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More Americans are growing food gardens for fresher tastier produce

Tomatoes are the most popular food to plant in home gardens
National Gardening Association

In tandem with the planting of the White House Kitchen Garden on April 2, which was founded by First Lady Michelle Obama, a special National Gardening Association (NGA) report, Garden to Table: A 5-Year Look at Food Gardening in America, was released. According to the report, during the past five years there has been a major movement toward more Americans growing their own food in home and community gardens, increasing from 36 million households in 2008 to 42 million in 2013. The report, conducted by Harris Interactive, compiled data collected from annual surveys of representative U.S. households.

The increase of 17 percent represents the highest level of food gardening in more than a decade and shows that more young people, particularly millennials (ages 18-34), are the fastest growing population segment of food gardeners. In 2008 there were 8 million millennial food gardeners, which increased to 13 million in 2013.

The report found that more households with children participated in food gardening, increasing participation during the same time period by 25 percent, from 12 million to 15 million.

Households today are growing their own food for a number of reasons. Better tasting food was the number one reason followed closely by: to save money on food bills, for better quality food and to grow food they know is safe. Additionally, there was a 29 percent increase in food gardening by people living in urban areas, up from 7 million in 2008 to 9 million in 2013. Two million more households also reported participating in community gardening in 2013 than 2008, a 20 percent increase in five years.

Some interesting facts from the report are:
A well-maintained food garden can yield an estimated ½ pound of produce per square
foot of garden area over the course of the growing season. At in-season market prices,
this produce is worth $2.00 per pound. The average 600-square-foot food garden can
produce an estimated 300 pounds of fresh produce worth $600 and a return of $530
based on an average investment of $70.
Among the many vegetables grown by home gardeners, the 10 most popular are:
tomatoes (86 percent), followed by cucumbers, sweet peppers, beans, carrots, summer squash, onions, hot peppers, lettuce and peas.

Additional highlights from the 5-year report include:

  • 1 in 3 households are now growing food – the highest overall participation and spending levels seen in a decade.
  • Americans spent $3.5 billion on food gardening in 2013 – up from $2.5 billion in 2008 – a 40% increase in five years.
  • 76 percent of all households with a food garden grew vegetables, a 19 percent increase since 2008.
  • From 2008 to 2013 the number of home gardens increased by 4 million to 37 million households, while community gardens tripled from 1 million to 3 million, a 200 percent increase.
  • Households with incomes under $35,000 participating in food gardening grew to 11 million – up 38 percent from 2008.

As the nation's leading nonprofit in gardening education, the NGA has published annual statistics on food gardening in America since 1978. This special report examines data collected from 2008 – 2013, providing an in-depth look at trends, statistics and analytical data about food gardening during that period. The data collected shows nearly all categories of food gardening with major increases during the past five years.

"It's very exciting to see more young people and families involved in growing and eating their own food through food gardening," said Mike Metallo, president and CEO of the NGA. "National leadership, particularly from the First Lady, has certainly been an important factor in the rise in these numbers. That consistent message over time makes a tremendous difference and helps fuel more community involvement in gardening."

A complete copy of Garden to Table: A 5-Year Look at Food Gardening in America can be downloaded from the NGA website at garden.org. The NGA is a national 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that for more than 40 years has promoted learning through gardening to encourage personal growth. NGA's mission is to empower every generation to lead healthier lives, build stronger communities, and encourage environmental stewardship through educational gardening programs.

Now that the ground has softened and the soil is malleable from the warmth of the sun, it’s time to prepare your gardens and get ready for planting after the threat of a frost is gone.

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