The Garden Production Review

Those readers who have followed this column know that, in the spring, I initiated an experiment turning half of my office backyard into an organic garden. While the real purpose of the experiment was to provide my family, friends and acquaintances with fresh produce, and myself with the enjoyment of having maintained a mini-farm, I recognized that there was a potential economic impact that would require analysis. As I began harvesting the fruits (or in this case vegetables) of my labors, I made a singular effort to inventory the produce as it was picked. With full disclosure in mind, I will say that there is no possibility that I can be completely accurate in my production figures.

There are a number of facts which come into play, not least of which is my inability to accurately gauge the total vegetable consumption of a certain female squirrel. It is safe to say that it was considerable, but I have not increased my figures to take this into account.

There were also a number of occasions where a friend or client would help themselves to an eggplant or a tomato or two, which also did not figure into the equation. So, for the sake of disclosure, my production numbers are low. Exactly how low, I have no way of accurately gauging.

The garden originally consisted of cucumbers, zucchinis, jalapenos, habanera and bell papers, three varieties of salad tomatoes, Roma Italian tomatoes, broccoli, eggplant, corn, and red cabbage. During the course of the summer, unfortunately, both the cucumbers and zucchini were attacked by either a bug or a fungus, and the resultant production was affected significantly. Other than those two failures, I was pleased overall with the bounty produced by the small plot, but the question remains as to whether it was an economic success.

The cost for my little 25 x 50 foot farm, including the costs of Chris Trapp rototilling it, four yards of mulch to keep the weeds down, garden center produce plants, and seeds and watering, totaled just under $450. So the question becomes, did I harvest $450 worth of produce? To answer that question, I obtained the seasonal prices of the veggies from the produce department at Heinens. Now, admittedly, my produce being organic, without pesticides, insecticides or any nasty chemicals, it was surely better than the industrial farm-raised produce which was providing me with the price points. Even so, the results are within reasonable parameters so as to provide an illustration.

While my garden still has a small amount of production left in it, most notably by way of some straggler tomatoes, eggplants and peppers, what was harvested and its corresponding cost is as follows:

Cucumbers (prior to devastation) - 3 lbs. $5.97

Zucchinis (likewise prior to devastation) - 2 ½ lbs. $3.72

Jalapenos/Habanera/Italian Cherry Peppers - 13 lbs. $38.87

Broccoli - 8lbs. $11.92

Roma Tomatoes - 160 lbs. $334.40

Salad Tomatoes - 73 lbs. $145.27

Cherry Tomatoes - 4 quarts $31.92

Eggplant - 41 lbs. $61.09

Bell Peppers - 10 lbs. $19.90

Corn - 36 ears $17.91

Beets - 8 lbs. $11.92

Brussels Sprouts - 4 lbs. $7.96

Red Cabbage - 4 lbs. $7.92

The net result of the experiment is that for an investment of $450, I have produced vegetables worth $698.77. Thus, the net economic benefit is approximately $250, or, put another way, a 35% savings over store bought produce. These totals do not take into account the amount that was harvested without measuring or the amount stolen by that evil squirrel. It also does not take into account the incalculable value of the off-the-vine freshness of wholly organic, insecticide- and pesticide-free vegetables.

I think that even had the economics not proven to be as they are, this experiment was enjoyable on so many different levels that it is one that I would continue in the future. As I analyze that future, I think that some improvements will have a significant impact upon the overall economics of the situation. It is my hope that this year, by saving some seeds and trading with other urban farmers for their heirloom seeds, I can avoid the cost of buying plants at the nursery center. I am toying with the idea of tilling the garden myself now that the initial sod busting has loosened the soil. This would be a significant financial savings, if not for the cost and impact it will have on my back. All of those potential changes aside, the reality remains that urban farming is an activity which can have significant positive impacts, not only in cost savings on the vegetables, but also in the quality enhancements of eating fresher, more healthful foods.

Read More on Chef Geoff
Volume 3, Issue 22, Posted 4:16 PM, 10.19.2007