- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 21, 2022

More Americans are growing their vegetables at home or in local community gardens to eat healthier and save money in the post-pandemic era, according to agricultural analysts.

With high inflation and global supply chain shortages hitting consumers at supermarkets, the National Gardening Association estimates that 35% of U.S. families grow vegetables, fruit and other food at home. According to the association, that’s one in every three households, a 200% increase of 2 million families since 2008.

Since last year alone, the group reports community gardens have increased by 22%, including about 29,000 community gardens in the 100 largest U.S. cities.

“Growing your own food can save you money if you grow the right plants,” said Phil Nauta, a certified organic grower who hosts an online gardening academy for the Christian nonprofit Thrive for Good. “For me, that’s mixed greens, broccoli and cauliflower, and tomatoes and peppers.”

Mr. Nauta, who grew up in Canada working for his parents in a garden center, added in an email Thursday that he also grows potatoes — an inexpensive item at stores — because they “can be six times more nutritious” planted in good soil.

“I want the potatoes I eat to be as nutrient-dense as possible, and since I have the space, they get planted every spring along with everything else,” Mr. Nauta said.

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Ricky Volpe, an agricultural economist at California Polytechnic State University, says the growth of farmers’ markets, community farms and other direct-to-consumer food sources “accelerated during COVID-19.”

Beyond anecdotal evidence, he said it’s harder to find accurate data on backyard vegetable gardens since nobody tracks them officially.

Such gardens often help poor families feed themselves, he noted.

“Local food options reduce food insecurity and improve food access, particularly in rural areas. Urban farming has also been on the rise in the U.S., as defined by people living in cities and suburbs growing their own food, usually in public lots designated for this purpose,” Mr. Volpe said.

He said bell peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and berries, especially strawberries and blueberries, are growing in popularity in the U.S. In the Mediterranean-style climate of California, he said citrus fruits and figs also do well.

According to economists, Americans are catching up to a trend of home-grown food that people in less industrialized countries have long embraced to cope with famines and shortages.

“In countries like Argentina or Russia, many families grow their own food and raise animals to reduce the impact of inflation,” said Daniel Lacalle, a professor of global economics at IE Business School in Spain. “It is an effective tool to address shortages.”

With higher costs, shipping fees and wages pushing the food inflation rate to its highest level since July 1981, economists predict the average U.S. family will pay an extra $1,000 for food this year.

That makes backyard gardening an increasingly attractive alternative, even among urban Americans who have never done it before.

“It’s better than eating bugs,” said Jeffrey Tucker, president of the free-market Brownstone Institute for Social and Economic Research.

• Sean Salai can be reached at ssalai@washingtontimes.com.

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