Is Growing Your Own Food Worth It?

“Is growing your own food worth it?” When I get asked that question, people are talking about cash-in-hand not harvest-in-hand. They aren’t saying, “Is it worth it to have the very freshest sugar snap peas?” or, “Is it worth it to see your child poke a bean seed in the ground?” because there is, clearly, only one answer to those questions.

No, when people say, “Is it worth it to grow your own vegetables,” they want to know if they can save money by gardening. It’s a tricky question to answer. When people ask me how much I save on my grocery budget through gardening, I usually defer answering.

Front Bed: August

Partly that’s because I still feel that I spend a lot of money on food, basically by optional hoity-toity foodie choice, and I don’t want people to think it’s not worth it financially to grow your own food just because I spring for big ticket items like salmon and game meats that skew my budget upwards of what it could be.

Partly I’m not sure about answering because, while I know we save money on a per-item basis, what and how we eat is totally different because of the gardening and DIY component.

I can say honestly we buy very few vegetables – onions, carrots and sweet potatoes are the only vegetables I regularly purchase – and we eat a lot of them. Berries too. What’s the cost of 8 or 10 pounds of organic strawberries at the market these days? That’s what we harvest every few days for a month in a good year. Raspberries? We pick ‘em by the bucket. Tarragon we hack off in bunches as big as your wrist. Figs, apples, herbs, greens – that high-ticket stuff sure seems to pay for itself. But does that make it worth it?

If I didn’t grow pounds of strawberries, would we eat pounds of strawberries? Probably, since I still supplement with purchased local berries for freezing in early summer. But I sure wouldn’t upend a pint of organic golden raspberries at $5 a pop into each of my kids’ pieholes every few days. If we bought those berries there would be some pathetic and unsuccessful attempt to, you know, savor every bite, which would really mean, treat every berry like you are swallowing a dime, because basically you are.

Being somewhat of a produce glutton, I would fail at this attempted moderation. I have never understood the logic that one does not appreciate the last bite as much as the first, or that measured slow eating is always necessary for enjoyment. When it’s raspberries, you appreciate every damn mouthful even if you appreciate them fast. You pop those berries in, mush them between your tongue and the crenulations at the roof of your mouth and repeat, mouth full and oozing juice, looking around for more, rapid fire. At least, I do. My Slow Food cred probably just went out the window, but there you are. Pass the berries, please.

Would I be so gluttonous if I were paying by the berry? I don’t know. Probably not. Yet I am confident I would spend at least $200 to $300 a month more on fruits and veg in addition to what I currently spend on groceries if I didn’t garden. $50 a week on fruit and veg? Easy, I’m embarrassed to say. But then, I consider a typical supermarket bunch of kale to be a rather stingy single serving. Produce gluttony strikes again. So maybe the way we eat (differently and just…more, I think) doesn’t apply for a lot of families when the question is, “Is it worth it?”

So that’s $2400-$3600 a year savings on fresh produce alone, which seems shockingly unreasonable, since that is many families entire annual food budget. See why I hesitate to answer this question?

Here’s another example. Pint by pint and quart by quart my preserves save money. In fact if anything the “value added” items like jam, tea, homebrew, etc. seem to contribute more to our grocery negabudget than the raw produce.

I saw jam that looked very comparable to the jam I make at the store yesterday. It was a half-pint of apricot preserves for $7. It looked great but I think I’d balk at paying that much for jam. This is a question I won’t face anytime soon, as I got five cases of apricots for free last year, and so am very well stocked on apricot jam for probably the next two years. If for some reason I were faced with $7 jam, we simply wouldn’t use as much, and that might not be a bad thing.

If I were paying $8 or $9 a quart for canned tomatoes – which as far as I can tell is the market price for tomatoes and tomato sauce like mine – instead of the roughly $2.70 I pay to make each quart of homemade canned tomatoes, I would be far more stingy with the tomatoes.

The thing is, I simply hate being stingy with food. I’m just not into it. Hospitality is important to us and our family is in the fortunate position that a lot of things would have to go south before household food rationing seemed reasonable to me. There is always room for another mouth at my table and everyone can always have another serving if they are still hungry. The idea that I might hesitate even a minute before sharing with a friend or having the neighbor kid stay for dinner kinda disgusts me, actually. Nothing is ever wasted, but there is always plenty.

I like creating plenty. It’s kinda my gig. Plenty at the table, plenty in the garden. A philosophy of plenty. So if that’s what it came down to: losing a feeling of plenty, or going for less expensive, less sustainable food, I’d have #10 cans of California tomatoes in my cart and to hell with BPA and local farm support before I’d tell a friend they couldn’t join us at the table because there wasn’t enough tomato sauce to go round.

Obviously, I try to avoid this dichotomy, and get the best of both worlds – local tomatoes preserved in glass for about the same price as commercial stuff in cans – by doing the labor myself. But that’s just me. That’s how I try to strike a balance. Other people weigh the same issues, of time, grocery costs, sustainability, food ethics and their other values and they find the solution that works for them.

So, enough hedging. Is it worth it to grow your own? In a strictly financial sense, if the hours you garden would be hours you were working at a decent paying job (whatever that means), it’s honestly probably not worth it. The professional farmers can grow more efficiently and more cheaply than you can, which is why when anyone runs the numbers on householding and edible gardening and gives themselves a “living wage” the return looks pathetic…like, 14 cents an hour, or negative.

