Splashing Cold Water on the Frugal Garden

September 16, 2009 by  
Filed under Spending

Last night I watched part of a “baby boomer and finances” special on Public Television. Part of the program was dedicated to telling the stories of retirees who grew most of their own food.

The food growing activity gave them exercise and saved them money. Good for them but truth be told, these folks were farmers, not gardeners. It’s not like they retired, took up farming as a hobby, and became instant food producers. These retirees were veterans of tilling the soil.

There has been lots of other programming and writing about our so-called new American frugalism. Stories featuring actual money saving are occasionally interrupted by talk about money-wasting campaigns such as “Cash for Clunkers.”  Gotta stay in touch with our borrow-and-spend roots.

What was I writing about?  Oh yeah – gardening.

Anyway, gardening as a frugal activity is popular now. I  like gardening – when my friends and neighbors do it. I appreciate those surplus fruits and vegetables being passed over the fence or brought to the office to share.

More recently – with all the emphasis on gardening as a money saving activity – I started wondering if my “not in my backyard” attitude about gardening was short-sighted. Just as my doubts were getting the best of me, I was saved by this article: “Why Gardening Won’t End the Recession.”

You can read the article yourself or I can summarize it for you: Gardening is a wonderful hobby but it is not a solution to household budget problems.

According to the article, a survey by the National Gardening Association concluded that the average gardener saves $600 per year by producing food having an average value of $2/pound. The author quickly debunks that theory by reporting that she routinely buys fresh produce in her area for far less than $2/pound, even at the local grocer. And she didn’t have to get dirty growing it.

I love it when someone goes after conventional wisdom, don’t you?

Nothing against you gardeners out there. I love the stuff you grow. But I’m going to look for ways to save money that don’t involve dirt, bugs, and weeds.

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20 Responses to “Splashing Cold Water on the Frugal Garden”
  1. You are also speaking from a perspective of someone who lives in a country where fruits and vegetables are so cheaply grown elsewhere, that a garden is not necessary.

    Here, I regularly see tomatoes going for $3.99/lb or $8.78/kg. And these are watery, tasteless tomatoes that have been GMO’d to death.

    Once, we heard someone buy 3 tomatoes for $5. $5!!!! And it was crap.

    When we visited the States, we were just blown away by the quality of the tomatoes there and for cheap. People in the States tend to take those prices for granted. We don’t have the same sort of mentality towards the food here in Canada.

    But nevertheless, even when we eventually move to the States and can buy food for cheaper, I am still going to have a garden because I want to grow heirloom tomatoes and have food that tastes like what it’s supposed to taste like. Saving money is just a bonus.

  2. Rick Beagle says:

    I have been an avid gardener for years, and there is nothing more fun and rewarding than having your own little garden. And OMG the taste is amazing when compared to anything you get at the market (local farmer’s market being an exception). But honestly, I can not say that gardening on a small scale is cheaper for me, so I wouldn’t lump it into the frugal category out of hand.

    However the ancillary benefits such as exercise, and improved dietary content more than make up for the cost of the garden over the long run.

    As to your continued berating of our President’s policies, the Cash for Clunkers was a huge success across the board. Sure you can pick at it and scowl at pieces of it, but overall it was a huge win for the American people and our manufacturing base. Which brings up a little bit of truth that I thought I would share. Did you know that the American deficit, spending, and the overall economy traditionally does far better under Democrats than Republicans? Double digits better for stocks. And what about that big government growth… guess which party expands the government and which party shrinks it? Oh which links should I share… pfft, you aren’t actually interested in empirical data so why bother.

    I would also like to suggest that you expand your mind a bit to consider cash for clunkers as an investment in Americans, and that historically, investing in our people has always provided far more in return dollar per dollar. Always.

    But w/e keep trying to live frugally….

    Rick Beagle

  3. Gail says:

    Agreed, don’t bother with vegetable-growing if gardening isn’t your thing! The economic benefits are definitely over-rated…unless you have at least a half acre to spare and plan on opening a farmstand to sell your produce!

    That being said, there are many non-economic benefits of growing your own veggies, not the least of which is (as mentioned by the reader above) superior taste and nutritional quality compared to anything you can buy in a supermarket. Vegetable varieties (ie, breeds) grown for mass consumption are selected first and foremost for their ability to survive shipment without spoilage, bruising, etc, not flavor.

  4. MasterPo says:

    I actually agree with Rick. Well, the first two paragraphs anyway (Rick – maybe Santa will bring you a new pony ’cause you beat your old one to death already).

    Just stop and *THINK* of what you people – the ones who are advocating gardening for food for retirees – are saying:

    A person works hard all their life and now, in their golden years, they have to grow their own food to survive? WTF! Did I just wake in Russia? 😮

  5. TMN says:

    While “debunking conventional wisdom”, did the author happen to include the environmental cost of shipping her $1.49/lb tomatos from Mexico, or the long-term political implications of preferring to rely on Middle Eastern oil reserves? I’m guessing they did not.

  6. Rick Beagle says:

    “A person works hard all their life and now, in their golden years, they have to grow their own food to survive? WTF! Did I just wake in Russia?”

