Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The New Urban Gardener

Green Costoluto Genovese heirloom tomato
When the economy started to plummet out of control in late 2008, Americans from coast-to-coast hurried to garden centers and home improvement stores where they snapped up vegetable seeds and plants faster than politicians take bribes. Citizens may have lost half their retirement incomes, but doggone it, they would not go hungry if they had any say in the matter.

This past spring, local independent garden retailers like The Natural Gardener, 512-288-6113, and The Great Outdoors, 512-448-2992, saw large spikes in sales of vegetable plants, seeds, bulk soils, compost and miscellaneous gardening accessories over the previous spring’s receipts. The majority of these customers, they discovered, were first time vegetable gardeners.

Carla Crownover says she meets brand new vegetable gardeners daily. Crownover is co-owner of Austin Urban Gardens, 512-619-7966, which installs raised bed vegetable gardens, complete with soil, throughout the metro area and beyond. She and her partner construct the beds with lumber made from recycled plastic and sawdust, and Austin Urban Gardens even sells timber kits for the DIY crowd. Most of her customers, says Crownover, are first time vegetable gardeners who are thoroughly excited over the prospect of growing their own food.

Do these new backyard farmers save money by cultivating food crops? It is certainly possible, especially if they grow things like heirloom tomatoes that sell for between $3.00 and $6.00 a pound at Whole Foods and Central Market. Vegetable growers will definitely save time and fuel costs by harvesting greens, tomatoes, peppers, herbs and more from their gardens instead of spending time on congested roadways and in grocery store checkout lines. If those food plots of theirs are highly productive, these folks will no doubt have fresh, delicious produce to preserve for future use.

At this writing, the economy is supposedly no longer in free fall; there are those who say the worst is over and that things are beginning to look up. Yet, even as the economic outlook improves, don’t expect this new crop of vegetable gardeners to let their rows lie fallow. This dark time in our nation’s history has shined a light on something that none of us knew we missed until we found it—a personal ongoing connection with the food we eat. And that’s something that never loses value.

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