But this is an unfair comparison, because no one is suggesting people make the choice between gardening and working for wages. Gardening isn’t farming, and as much effort as I dedicate to growing my edibles, I am not a farmer. Gardening fills in around the edges, like any other pastime. It takes time but it doesn’t have to take full-time. So it’s not gardening or job. It’s gardening or Dancing with the People Who Have Cooking Talent Today (or whatever the latest reality supershow is). It’s gardening or reading or writing or workouts at the gym or some balance thereof. The advantage with growing your food is that it is a productive hobby – there is something tangible to show for the time and investment.

No one asks a golfer if it is “worth it” to invest in new clubs, or a runner if it is “worth it” to get $80 running shoes. Whether it’s worth it to grow your own food has to come down to, would you spend your time this way for free anyway, as with any other hobby? Gardening is consistently listed as in the top 5 or 10 most popular hobbies in the U.S., so plenty of people are happy to. And for us, oh yeah, it’s totally worth it.

Is it worth it to you?

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Comments

  1. I get such a feeling of accomplishment and joy every time we use something we have grown ourselves, or when we are able to gift something home grown and/or home made. That makes it worth is for me.

  2. The passion that you have and standard of quality, freshness and bounty that you maintain in gardening reveals your answer: yes, it is worth it. Just reading about your exploits in the field is worth it to me, a non-gardener. We live in an apartment in a densely populated area and I’ve tried my hand at gardening a few times, and a few items at a time, but I’m just not cut out for it (nor is the apparently poor soil in our yard!). I’ll stick to keeping the space chemical-free, friendly-bug-and-bird populated and trimmed enough to make it comfortable to spend a spring’s afternoon in. So folks like me ‘garden by proxy’ with seasoned and talented vets like you. I can speak for myself in saying that I’m very glad you think its worth it!

  3. I have such a desire to grow my own food – to the point where I’m actually considering renting some land an hour away from my house just so I can grow some veggies *sigh* It is absolutely worth knowing where your food came from, what went into growing it, and what you’ll make from it. It’s worth watching it grow, witnessing an everyday miracle every time something you’ve planted bears fruit. It’s worth giving your family the very best you can :)

    I know it’s a lot of work, but I’m so envious of the way you do it, Erica!

    • Dandelion says:

      Lynne, there are other ways of growing your own food than making a garden so far from you that it becomes a chore. I have land to work and I still want to try some of these creative suggestions I have found online. One is an upright garden made out of a pallet. You can grow lettuces, herbs, and edible flowers in the cracks of a pallet, leaning against your house or on your patio or porch. You can grow mushrooms in a 5 gallon bucket, you can trellis vines on your porch railing, holding the fruit up with torn nylon stockings. You can grow herbs in a window box.
      Gardening away from home is just looking for failure and shame, imo. A garden that is part of your homelife becomes a friend, not a slave driver.

      • I would agree, don’t garden an hour from your home. Work with what you have, and amend the soil (rotten manure and/or compost) so the little that you have goes a long way. You will be rewarded. If sun is an issue, find crops that dont need much sun. Grow sprouts indoors! (no garden needed) you can do a lot with a little, without leaving home, and it will satisfy your craving for “grown by hand”.

      • ah… but a big part of the problem is that inside my house are my two cats who will destroy anything plant-like, and outside is my neighbor’s cat, who’s worse than mine (in that she will actually scale the brick wall of the building to get to my tomato plants from her own owner’s balcony!). It’s not wild animals I need to worry about, it’s the domestic ones!

        • I have a cat who loves to munch on plants as well but it hasn’t stopped me from gardening. True, he leaves summer plants alone (when he can eat grass) but during the winter, my indoor plants are in danger. To satisfy my cat I have chives and a spider plant which he enjoys munching on. They’re grass-like and that’s what he wants. His chewing on them doesn’t kill them and he leaves my other, less-grassy, plants alone. Perhaps if you had a few of these plants around (or catgrass, or catnip) which the cats would be free to chew on they’d leave garden plants alone? At least, alone enough to not destroy them.

        • Keep in mind there may be cats an hour away too. (c: I’ve been daydreaming about finding another yard to garden in (on an in-kind lease of sorts) once mine is maxed out and stable. There’s no way I’d consider another yard that was more than a 5 min bike ride from my house. Even if gardening is just a hobby, it does require more intimate daily involvement than,say, golf or auto restoration. Sure, rent a garage an hour away to fix up that old Pinto. When you don’t have time to make the drive for a few busy weeks, your pile of bolts will be just as you left it. However your garden may become unrecognizable or even eat you whole when you drive up (depending on your climate and choice of produce, of course). I’ll bet you could find a neighbor with a house who be happy to let you garden in their yard for a small price, if not free in exchange for some of the plenty.

  4. Before I had kids. I was Sam for gardening. I wanted to be the hippie dippy neighbor with fruits and vegetables and beautiful roses. I just hated putting in the time neccesary. Now that I have a child. Its very exciting to go out and see what grew that day. Since the only thing that grew well last year was zuchinni I didn’t save any money. But I got a return far greater. Time and memories with my child.

  5. I like to say I’m frugal, but sometimes I’m just a damned cheapskate. If we didn’t grow our own veggies and berries, I wouldn’t spend the money for the organic versions in the store. I might not even spend the money for the conventional versions.

    But gardening turns cheapskate on its head. Not only are we growing a good portion of our food sustainably and chemical-free, but I’m also more likely to buy organics when I do have purchase something. Gardening keeps us in that organic/sustainable state of mind.

    Let’s not forget the health benefits from the activity itself (exercise, meditation, sunlight), and the quality time spent with my husband, granddaughter, and sometimes a pet.

