularly, I used an average of Shop Rite prices I found throughout July and August, at the height of my garden’s production.

Here’s what I grew and harvested this year, ranked by its dollar value:

2011 total monetary value: $330.08
2011 total expenses: $21.78
Net savings: $308.30

How do these numbers compare to previous years? In 2009, I grossed $148 in produce from a somewhat smaller-sized garden, but ended up with -$222 after factoring in my ‘start-up’ expenses which included a pricey, six-foot-high roll of wire fencing and metal posts (essential to exclude deer).

In 2010, I enlarged the garden (since I had leftover fencing) and harvested more, growing $515 worth of food ($429 after expenses). I attribute some of the increase to a more concerted effort to harvest wineberries daily during the month of July, as they ripened. The wineberries, which grow naturally in my backyard, are an invasive Asian bramble that produces berries that look similar to a raspberry. Since you’ll never find them in a store, I’ve used raspberry prices for comparison when calculating their monetary value. (And you know how expensive raspberries are in the store!)

Last summer, I hand-picked 39 cups of wineberries, which really boosted my ‘garden’ productivity.  I planned to do the same this summer, but lost my enthusiasm after finding a tiny tick embedded in the skin between my fingers. I don hip boots sprayed with DEET for wading into the brambles as protection against ticks (I’ve had Lyme disease twice) but hadn’t counted on picking one up on my hand. So I settled for about nine cups of berries picked from the relative safety of the periphery of the thickets.

This year’s garden is pretty much spent, but I take comfort knowing I’ll be enjoying my tomatoes, wineberries, kale, basil, and zucchini (in the form of soups, stews and quick breads, and on my breakfast cereal) in the cold winter months to come. I can’t wait until next spring, when I’ll be planting soybeans for the first time.

Happy gardening!

How long have you been gardening? Are you considering trying your hand at it for the first time? What’s the first thing you’d want to grow? Let us know by leaving a message in our comments section below.

Guest blogger Dawn Handschuh is a freelance writer living in Connecticut. 

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Comments

Tomatoes in my local farmers market sell for 4 pounds for $1.

Posted by Paul at June 10, 2013 at 8:04pm

Grossly biased – you did not include the cost of your time and labor or the cost the land – even assuming your low estimate of expenses included cost of the land and its taxes and water. Time and labor is the big one – lets say for a garden big enough to supply all the food for you and your family – one hour a day ( I’ll bet its a lot more ) and at the average American wage of $23/hour ( it’s actually 23.89 USD for May 2013) over 1/2 a year that’s well over $4 thousand a year JUST in LABOR.

Posted by Joe at June 10, 2013 at 8:02pm

My 2 cents to add. Having a garden helps you eat healthier cheaper foods. We now eat a lot less meat as a result. I would also add that perennial trees are critical. One plum, apple, orange and lemon tree net many hundreds of dollars in fruit, which is canned as preserves marmalades or eaten fresh year round. The other possible avenue which is a little more cutting edge is gathering the flowers and leaves and other parts of plants in your garden that are edible. These parts can be high in mineral and vitamin content and they are free resources. The most unconventional method of obtaining produce is getting wild foods when possible, but that takes some training to distinguish edible and non-edible plants, albeit very fun to do.

Posted by Bryan Krantz at May 21, 2012 at 4:02pm

I never realized that growing your own vegetables could be so inexpensive. I am going to start my own garden and grown my own food. I love tomatoes, green beens, and squash. Thank you for this article.

Posted by Patrick Miller at March 26, 2012 at 9:10pm

I grow my own vegetables in a small garden at home every summer. I never would have guessed i’d save so much money on them. Great to know. Thanks!

Posted by Nicole Phillips at March 26, 2012 at 9:08pm

You only harvested 6 zucchini from 2 plants? Were they huge woody only good for grating into your quick breads? Two plants in my mom’s garden feeds 3 families with lovely little ones to slice for stir-frys plus bigger ones for mom to use grated in her decandantly moist chocolate cake.

Posted by new gardener at November 15, 2011 at 5:46pm

I have a small vegetable garden, about 100 square feet. For me also, green beans produce the best yield. I like easy to grow stuff, and for that perennials like jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes) and rhubarb are great. I only spent about $30 dollars on gardening supplies last year by using compost for much of the fertilizer and shredded leaves for mulch.

Posted by Kathy at October 19, 2011 at 6:58pm

Right now I’m looking to buy a house and one of the key things I’m looking for is a separate garage and backyard space so I can grown my own garden and maybe have some chickens or a cow. I have no idea how this is going to work just yet but I’ve seen people do it and love learning more about it as often as I can. Thanks for the post :)

Posted by Danielle at October 19, 2011 at 1:53pm

Here in Chicago I have a pretty big vegetable garden. The vegetables that are the biggest no-brainer to me are green and wax beans. i plant seed in early June and pull beans from mid-july through late September. Other than a little white mold late in the season they’re pretty much trouble free. Beets, carrots, and kohrabi extend the harvest season well into November. Vegetable gardening is a great excuse to be outside, something that us big city dwellers have trouble doing.

Posted by Kevin at October 19, 2011 at 12:28pm

I rent a plot from a community garden for $120/year to grow vegetables. Once I added in the cost of compost, mulch, seeds, transplants, organic fertilizer, tomato stakes, bean trellises, and a subscription to an Organic Gardening magazine for educational purposes…I’m spending a lot more to grow my own than if I bought the vegetables from my local coop. HOWEVER, I HAVE certainly enjoyed eating vegetables I started from seed, feeling closer to nature and witnessing the look on my 7 year old’s face when she dug up her first potato. Most of all, I’ve gained a new appreciation for what goes into producing food using organic methods (it’s hard work!). I feel happy and peaceful when I’m tending my little vegetable plot. And you can’t put a price on that.

Posted by Julie at October 18, 2011 at 12:22pm

Niko, the value I calculated for the tomatoes was based on an organic price of $2.99 a pound in the store. Non-organic tomatoes go for about $1.99a lb here.

Posted by fern at September 29, 2011 at 10:47pm

3 tomato plants give 96 dollars worth of fruit? I would have reckoned nearer 25

Posted by niko at September 22, 2011 at 12:42pm

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