Urban Agriculture

Just recently I read an article about a tomato plant named Mortgage Lifter. The plant can grow to an astonishing 9ft tall and produce fruit of 2lbs. The tomato was developed in the early 1930’s. The inventor of this made so much money that by the time he had perfected this hybrid (six years) he was able to pay off his mortgage.

Being an avid gardener, I found this story amazing. After all, what started as a hobby for me has turned into a way to save tons of money and eat healthier. So gardening has become a thing of physical, mental and economic well-being. Just last week I spent roughly one hundred bucks on things that I would just go into my backyard and pick. I also used to spend tons of money on seeds and plants every year. Now, I save hundreds of dollars on that by harvesting the seeds from what I grow. I also collect rainwater (although not on the scale that I should). When it’s all said and done, I literally save thousands of dollars per year on produce. Gardening itself is therapeutic and rewarding. The benefits are far reaching.

I’ve put together a price list from the grocery store for some of the items grown in my garden. Because I purchased seeds from various places, I have been able to grow plants that are not available in the grocery store but they still save money. We harvest during about 2 months of the summer and anything we can’t use at the time is frozen or canned. I priced my consumption based on the average amount of produce we’d use in one week. Also, amounts differ due to our usage. We use spaghetti sauce 1-2 times per week so instead of paying $2.29 for 16 oz of sauce, we make our own using ingredients from the garden. We also make our own tomato sauce, paste, salsa, etc., so we grow a large amount of tomatoes. We grow a smaller amount of eggplant because we don’t use it in as many dishes. We would spend approximately $231 per month on produce that we grow in our garden alone. There are more items we purchase either because we can’t grow them such as oranges and avocados and items we may not have enough for during the off seasons. It’s a learning process and each year we are better equipped to produce a sufficient amount of produce to last through the winter and early spring. During a year, that is $2,772 saved on the items below. On the high end, if we estimated $50/ month for items we run out of during the winter, which is unlikely, we would still save over $2,000. Most people work 20 years before they retire. $2,772 over 20 years is $55,440 saved, minus interest. This could be used for investment, whether in yourself or your community. On a larger scale, if 20 people within a community did the same exact thing, that’s $1,108,800, again less the interest that could have accrued over time.


Item / Price

Watermelon $4.99 each

Strawberries $3.99/lb

Blueberries $6.21/lb

Raspberries $3.21/lb

Blackberries $7.99/lb

Asparagus $3.49/lb

Grapes $2.99.lb

Corn 5/$2

Broccoli $1.99/lb

Tomatoes $2.99/lb

Cucumbers 3/$2

Bell peppers $2.75/lb

Green beans $1.99/lb

Yellow Squash $1.79/lb

Bok Choy $.99/lb

Snap Peas $3.99

Carrots $2.29/lb

Acorn Squash $1.49/lb

Romaine Lettuce $2.18/lb

Honey Crisp apples $3.99/lb

Onions $.60/lb

Red Swiss Chard $2.69/bunch

Beets $2.99/bunch

Collard Greens $2.69/bunch

Mustard Greens $2.69/ bunch

Kale $2.69/ bunch

Parsley $1.49/bunch

Green Leaf Lettuce $1.99 ea.

Red Leaf Lettuce $1.99 ea.

Cilantro $1.99 ea.

Chives $1.99 ea.

Mint $1.99 ea.

Dill $1.99 ea.

Sage $1.99 ea.

Thyme $1.99 ea.

Rosemary $2.19 ea.

Savory $2.19 ea.

Sweet Peppers $6.98/lb

Jalapeno $3.99/lb

Italian Sweet Pepper $3.99/lb

Ginger $2.99/lb

Turnips $1.29/ lb

Eggplant $1.99/lb

Zucchini $1.79/lb

This brings me to the point of this week’s blog; keeping in the spirit of bottom up economics, community collaboration and high impact activities that save families and communities massive amounts of money with mid to low commitment. A quick Google search will yield detailed information on Urban Agriculture. It can create entrepreneurship, jobs and increase incomes. Your community can literally build a business, if that’s the route you choose. Take a look at the Severn Project in Bristol for example. Money saved and extra money earned can be invested elsewhere, reinvested in the community directly or one of the businesses that evolved from the creation of the community garden.

The idea of community gardens is nothing new, we’ve even recently discussed them along with the concept of rooftop gardens but I believe it’s time we bring it to scale and become more efficient with how we go about it. Urban agriculture co-operatives are the way to go. By making use of the free materials given away by most cities, towns and villages and the spaces we have access to, the community can collectively save tens of thousands of dollars annually.

So many costs go into purchasing from large chain stores on their end as well as the consumer’s. There are also costs in local stores and markets, although on a much smaller scale. For the sake of time and space we will bundle all these under “transaction costs” or more broadly “cost of doing business”. You can eliminate much of this with implementation of community gardens. While economics is important, there are a multitude of benefits to the community

The intangibles of this type of agreement among community members are astronomical. On the basic level, it helps reduce food insecurities. Food is a basic human need. It’s on the first level of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs. When people have low income, access to food is an even greater priority because sometimes they may not have enough. Foods available to them are often inadequate and unhealthy but that’s all that will fit in their budget. They will suffer other losses, sometimes even shelter, in order to stay fed. If a person cannot even eat properly, they will be less likely to pour their energy or resources into community efforts because their basic needs aren’t being met. Human nature dictates that their mind will be consumed with meeting this basic need. If this initiative were to begin without them but they began to benefit from the efforts, their personal need would begin to subside, freeing up time and mental ability to also participate. Over time, as the community initiative grows in strength, so will it’s members. Access to healthy foods helps reduce medical conditions promoted by the easy access to unhealthy foods. Physical activity while gardening also helps improve health. Gardens and gardening promote well-being and create aesthetic appeal within the community.

Besides the obvious things such as building pride within your neighborhood, community outreach, saving money and eating healthy, so much more begins to happen. We build information lines, relationships, skills and increased mobilization. With the ability to mobilize our community in larger numbers, we can increase the political power we wield within our communities and more.

When community members work together and build together the neighborhood naturally becomes safer because you care about the well-being of people you know and live near. It becomes more than a community based activity but a meeting of the minds, it becomes a movement for the betterment of all participants. A great example is Seattle’s P-Patch. They began with one community garden and have grown to include market gardens in which low-income members sell the produce they grow. Any or all aspects of these community gardening programs can be recreated, altered or built upon to benefit your own community.

One of the best things about community gardens is you can choose to operate without depending on outside agency, grants or funding that dictate functionality. It is just a group of people agreeing to grow different things and trade food, wisdom and friendship.

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