    It’s absolutely worth it.

  6. It is absolutely worth it for me. A friend asked me recently if I’m still in to gardening and stuff since I hadn’t talked about it as much recently. The question was a little shocking since outside my chickens were making compost, the counters were piled high with veggies I was processing to put away for winter, and my rabbits were downstairs pooping away to give us even more fertility for next years plantings. She was right, I suppose, that I hadn’t used as much of our conversation time recently to bore her decidedly black thumb about how well the nightshades were doing this year.
    It was more than that, though. I, without realizing it, had so fully integrated this homesteading life into myself and my daily activities that it was no longer the news of the day. It was just what I did. Like brushing my teeth.
    On the rare occasion I find myself in the grocery stores’ cool, fluorescent lit produce section, I’m a little sad. I think of so many people eating the mealy, glossy apples, and the limp lettuce and I know that I don’t want to join in. Instead, I’d rather be outside side by side with the infuriating groundhog fighting over who gets the last of the seasons green beans if it means I can avoid what our nations agricultural system says is food, because I am not convinced it is. In 2012 the groundhog won the green bean fight, but did I mention the nightshades did great..!
    Thanks for your great post.

  7. I garden because I seem to be compelled, even though I actually sort of suck at it. Every year since I was sixteen (and that’s a lot of years now) I’ve planted SOMETHING to eat. In recent years I’ve had more access to good dirt and so I’ve had bigger gardens, as well as fruit trees and blueberry bushes and such. This year, though, I’m living in my mother-in-law’s house in southern Mexico. All I have is a tiny little Romeo-and-Juliet type balcony, but I’ve filled it with pots and now an growing rosemary, thyme, oregano, lavender, and chile peppers. Gotta have SOMETHING.

  8. I don’t know if I am really saving money because I’m not sure I would buy from a store as much as I grow in my yard. I know I wouldn’t get the varieties I select and I probably would not be able to afford the organic items. Last year I purchased 30 lbs of tomatoes to can. It cost $30.00 for those tomatoes. I just did not have a good year with my own tomatoes and I know $30.00 would buy quite a few seeds which could produce much much more than 30 lbs of tomatoes.
    But for me, growing food is not about the cost or cost savings. It is communing with the earth and enjoying the sustenance that comes from nature itself. It is an extension of self – from the inside out. If a person has that burning desire to toil in the soil, nurture the seedling, savor the bounty…then it has not much at all to do with dollars and cents because some things in life are priceless.

  9. Oh man, I can down a pound of broccoli by myself in, like, a sitting if it’s roasted with olive oil, salt, and pepper. My husband and I EASILY eat 1-2 lb of produce (EACH) if it’s a veggie heavy dinner (read: most nights). Easily. We got a produce delivery service that was recommended for 2 people and it wasn’t enough. We snagged the small family option, and it was still on the small side. Evidently the two of us eat the same amount of produce as a large family. Which…I’m kind of OK with. Fortunately, there is a fruit stand nearby that sells stupidly cheap produce year round. We live in an apartment, so my small balcony garden is more supplemental than anything else. Having fresh herbs is really nice, though. I’m going to try to grow more up there this season.

  10. This is an excellent post! I love your thoughtful, measured response to the question. I don’t consider it to be hedging. It’s not something you can just plug into a calculator to get the answer.

  11. “I like creating plenty. It’s kinda my gig. Plenty at the table, plenty in the garden. A philosophy of plenty. So if that’s what it came down to: losing a feeling of plenty, or going for less expensive, less sustainable food, I’d have #10 cans of California tomatoes in my cart and to hell with BPA and local farm support before I’d tell a friend they couldn’t join us at the table because there wasn’t enough tomato sauce to go round.”

    I love that you said this. Utterly love it. It’s exactly how I feel about so many things, though I don’t have nearly the garden you do. I bought my tomatoes for canning this year, though they were pretty inexpensive once I got them in bulk.

    Thanks again for an awesome blog.

  12. Is gardening worth it? I think it’s far less expensive than therapy! ;-)

    Truly, I love gardening. Some days, it drives me crazy–but that’s usually the business-end, as I also have a small heirloom plant nursery. And other days, I’m frustrated by voles eating the roots of my pac choi. But just this morning, as I was feeling a little blue after the hubby and kiddos left and wondering where to begin tackling the pile of work for my business that needs to be done today, I walked down to one of our gardens to pull off the low tunnels. I ended up messing around for a bit, then checked on the mushroom logs, harvested some shiitakes, peeked in the greenhouses, and finally came back in–completely refreshed and ready to work. It’s soul soothing for me, and I can’t put a price on that.

    Cheers to gardens!

  13. It saves us about $5000-6500 a year to garden. That reminds me I need to finish entering our harvests from last year.

  14. Linda McHenry says:

    I seriously doubt I save a lot of money growing my own vegetables and berries, but it’s “worth it” because I enjoy the time spent in the garden as well as knowing I’m eating fresh, organic produce. Plus they make for envy producing pix on Facebook :)

  15. RIGHT ON! You completely 100% nailed why I garden. And like you, I doubt very much that I’m “saving” money, but I know we’re eating a lot better and everything we grow is organic. I started gardening last year just for giggles and I am hooked (so is the husband). One of my friends gave me your garden planner for Christmas and it will help me apply a lot of rigor to my 2013 planting and harvesting. Thank you for sharing your skills with us.

