Growing your own vegetables can be healthful and economic

Published 11:43 am Monday, May 31, 2010

Taking one last eye-widening glance at a grocery seed might be all it takes to plant the seeds.

Some residents grow vegetables in their own backyards for health reasons. They either prefer organic food, minus the pesticides and other chemicals, or they’ve read that it’s better for their health.

With a still-unstable national economy, more people have less trouble taking up gardening if it means keeping a few dollars in the wallet. But vegetable gardening is also a fast-growing trend in some communities, as the organic food wave grows larger.

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Marengo County extension coordinator Kathryn Friday sees a combination of trendy living and a desire to save money. Higher prices at grocery stores along with the occasional food scare encourage people to create and monitor their own food.

Her office gets plenty of calls from would-be gardeners with hordes of safety questions. If people produce their own harvests by using chemicals to fertilize, Friday hopes that they’re safe about it.

“If people plan to preserve what they produce, they need to check with us or somebody on safe techniques to do so,” Friday said.

Friday keeps her own garden. Her English peas are coming in nicely, she said, as well as her lettuce, butter beans, green beans and okra.

“Tomatoes are the proverbial favorite around here,” she said.

Growing various vegetables hasn’t totally afforded her the chance to quit buying produce from grocery stores completely, although she said she hasn’t bought lettuce in a couple of months.

“It just depends,” she said. “When I have vegetables available in my own garden, I don’t buy them in the store.”

Cold spells can destroy crops, causing growers to replace a hoe with a buggie.

Regional extension office agent Willie Datcher, who specializes in horticulture, said he sometimes sees gardeners grow vegetables for a little extra income if they have an acre or two to spare. Most people simply like to keep a sharp eye on everything they eat, especially vegetables.

“It does cut down on the food costs,” Datcher said. “If you’ve got kids at home, buying vegetables can definitely add up.”

Datcher said whether or not home vegetable gardening saving families money depends on the family size.

“The average family can save between $30 and $40 a week,” he said. “Depending on how much the family likes to eat vegetables. You could save a pretty good amount of money. You could probably cut the food costs about 20 percent. If you add that up over six to 12 months time, that’s a good amount.”

Datcher also grows his own vegetables when he has the time. His job has come covering nine different counties in Alabama, barely letting him tend to his garden.

“I’m on the road all the time,” he said. “By the time I get back home, it’s too late for me to grow anything.”

Local grocers have yet to see any significant decrease in produce sales because of residents growing their own vegetables.

James Reed, manager of Demopolis Market Place, said he hasn’t seen any loss of business because of it.

That doesn’t stop him from taking a stab at gardening himself. But he isn’t making a career out of it. He had a two-acre garden once, which he said kept him busier than he liked.

“I swore I’d never do it again,” he said. “It works the stew out of you. If you do it right, you’re in it every day.”

Walmart Supercenter store manager John Whitehead said it hasn’t affected his store’s sales either. Any recent decline he’s seen is only perhaps because of a new store opening. But he says he doesn’t see to many gardens around Demopolis to cause any worry at his store.