The Washington Post
Try It; It’ll Grow on You
Gardeners don’t grow food to get rich, or even to save money. Ask why, and they’ll tell you that fresh homegrown produce tastes better, is more nutritious and is more interesting than the bred-for-shipping kind sold in stores. Growing it is fun, absorbing, satisfying. They might mention physical fitness, or their ecological footprint. But economy seems to have little to do with it. They’ll even chuckle about the “$100” tomato they just put on their plate. By the time they’ve paid for grading, loam, a sprinkler system, an electric fence, fertilizer, mulch, hired help, paving stones for the path and a statue of Saint Francis of Assisi, they’d have done better at the supermarket, if money were the point.
Historically, though, food is survival, and there are still plenty of places in the world where people must garden in order to eat. We may think we live far removed from the time of subsistence farming, but in fact, the distance is three days. That’s about how long we’d have during a major shutdown of transportation and utilities before the food started to run out. In such a case, those who had a garden, or even knew how to garden, would fare better than most.
Meanwhile, let’s say you find yourself in the less apocalyptic position of being short of money. The less money you have, the larger percentage of your income must go for the basic necessities, such as food. Done right, gardening can, in fact, save you a lot, and the first step is putting your own labor into it. You can often find good garden tools at tag sales for a few dollars. You can make your own compost from free organic matter such as weeds, kitchen wastes, leaves and manure.
It’s possible to make the best of a small yard by planting closely in deeply worked, well-amended soil and by growing succession crops that give several harvests from the same spot over the course of the year. Or cut-and-come-again vegetables such as kale and Swiss chard that bear for months on end. You might economize by choosing open-pollinated varieties whose seed can be collected, saved and planted the following spring. Create some permanent plantings such as asparagus, blueberries and raspberries. If you can, expand the garden to include storage crops such as beets, potatoes, dried corn and beans — a family could survive on these.
If you don’t have any land of your own, stake out a plot in a community garden. Then keep at it, so that each year you have more skill and can grow more. With better food, and the exercise required to grow it, you might even spend less on health care. And prosper.