  16. Wow – that last paragraph nailed it.

  17. I consider the food eaten from the garden to be less than half of the value obtained. The greater value is that it keeps my spirit connected to the reality of nature and keeps my body strong and supple from gardening exercise. You can’t get this from the supermarket or even the farmer’s market. Another return on investment is that my garden is sustainable, it is an improving circle of life that gives and takes; not a one way take, consume, and trash that destroys the earth’s balance.

  18. I totally agree with Donrad…plus I am teaching my children explicitly and by example that you make a life, you don’t just ¨take, consume and trash¨ the world around you, as Donrad put it. I am sure I wouldn’t buy everything I grow organically, partly because I grow things you really have a hard time finding here, but also because I wouldn’t want to spend the money. I would eat fewer organic berries, for example.

    We have also started to forage, which I consider part of our gardening experience, and I am sure that does save us some money!

  19. I get that question too. My short answer: “If you have to ask, you probably won’t understand the answer.” Generally, I then launch into details, since I consider it totally worth it. Erica, your Slow Food cred is stone solid, though, as the time to get, grow, and harvest even that last berry anchors it. You barely touched on the dietary health component, the family cohesion component and others (ya coulda wrote a book, ya know). If kids today were more into gardening, and less into video games and other total time and talent frittering activities, would it be worth it?

    • “ya coulda wrote a book, ya know”
      Indeed, this 1000+ word post was the attempt to list a few gardening “resolutions” for the new year. I started with a goal for “sharing more concrete details about cost of growing your own” and, six paragraphs later, realized that one issue was a post in itself. Maybe one day I’ll get to the 2013 resolutions post. :)

  20. tanaya ropp says:

    Well said. I don’t like to garden but my mother does. She doesn’t like to preserve, I do. So it works out well. I can or preserve as much as I can. She grows as much as she can. When I am to busy, we take baskets of produce to people. There have been times when they have cried because they were not sure how they were going to make it. Some of them have started come help so they can take what they need.

    • Love Love LOVE that people come to help so that they take what they need. The foodbank is at a church just down the street from me and I would so love to be able to put out a fresh free veggies basket at their door each day.

      • You could check with your foodbank. Ours has a drop box for produce that people use to drop off either home grown produce or CSA excess whatever. The idea is that the food bank is not technically involved (other than providing the box) and it’s the takers risk – but the expectation is that it’s fit for the donaters family just excess. And it’s a venue for those otherwise struggling to have access to fresh produce which is so important to good health.

  21. It is ABSOLUTELY worth it. Every time I harvest all the ingredients I need for a beautiful salad. Every time I make a marinara. Every time I pop a snap pea in my mouth straight from the vine. Every Thursday afternoon when my niece comes over to help me do garden chores.

    I make mine go further though. I run a local food swap and if I have extra of something (like loquat jam and orange marmalade) I swap it for something I don’t grow. It’s awesome!

  22. Spot on. Thank you for this awesome, nuanced exploration of this question – I have gone through this exact series of points and counterpoints with myself many times, and come to similar conclusions: gardening is a hobby that lets us eat like kings, and provides cushion for lean times.

  23. 1. The garden is my zen space. I’m not sure there’s a paycheck in the world I would take if I couldn’t poke around in the dirt once in a while.

    2. No produce in the world, not even the best farmer’s market stuff, can compare to that I pluck off the vine/tree/bush and put in my mouth.

    3. Have you ever told your two year old that she has to eat more of her pork chop so she can have some more salad? Nuff said.

    4. By gardening I can create life over and over and over, which is incredibly gratifying. Sure is easier than 20 kids (no offense if that’s your bag of course).

  24. It’s definitely worth it for me.
    I’ve done the money math, myself, and come up with the same conclusion – that DIY (as a labour of love) means I get much better product for the same low price that I’d (be able to) pay at the grocery store for generic brand jam/tomato-sauce/pickles or produce imported from Chile.

    Beyond that, though: I work from home on a lot of jobs that don’t pay well, or pay intermittently, or are dependent on funding, or what-have-you. My wife is the one with the reliable income. I’m the one who keeps our costs as low as possible by growing/foraging our food and doing home-canning and scratch-cooking. My wife wouldn’t say that I’m “earning my keep”, because she’s actually supportive of my work, but I often feel like gardening, foraging, cooking, and canning are all ways for me to Do My Part to keep us afloat. :-)

    • My hubby is the same, his work helps us stay afloat and I’m always grateful. Plus its something we love to do together!

  25. Another factor to consider is that our industrialized, government subsidized, artificially fertilized, genetically engineered, chemically controlled food system is coming to rapid end. The government is bankrupt, the soil is depleted, ground water is gone, the chemicals are making everyone sick, and global warming heat & drouth and are destroying our commodity crops. Human overpopulation is way past the level the earth can support and it continues to grow rapidly. Right now, today.

    Sustainable gardening, small animal raising, and food preservation skills will soon be necessary for survival once again. This knowledge was lost about 3 or 4 generations ago. Keep it alive. Teach your children well.

  26. Thank you for this post! This coming March, I will be starting my seeds from scratch for the 4th year of our home garden. Is it worth it? For me, yes it is. Gardening is full of my blood, sweat and tears. It is an investment of my time (and some money, for seeds, soil nutrients, and whatnot) and effort, what I consider a large payout – I get produce that I know exactly WHAT has been done to it – nothing but watered, & nutrients added to the soil as needed. I know I can grab a bean straight off the vine or tomato off the plant and eat it, and the only thing I’ll ingest is the veggie, and maybe a little dirt. I love the feeling of taking my garden hod out to harvest and having to empty it a few times because there is SO MUCH. And I like the fact that it’s January, and I am eating veggies in various ways from last years garden, preserved by me. That I can recite each and every ingredient within those jars on my shelves. How to you put a price on the feeling you get from growing, harvesting, and preserving your own foods? You can’t. Just like you can’t put a price on the joy you feel at seeing the expressions on peoples faces when you feed them from your haul. It’s wonderful.

