A Case for Growing Your Own

June 10th, 2020

By Libby Mills, MS, RDN, LDN, FAND

You might know that home gardening promotes healthy eating, stress relief and productive physical activity—just what we all need with social distancing.  And you might be surprised learning that gardening may help with dementia.

But can home gardening really help extend the food budget?  Do the costs and efforts of home gardening out-weigh the rising food costs at the markets?

Food Costs are Rising

Just this month the Labor Department reported a 2.6% increase in how much you and I pay for food like oatmeal, bread, chicken, broccoli and berries.  By category, we saw a 4.3% increase in meats poultry, fish and eggs and 2.9% increase for cereals and baked goods.  Prices for fruits and vegetables increased 1.5%.

Even with a smaller increase for produce, many of us are feeling the pinch. Could planting a home garden help us better afford fresh fruits and vegetables?

In 2014, Gail Ann Langellotto asked this same question and summarized her research What Are the Economic Costs and Benefits of Home Vegetable Gardens? in eJournal of Extension.

How a Home Garden Can Help

She found that if you didn’t count your time and effort, the fruits and veggies produced by home gardens could value between $113 and $1133 over the cost of seeds, starts, soil, stakes, water and other investments.  Six years later, we can still find these numbers persuasive for picking up the shovel and scattering some seeds.

It turns out that when we look at the gardening process– tools, supplies, and methods, not much has changed.  Adjusting for current pricing using an inflation calculator from the Bureau of Labor Statistics like Langellotto used, the case for home gardening is still economically strong.

How much can you save?

Whether your garden is in the yard, a raised bed or container, Langellotto’s calculated financial benefit ranged between $0.24 and $1.52 per square foot.  Even accounting for the gardener’s sweat investment, the garden value could be as much as $0.78 per square foot.  Adjusting costs for inflation and comparing home gardening yield values to the recent April 2020 hike in food costs– the highest increase in supermarket costs since February, 1974, the value of home gardening is even greater.

Of course, the value of your garden will depend on what you plant, the soil quality and the your knowledge, skill and attention, aka “love”.  You can up your success by planting tomatoes, leafy greens, peas, strawberries, squash and eggplant, which were found by Langellotto to be the top producing plants relative to the investment.

Grab your shovel, choose a sunny area of dirt and plant.  Add water and watch your fruits and vegetables will grow.  Gardening can be a fun activity that help extend your vegetables and fruits budget now when stretching the dollar makes cents.  Many communities have free plots that you can share or try using a large container in a sunny spot.


Tangy Jicama Rhubarb Slaw

Makes approximately 1 ½ cups

Prep time:  25 minutes

Cook time:  5 minutes

Total time:  30 minutes



1/3 cup rhubarb, thinly sliced

1/3 cup jicama, peeled and julienned

2 tablespoons red onion, diced

¼ cup poblano pepper, seeded and thinly sliced

¼ cup red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced

¼ cup yellow bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced

1 roma tomato, diced flesh only

½ teaspoon jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely diced

1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped

2 teaspoons lime juice

1/2 teaspoon honey

1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt

ground black pepper to taste


Preparation steps:

Fill a medium-sized saucepan two-thirds of the way full of water.  Bring to a boil.  Add the sliced rhubarb to the boiling water and cook for 10 seconds. Remove the rhubarb by draining through a colander.  Immediately rinse with running cold water.  Transfer rhubarb to a large mixing bowl.


Cut the red onion, poblano, red, and yellow bell peppers, roma tomato flesh (seeds removed), jalapeno pepper, and cilantro.  Add each cut ingredient to the large mixing bowl with the rhubarb.


In a small mixing bowl, dissolve the honey in the lime juice.   Add the honey-lime juice mixture to the ingredients in the large mixing bowl. Sprinkle salsa with salt and black pepper and stir salsa and mix thoroughly.


Refrigerate overnight or at least 30 minutes to allow the flavors to meld.



Per ½ cup serving:  60 calories; 1.3g protein; 14.4g carbohydrates; 2.4g fiber; 5.32g added sugar; 0.2g total fat; 0.05g saturated fat; 0.16g monounsaturated fat; 0g polyunsaturated fat; 0mg cholesterol; 165mg sodium

94mg vitamin C (106% DV)

Libby Mills, MS, RDN, LDN, FAND is a sought-after Culinary Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics known as a food and nutrition authority.  Libby markets and teaches nutrition through scrumptiously fun culinary experiences, as well as entertaining, imaginative communication to all ages, ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds.  She engages audiences with experiences from her Midwestern roots, urban living, and endless quest for healthy, flavorful, good food. To learn more about her visit DigInEatUp.com and connect on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and listen to her radio show Libby’s Luncheonette live on WCHE1520AM Mondays from 12:15 to 1:00 pm ET.


Posted by: Julie Stefanski

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