Garden Miracles

Last year, feeling disheartened by the ever-increasing amounts of cash I was shelling out on garden supplies, I decided to attempt to track the value of food I produced. I consider gardening both a hobby and an act of political protest, so I wasn’t exactly expecting it to pay its own way, but I was curious. Urban gardening is supposed to make fresh food more affordable and accessible to city residents, right? Then shouldn’t we expect it to at least break even?

To my surprise, my garden did more than break even. My approximately $90 investment produced at least $350 in organic produce, and I’m fairly sure we forgot to write some things down. What really blew my mind was the quantity of “stuff” produced. When you pick 2 ounces of beans here, 4 ounces there, you don’t notice that by the end of the season you have actually picked 7.75 pounds of beans. My seemingly meager harvest suddenly felt more impressive, all the more so considering that it came out of two community garden plots and included a hurricane.

But there are some caveats in these numbers. Since I was growing organic produce, it seemed fair to base its value on farmers’ market/Whole Foods prices—for instance, $3.00 lb. for tomatoes, or $2.50/bunch for chard. If I were really living on a tight budget (let’s be honest here: I’m not), would I really be paying these prices? Hard to say. I also noticed that at least 25 lbs. of the haul (and therefore $44 of the total) came from the peach tree. Fruit trees are one of the best gardening investments you can make, but they require owning land to grow them in. And gardening, especially urban gardening, does require a sizeable upfront investment. Unless you’ve inherited a well-maintained plot in a community garden, you’re most likely looking at purchasing lumber, screws, brackets, and up to 100 lbs. of soil and compost, not to mention the vehicle to transport all this stuff in, before you can put a single seed in the ground.

Still, I’m intrigued with this experiment. This is the first year that I have the entire season in both of my plots, and I’m hopeful. I’ve already spent well over $100, including community garden fees, a new raised bed, seeds, and conduit pipe for a new homemade trellis (that’s another story). My goal is to produce at least 200 pounds of produce on my approximately 200 square feet of gardening space. This year, I’ll be keeping a log from the beginning, and weighing everything, including herbs and lettuces. I’ll be keeping a spreadsheet with farmers’ market rates so I can see a running total of the value. We’re already off to a good start: I’ve already harvested 1.5 lbs. of overwintered leeks, spinach, and carrots.

So much for my own obsessive garden tracking habits. Readers, tell me: do you attempt to track your garden’s cost effectiveness? And if so, how?

Update: By request, I’ve uploaded my spreadsheet here, goofy notes-to-self and all. Feel free to download and make it your own.

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6 comments to Garden Miracles

  • Ghislaine

    I haven’t, but I should. Would you share your spreadsheet to give us an idea of how to do it?

  • Interesting exercise. I am lucky enough not to have to pay a set fee for the use of my community garden plot, but I’m sure I spent more than $50 last year in seeds alone; it adds up quickly when you’re buying packs of organic heirloom varieties. And there were all kinds of other little things: soil amendments and so on.

    This year I have decided only to use seeds that come free, whether left over from last year, or traded, or gifts. I have lots of spares bought last year and likely still viable. I have been given four lovely envelopes by friends: two heirloom tomatoes, plus kale and lettuce. And there are programs that supply seed to community gardeners here. Not to mention swapping possibilities.

    I already own lots of seed starting trays, bamboo poles, tools and whatnot. I may make a goal of spending a maximum of, say, $30 on the garden, which I think may be doable. At that rate, anything I grow should be profitable.

  • dorisandjilly

    Sure, why not? (updated above) The catch is that some of my notes may be eccentric for your purposes. I’m also struggling with how to calculate value vs. weight for some items. Our farmer’s market, for instance, always sells greens by the bunch. I have categories for both weight and “other quantity” (for instance, pints of raspberries), but that means that you can’t just cut and paste the calculations in the values column (F) because sometimes it will be CxE, and sometimes DxE. There’s probably a fancy if/then null statement formula, but that’s beyond my limited knowledge of Excel. Customize your copy at will!

  • Last year the kids and I weighted some stuff but didn’t keep close track this year I would really like to do a better job so I can see what does well what doesn’t and what I need to plant more of :)

  • Great blog. I am really enjoying getting back into canning this year. And gardening.

  • Lael

    Gardening is therapy. You should include the price of what you would pay for a human therapist per hour. Also, I consider what I would be doing if I wasn’t pulling weeds … probably shopping for things I don’t need. Every moment is money in the bank!

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