    • Heather – you expressed yourself perfectly. My husband and I grow and do all you do and you’re right, there is no feeling like what you described.

      Cheers to you and your garden!
      Susan

  27. I actually think the comparison to a ‘reasonably well paying job’ is unbalanced all by itself because when you factor in the costs of that reasonably well paying job, you’re not actually making all that much extra money…

    The average two-family income with children only brings home between $500 and $600 a month from the secondary income after all associated expenses (second car, second work wardrobe, childcare, etc) are factored in…

  28. You rule, as usual. I hope this doesn’t sound too heavy-handed, but it strikes me that one of the goals of this generation of urban/rural homesteader foodistas is to contribute to the changing of the food system itself. I know I’m not saving money *at all* by raising my own organically fed and free-range meat chickens. I am, however, eating meat raised far, far away from a gigantic commercial stuff-n-slaughter industrial chicken battery. But more to the point, I’m teaching my girls that this is what humanely raised meat looks like, and that the solution to its high cost is to eat less of it, on special occasions, like when out-of-town company comes. That’s a change that can go on for thousands of years in good health to all who touch it. Is it worth it? What kind of question is that?

  29. We have an ordinary suburban backyard and “yeah worth it” for all the reasons above and in the comments. In subsequent years as we have saved more and more seed and raised our own seedlings it has saved us financially even more. Erica I like your coined term…what was it? “negabudget”. Now to negabudget even more, I grow surplus of produce (ie; more than we can eat and preserve) and sell it at our local growers market. The small income from this negates the spend on the garden and the chook feed too. As you addressed in one of your points, a lot of people ask me if all the time and work is worth it? I say to people “what else are you going to do with your time? Probably watch TV. So I might as well be productive” A lot of people who complain about not having enough time actually spend too much of it watching TV.

  30. Elizabeth says:

    Good essay. I don’t think I save money, I might. Due to physical issues gradually worsening every year with arthritis (me) and a willingness to only do so much in the garden (husband’s) I grow less varieties each year. My garden is still as large, just goes heavy to tomatoes, cukes, zucchini , peppers, pumpkins and rhubarb. Things that don’t need daily maintenance or will be over the hill or bolt etc. Also they are the things I need most in my canning and everyday cooking. I can’t get down the hill to pick. I am doing more pots on the patio that I can reach, with herbs, radish, lettuce, spinach.

    I plan my canning for a year. But I do not can a wide variety…just large amounts of 5 kinds of pickles, 4 kinds of jam/jelly, 4 kinds of relish/pickled cabbage/pickled beets, and 2 kinds of salsa and then 50 quarts of tomato juice for soups, stews, sauces etc. Where I know I don’t save is that I have sources for many of the other fruits and vegetables for preserving that I don’t buy in the store…Have a raspberry guy, have a beets and carrots couple, have a sour cherry source, an apple source (we lost our 2 apple trees ), a potato, cabbage and onion source…it goes on and on. We can’t grow blueberries here so I order 4o pounds along with many other folks and they are trucked here (to WI) from Michigan. I pick up a preordered amount of sweet corn at the farmer’s market for freezing and relish, same with my little tiny gerkhin pickles for baby dills and sweet midgets. We don’t eat much squash so I pick up a few at the farmer’s market every fall.

    So NO, come to think of it, I would say definitely I do not save money over buying non-organic goods at the store or commercially canned and frozen stuff but I know all about the food I do buy. My children were raised this way and now the older 2 have their own gardens and can and freeze too.

  31. Thank you for your beautiful post. Such a joy to read, you are! I myself am a lousy gardener. Been at it for about 4 years, and get paltry yields at best. But, how can I say this—I just dive in again, renewed and all excited again each spring. It is “worth it” for my mental health, alone. There is a wordless delight and sense of just plain awe when I serve up a table and say to my hubby, “This, this, and this and this came from our garden.” Even if it is just a salad of chickweed, violet leaves, and dandelion flowers that grow in my garden all unto themselves—and have far greater success than any veggie I plant— it is from our garden, it is healthy, and it is amazing!

    • I’m with you, Susan! I’ve been doing this for a couple years now, and I don’t produce a whole lot (despite my very elaborate efforts). In fact, I’m sure that I’m losing money on the whole operation. Still, it’s totally worth it when I get to use something in my garden to make dinner. I’m hoping that as time goes by, I’ll produce more and spend less, but I’m not sweating it if it doesn’t work out that way.

  32. For our family of five, it is absolutely worth it, or I wouldn’t continue to do it. We are vegans, and don’t do any of that fake meat stuff, so I buy oats and brown rice by the 50lb bag and basically everything else is fruits and veggies. With three growing kids, and two marathon-running adults, we aren’t stingy with food either, because the appetites in this house wouldn’t be able to handle it.

    Now, I spent more on my new tiller than I probably would have spent on veggies all year, but nobody will ever be able to tell me that a supermarket tomato can even hold a candle to one of my tomatoes – organically grown, just picked minutes ago, heirloom variety that you can’t find at the grocery store. Putting away tomatoes to avoid BPA is a big deal to me. Watching my kids eat snap peas directly off the vine instead of chips directly out of the package is important to me. You can’t put a dollar amount on that.

