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During the Great Depression of the 1930s, many families maintained what was called a “truck garden.” They grew a little more than they needed for themselves, with the intent to load the excess on a truck and take it to a farmer’s market to sell.
In today’s world of gigantic supermarket produce departments and fruits and vegetables from around the world at our fingertips, the concept of a home garden may seem somewhat antiquated. Yet, the backyard garden is seeing a resurgence in popularity today due, in large part, to recent economic events, but in no small part to more people realizing the economic and health benefits of growing their own produce.
The current recession is driving people to try backyard vegetable gardens for the first time, or encouraging seasoned gardeners to increase the size of their plots. A recent study by the National Gardening Association (NGA) found that the average family with a vegetable garden spends just $70 a year on it and grows an estimated $600 worth of vegetables. The $70 number doesn’t take into account some of the one-time costs of starting a garden for the first time (tilling, building up beds, buying tools, etc.), but the payoff is still there for first-time gardeners.
According to the NGA, the number of home vegetable gardens will increase 20 percent in 2009 from just a year ago, to an estimated 36 million households. They estimate that American food gardeners are producing more than $21.6 billion of produce a year, on plots that average just 600 square feet. Many experts also believe that a well-tended vegetable garden increases a home’s resale value.
The personal benefits of backyard gardening also are impressive. One side effect of a bad economy is that families tend to spend more time at home. A backyard vegetable garden provides ample opportunities for physical activity, family interaction and just quality time outdoors.
The physical activity of gardening can burn calories, build muscle and reduce the effects of diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and other conditions, but can also reduce muscle soreness and back strain, says Jeffrey Restuccio, author of “Get Fit Through Gardening.” According to the American College of Sports Medicine, a typical woman burns 161 calories in 30 minutes of gardening, while the typical man burns 209. This is the equivalent of playing baseball or softball, or kayaking for 30 minutes. You can burn more calories through gardening than through vigorous house cleaning, dancing, walking or yoga.
You also can reap the rewards of your hard work through the nutritional benefits of fresh, organic fruits and vegetables. Many things that can be grown easily at home are rich in vital nutrients. For example, strawberries, broccoli, bell peppers and tomatoes are great sources of vitamin C, while carrots, sweet potatoes and pumpkin have lots of vitamin A. Dark-green leafy vegetables like spinach are great sources of folic acid, riboflavin and vitamin K.
And, you don’t have to have a big yard – or any yard at all – to try your hand at gardening. Many people who live in apartments or in places where backyard gardens are prohibited or impractical can take advantage of container gardening. Growing vegetables in buckets, planter boxes, hanging baskets and pots also may be a good choice for people with limited mobility or who find it difficult to work with things on the ground. According to GardenGuides.com, some foods particularly well-suited for container gardening include leaf lettuce, beets, cherry tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, baby carrots, radishes, spring onions and small herbs.
So, while your backyard garden may not be as financially significant as the truck gardens of the 1930s, they can save you money on groceries, with the added benefits of good nutrition and exercise.