    Welcome to Republicanism! At some point it must surely dawn on you that the path we have been on was not in either our country’s or her peoples’ best interest.

  7. MasterPo says:

    TMN – Don’t give me “environmental cost” crap. You try growing all your own food and see how many of your daily nutrition you can make. Last I checked there are no herds of cows in NYC so I guess we shouldn’t have milk either.

    Rick – Get a new horn.

  8. TMN says:

    MasterPo – What? There’s a big difference between getting your food from surrounding areas (up to several states away in New England) and shipping perishables from the southern hemisphere just so you can have watery tomatoes in February. A home greenhouse or even just a couple plants on an enclosed porch can help offset the need to ship out-of-season fruits and vegetables from halfway around the world.

    Anyway, I’ll stop claiming hidden environmental costs just as soon as we tax CO2 emissions enough to stop transportation companies from extracting money from the commons in the form of future environmental damage.

  9. Terry Pratt says:


    I anticipate having to grow my own food to survive. It will become the American Way.

  10. Rick Beagle says:

    “Last I checked there are no herds of cows in NYC so I guess we shouldn’t have milk either.”

    Lot’s of stupid sheep apparently.

  11. lurker carl says:

    Almost every living thing on Earth emits CO2. How can any government logically tax a natural byproduct of life?

    I guess we are entering the logic-free zone.

  12. Rick Beagle says:

    Lurker Carl,

    Yep, you are right, those nasty liberals are trying to ban natural processes in an effort to save all of our lives. Please, even you are NOT this stupid.

    Rick Beagle

  13. Easy on the name-calling folks. No one who takes the time to read and comment on this blog is stupid. A few might be misguided or confused but no one is hopeless!

  14. Rick Beagle says:


    Come on, even you have to admit that was a truly inane comment i.e. equating global warming with natural green house emissions. Even the staunchest defender of the status quo isn’t so naive to think that is even remotely close to the nature of the discussion. There have been so many lies and obfuscating comments thrown about lately, time to call them out for what they are – absurd stupidity.

    I would say ignorance, but fairly certain Lurker isn’t ignorant on the subject, just willfully stupid in his commenting. Perhaps hoping to hear the familiar bleating of his echo chamber enthusiasts? Rile up the liberals? Who knows?

    Rick Beagle

  15. lurker carl says:

    Rick, turn your face to the sun and you’ll discover the source of global warming. And global cooling. A colder Earth will be far more devistating than a warmer one.

    Increasing the Gore family’s wealth will not solve any global issues.

  16. Rick Beagle says:

    Carl Lurker,

    So you think that Global Warming means that the earth will get a little toastier? OMG… LOL!

    Fail. Go read a book…. Here is a clue for you, do a search on salinity and the impact on the Gulf Stream.

    Just because Gore is making money off trying to save our planet does not make him wrong. Liberals aren’t against making money, we just don’t think you should kill, rob, or destroy in the process of doing so.

    Rick Beagle

  17. kitty says:

    LOL – reading the comments is funny… everyone sniping at each other.

    I don’t know if growing your own food is money-saving or not or environmentally-friendly or not, but home grown food surely taste better. I wish I had a backyard….

    @TMN – there may be an enviromental impact of importing tomatoes from Mexico, but there is another side of it: it helps Mexican economy. Even if you don’t care about hungry people in Mexico, I think better economy in Mexico is to the US advantage. Don’t want to get into global warming debate – future will tell who is right; there were cases in history when “scientific consensus” turned out to be wrong; I’ve read arguments on both sides, and I don’t know enough on the particular field of science to make an informed judgement. I don’t have a crystal ball either. I do imagine that even if everyone stopped importing food, it probably would have only a minimal impact, but what do I know.

    “interrupted by talk about money-wasting campaigns such as “Cash for Clunkers.” ”

    Well, I don’t care about “cash for clunkers”, but I have to say that I like the stock market performance. I will also most definitely take advantage of cash for appliances and replace my 25 year old refrigirator and stove.

  18. Lurker Carl says:

    Rick, I am even stoopider than you think I am. With that said, believe nothing you read and only half what you see.

  19. Rick Beagle says:

    Global Warming.

    Conservative view over the last eight years:
    Global Warming doesn’t exist according to research conducted by Big Oil.
    Oh wait, maybe it does exist (government agencies confirm changes in weather patterns and suggest corrective action).
    Okay, Global Warming is occurring but it’s not our fault (agencies such as NASA complain that pressure from the Bush administration was being exerted to diminish and bury information related to this issue).
    Gore is a fiendish tool out to take all our money while he lies to us (paraphrasing the usual vile rhetoric)….

    Liberals over the same time period:
    Global Warming is real.
    Gore gets a nobel prize, and heaps of awards by people from all over the world.

    The world just shakes its head and moves on without us.

    It’s possible that the science is wrong, but at this point we it seems unlikely.

    Rick Beagle

  20. MasterPo says:

    Yes folks. We’re going to solve the world’s problems one tomato plant at a time! LOL!!

    Terry – I so fear you’re right! :-(

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