  33. Your posts are always so awesome, it seems sort of superfluous to mention. For me, it is worth it to grow foods that can tolerate benign neglect. My ten years of attempts to feed my family from our little plot have taught me that I will become distracted. It’s best to plant lots of garlic and onion, and overwintering brassicas, and herbs, and fruit trees that can handle being ignored. Then I get the joy of picking them out of seed catalogs, the joy of planting, and the joy of harvest- without the pain of “oh crap, I forgot the tomato seedlings and they’ve cooked on their warming mat.” I buy these things by the crate and process them as though they were grown here, which is not economically reasonable in any way shape or form. But having the knowledge that I could grow all my previous failures if circumstances necessitate that? Priceless.

  34. Oh it’s worth it. Every penny and every drop of sweat. Nothing beats gathering your own produce from the garden.

  35. Gardening is therapy for me. Outside in the fresh air, helping things flourish and live, the smell of the dirt and the green things, all the hard things in life melt away. Then to see life all around me, to watch my kids marvel at the taste of a fresh pea or the smell of basil, how chocolate mint really smells like chocolate and lemon verbena like lemon. When I open my freezer in the middle of a snowstorm and pull out basil that’s as green as the day I picked it, knowing exactly where it came from and what was used to grow it. To know the apple I ate came from a tree that I planted, with not a single chemical treatment, additive or spray since the day it was a seed in my tray. Gardening is in my soul now.

  36. As always Erica, you rock. People who ask this question don’t even understand the problem. No amount of explanation is going to help them. Nod, smile, and move on.

  37. Great article! . I started my tripping down the veggie garden path last year out of a state of distressing boredom. I have been in a 4 year battle to get function back to my hand and arm and I needed something, anything that would challenge my mind and help me fell like I was producing. Man has it done both! I will say that the cost of start up is a bit daunting but that’s me. I ate so many green things last year I lost weight ( not good for me) but I felt good! This year as I send you emails over and over with newbee questions and you patiently reply I can say that i’m not tripping as much. I think we have gotten away from doing things because they bring us joy,health and a sense of self, for a much faster life. It’s hard to slow down to garden. That choice was made for me at work 4 years ago, and the tantrum needed a salve, learning to grow food seems to be it. I have a ton to learn still ( look for those questions!) but I’m learning. This journey has been worth every pennI have spent, and ooopss I have yelled on the top of my lungs. So when I’m freaking out about some plant murder I have just committed I will remember to ask myself that question again” Is it worth it”? I bet it will still be yes :)

  38. Heading into our fourth growing season, this question is getting easier to answer. If we include all of the start-up costs for putting in a productive garden where there was no soil before (cedar-boxed raised beds, drip irrigation, topsoil, etc, etc), I’m sure we wouldn’t be close to breaking even! Ditto for the chickens (chicks, heat lamps, coop, bigger coop, fencing, feed, etc, etc). However, if we ignore that, or chalk it up to what others spend on entertainment or other hobbies, then we’re now saving a LOT.

    It’s taken a couple of years for new habits to take hold, and for our growing skills to come up to a solid level, but at this point, we’re eating a *large* percentage of our produce (90%?) from our garden almost year-round. We still buy lots of other groceries, but our bills have dropped from 700-800$/month for two foodies to a steady $200-250. The biggest difference, though, goes beyond just that now we have a pantry full of food whose equivalent we don’t have to buy. The biggest difference is that we don’t need to go to the grocery store very often. Staying out of stores saves $$$! The other biggest shift is that we no longer eat out. That was a big part of our budget for many years, but over the last year, the habit seems to have just…disappeared. The staples in the freezer and pantry mean there’s always something good to eat close at hand that doesn’t take a lot of effort. And eating at restaurants whose ingredient quality is lower than what you know you have sitting on the shelf at home starts to get annoying. As does paying though the nose at high-end restaurants to get the same quality that we get for “free”. Eating out has gotten fairly unsatisfying, except in rare occasions.

    So those few shifts have made a big dent in our budgets and big improvements in our lifestyles. And we are happier! And we’ve made new friends! And..and..and…

  39. Exactly what I always tell my husband, who doesn’t entirely get it: I could have taken up golfing or bingo. As for the rest, covered it a while back. http://kootenaygarden.blogspot.ca/2010/08/growing-food-bottom-line.html

  40. AND: there is Joe Salatin’s great quip: “If you think organic is expensive, have you priced cancer lately?” It is impossible to put an exact price on might-have-beens. But we get the idea.

  41. If you are doing it for the learning, the fun, the tangible rewards, then of course! Once you get past the first year, it can easily be a money saver when you consider the cost of seeds and IF you are skilled or lucky in the productivity department. I’ll never need to buy herbs or greens again, so surely that is worth something. If like me you choose to spend money on cedar raised beds and have to purchase compost–I could never produce enough on my own–then it will take time to recoup that investment. But like so many here, that is not the reason we’re gardening.
    I do take “is it worth it” into consideration when choosing what to grow. Some things are so easy to obtain from my farmers’ market, or so disease-prone (I’m about ready to give up on cucumbers!), that I skip them in favor of things that I cannot easily obtain or just happen to do well in my soil. One thing I don’t consider “worth it” is weighing and recording all of my harvests. I just don’t have the time or inclination to do that when there is so much else to do!

  42. I think about this a lot. I’ve decided that this is not a mathematical problem which can be solved by plotting numbers into formulas. The food I grow from the healthy soil I create has a value that doesn’t compare to anything you can buy at the grocery store.
    I was fishing around the freezer this morning for an elk roast, and jars of tomato sauce and fruit jams and pesto winked up at me. You can’t purchase a sunny fall day picking apples with your family or the smell of apple butter simmering on the stove, to be packed in jars for the winter. Not to sound holier than thou, I think you get what I mean.

  43. Yes. Absolutely.

    It’s a source of fresh, healthy food year round.

    It’s a form of exercise I enjoy and the source of fresh air and vitamin D.

    It’s my social outlet and the source of so very many of my good friends.

    Healthy food. Exercise. Emotional health. What more could you ask for?

  44. totally worth it. my husband is most definitely a man of having plenty and welcoming anyone to our table at any time. i enjoy doing that as well, but i tend to worry about money more. that said, it is so satisfying to have friends over for a meal that you’ve harvested. we’re big hunters and buy very little meat other than what we hunt. i find myself asking the same question: is it worth all the time, gas, days off work, etc. for a few deer? absolutely, because it’s time together as a couple, time in the woods, good exercise, and it doesn’t get more local, organic and in-season than wild game. in my opinion :)

  45. Hi. I’m a new reader of your blog. I’m hoping to grow food at home in the next year or so. But. I have other hobbies that I’m very attached to, and I’m not as in love with gardening (at least not yet). But I’d love to grow food at home. Do you have some suggestions for plants that seem to give more yield-per-time investment? I grew up with raspberries, strawberries, and cherry tomatoes all around our house. I thought I’d start there…

  46. I have been vegetable gardening for 40+ years. For the first 20 years it was not worth it. Then I learned that it requires an investment to get a good return. I started building deep fertile wonderful soils in raised beds with drip watering systems. I learned how to compost and use deep mulch. Now every year the happy healthy plants grow disease and pest free and reward me with abundant, nutritious, flavorful fruits and vegetables. There is very little work involved now. What few weeds there are pull out easily. At first it was hard to cope with all the big yields of food, but I learned how to quickly and easily preserve by drying, fermenting, brine pickling, and root cellering like my ancestors did. I now can share with those less fortunate and even sell some. These last two years I invested in heated grow tunnels to cover the raised beds and have doubled the yield. Yes it is worth it if you make the investment.

  47. Amanda Cowan says:

    I get it.. I don’t grow veggies, etc because I have no green thumb. In a perfect world I would take classes or pay to have someone come to my house here in Gilbert, az and teach me how to make the most of what we *can* grow here. I do however, make my own bread. I get a ton of satisfaction out of knowing that I can bake a loaf of something that is healthy, tasty and smells fantastic. But I have no idea how much each loaf costs me. I’ve never buckled down and done the math. I do get flours on sale when I can but I’ve not broken it all down. So when someone asks me if it’s cheaper.. I’m not sure what to say.

    • Hi Amanda. I live in Gilbert, AZ too. There are things we can grow here (even in summer!). I’d say the real easy ones to start with in our climate are sweet potatoes, okra, & zucchini (summer) and spinach, lettuce, onions, & garlic (winter). There’s a whole lot more we can grow here too… it just starts getting a whole lot more work!

      • Amanda Cowan says:

        Claudette, I am wondering if I could contact you for help in setting up a garden in my yard. I really have no experience with gardening but am VERY interested. I have the space, in a few areas and would love to get started but I don’t know where to start. Could you email me at azholiday at gmail dot com? I don’t know anyone else who gardens (except my mom, who lives in Wyoming). I live near Greenfield and Queen Creek. Thanks in advance! -Amanda

  48. It is so worth it for me – I have colitis and the meds my doc wants me to take cost more than my yearly income. When I eat nothing but my own organic/heirloom veggies and eggs my digestion is fine. When I run out of my own stored veggies and have to start eating food at the grocery store I’m back to living in the bathroom. I’ve now got food intolerance’s up the wazzo (dairy, corn, wheat, soy) and I think it is GMO’s. We’ve been slowly turning our .33 acres into food production and this year it will be my full time job – I’m going to try to grow all our own food (veggies and eggs since I can’t eat anything else). Seems like the only way to have safe/healthy food is grow your own. Thanks so much for the recipes – I’m much more adept at growing gorgeous/tasty food than I am at cooking it. Are there any good seasonal cookbooks out there? I’d love to see some regional/seasonal cookbooks (drives me nuts when a recipe calls for fresh asparagus and tomatoes) esp one that deals with winter/cold storage veggies.

  49. If you are just looking at gardening (ANY kind of gardening) as a money saving venture then the answer is a most emphatic “NO”… but if you include the creation of an image, an oasis of calm, an alternative to therupy, free exercise, early, middle and older child education (for FREE thank you VERY much…), healthy customised food, getting your children to eat their veggies and fruit, learning about our propper place in the world and so very much more then there is absolutely no question that growing a garden feeds you, your soul, your health AND the world!

  50. I realize I am totally late to the dance replying to this post. My husband and I have 2 large gardens, both work full time and have varied social interests. Gardening, growing our food and preserving our food is a BIG part of our lives. It takes a lot of time and energy to live like we do, but we wouldn’t have it anyother way.

    Is it worth it? A resonating “YES!” Do we save money from gardening and eating our own food – absolutely.

    We don’t want to eat GMO foods or foods sprayed with chemicals. We want to be in charge of our own health destiny. We feel this is the only true way to do that.

    We’ve planted blueberry bushes, fig, apple, plum, pear, peach, asparagus beds, and rhubarb- these are the plants that will produce year after year. The fruit trees are too young to produce just yet, but the blueberries are incredible this year! We have access to pecan trees-we pick the nuts up off the ground and in the evening (over multiple nights) shell the nuts then freeze them.

    A crop that we can eat on is always in our garden no matter the season. Garlic, onions, spinach, lettuce, turnip, ruttabega, broccoli, and beets in the fall and winter. Early Spring is a similar garden add sugar snap peas. Spring/summer is the best- 5 types of squash (2 varieties that last the winter in storage) peppers, egg plant, beans, field peas, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, okra, lots and lots of tomatoes, herbs, melons, and strawberries. We put up applesauce from apples that grow at his patents house- again no chemicals were sprayed on them. We do not plant corn anymore due to GMO.

    One word of advice if you buy at a farm, farm stand or farmer’s market- ask questions! Ask if they spray with roundup. Ask how they grow and don’t have any weeds (if you see the farm and there are no weeds). If you are buying something labeled organic ask where it came from. A lady I met who sells spiced pecans and pumpkin seeds “organic” buys from China!!! I’m saying WTH? We grow pecans in Georgia (we live in Georgia). Why buy “organic” pecans from China??
    There are lots of of pecan orchards in Georgia- I am sure she could have locally sourced pecans that had not been sprayed with chemicals.

    Again….is it worth it? Absolutely. I will do this until the day I die and happily do so because I have the peace of mind knowing what I eat is good nutritious food without chemicals. I love being in the earth and the thrill of knowing what we eat we’ve grown from seed and nurtured.

  51. Awesome post and awesome comments. Thank you. I’m seriously considering growing food for our extended family of seven across three generations. I recently became unemployed temporarily so I have so extra time to do something productive while searching for opportunities that sometimes lead nowhere. I’d love for the kids to have a better appreciation of homegrown produce. We have always been a family of cooks and chefs. Food has always brought us together. I’m hoping that in addition to saving money, eating healthy, and engaging a stress reducing hobby that this might be another way to help bring our family together more.

    I live in Florida though and am quite concerned about cats, squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, possums, armadillos, and ducks that are active in the immediate vicinity and that might ruin any chance of harvest. I thought of growing in my screen enclosed patio but I’m not sure if that will keep them out. I also thought of growing things that they might not like such as chillies, certain herbs like mint and cilantro, garlic, dill, mushrooms, etc… I really would like to get as much bang for my buck if I can. I would love advice on any of the above issues or what really pays off to plant since I don’t have much spare money and it would be useful to get the rest of the family, old any young alike, in on the experience as we largely operate as a family with consensus building. SAving money and eating more healthier is something that we all already agree on as a concept. Thanks,

  52. For me, the only concrete answer I can give is “If you’re at all interested in growing food, it’s worth it to try.” Not everyone has the time or inclination to grow things, and that’s okay. There are tons of hobbies that im not interested in. If the idea of spending time outdoors tending to a garden that might get wiped out from pests, predators, or extreme elements turns you off, then you might not enjoy gardening. Heck, I don’t do much indoor starting because I simply don’t like doing it. i’d rather buy tomato starts and directly sow everything else outside when the temps are right. I’m lucky enough to be able to do that without breaking the bank, but others’ mileage might vary.

    There’s no real apples to apples comparison I can give for my own experience, because gardening resulted in many changes to the way I eat. If you want to save money by growing food, or just get more nutrition for your limited food dollars, then you probably want to start out with that goal in mind. I just always wanted to learn how to grow stuff, and after several bad starts got some good advice, and the garden took off from there.

  53. This is great. “Produce glutton” – I can so relate to that. I also like to have “plenty” in the fridge/pantry, and food is the biggest expenditure in our household (more than mortgage!!). We do like to eat organic and we don’t skimp on fresh seafood and meats, so yes, it turns out to be a bit expensive. But food is important to us, so we skimp elsewhere. Everyone prioritizes differently and this is how we do it. I find it rewarding when people invite themselves over to my house for dinner because they know it will be delicious and there will be “plenty.”

  54. I agree with 99% of the previous posts. I am a lawyer, and if I compared my savings and/or hourly wage for growing vs. my billable rate, anyone would think I am out of my mind to spend time growing, harvesting, weeding, and preserving. There are a number of more than reasonable farmer’s markets close by where I could buy produce. In the future, I will probably go to them for some of the things I grew this year, such as onions. But growing your own food is bigger than the immediate economic return. My husband and I have two children (6 and 3), and it is vitally important to us to excite them about the very freshest and best produce of the season (they LOVE baby snow peas, cherry tomatoes, peppers, and cukes!) and to teach them to appreciate and respect the growing process and learn how to work hard to achieve the very best results. I truly believe in supporting local farmers, which is why I purchase as much of what we don’t grow as possible from local farmers, but I also believe that growing yourself instills a greater respect for the process and appreciation for the results. In addition, you cannot overestimate the spiritual value and fulfillment of gardening. Whenever I am stressed, a little time deadheading, weeding, harvesting, pruning, or whatever takes the place of therapy, and is an avenue I believe everyone on the planet would benefit from. Long story short, the benefits of growing your own food so far surpass economics as to make the choice a no-brainer, as far as I am concerned. This doesn’t mean it makes sense to grow every fruit or vegetable that you eat, but to me it does mean that there is no one who would not be better off growing something that they later placed upon their table.

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