Is it worth it to grow your own vegetables?


Some time ago we read an excellent book by William Alexander called The $64 Tomato: How One Man Nearly Lost HIs Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for the Perfect Garden. The subtitle describes the book well, and the $64 refers to the cost of his perfect heirloom tomato after calculating the money he spent to create and maintain his garden. Obviously, he did not pursue the garden to save on groceries. (His follow-up book on perfecting bread, 52 Loaves, One Man's Relentless Pursuit of Truth, Meaning, and the Perfect Crust is also highly recommended.) 

With that background, a blog by self-professed gardening fanatic Erica Strauss over at one of our favorite sites, Northwest Edible Life,  - Is Growing Your Own Food Worth It? - caught our eye. Strauss aims to grow as much food as possible for her family (on 1/3 acre of land in a Seattle suburb) and devotes a considerable amount of time to not only the gardening but the related canning, preserving, etc. Therefore, she is certainly qualified to address the "tricky question" of whether it makes economic sense to grow your own vegetables.

Like most thoughtful answers, it's complicated. She acknowledges that she probably saves money on a per item basis, but notes that having her garden also means the family eats far more high-end (costly) produce such as raspberries than they would certainly buy. In general, she notes that everybody needs to weigh "time, grocery costs, sustainability, food ethics and their other values" to find the solution that works for them. But she also emphasizes that gardening (as opposed to farming) is, at its heart, a hobby, and states  "[The question] whether it's worth it to grow your own food has to come down to, [is] would you spend your time this way for free anyway, as with any other hobby?"

As you gaze through your seed catalogs and get mesmerized by those gorgeous tomatoes, or plan your next garden, or enjoy your current one (for those in the southern hemisphere), this article makes an excellent companion read to help put  your gardening choices in perspective.



  • Christine  on  1/9/2013 at 10:55 AM

    An interesting and tricky question indeed! As a soon to be homeowner, I'm not sure if a big garden is in my future or not, but one thing I will be growing for certain is herbs. Economically speaking, I think they are definitely worth it -- they are not difficult or expensive to grow and one packet of seeds can provide fresh herbs all season, as opposed to buying by the bunch (which all to often withers before I can finish anyway!) I imagine the ability to pluck basil as I please and then harvest what remains at the end of the summer will make my annual batch of freezer pesto decidedly cheaper (or at least that is what I am hoping!)

  • sir_ken_g  on  1/9/2013 at 11:38 AM

    We have a great farmers market here now that I cannot compete with. I do however grow Thai and Italian basil as well as some peppers.

  • Jane  on  1/9/2013 at 8:25 PM

    I'm with Christine on the herbs. I don't have the time (or to be honest, the interest) to grow my own fruits and vegetables but I love being able to step out the back door and snip any one of the dozen herbs I grow in the summer. With the ridiculous price of those little plastic packets of herbs, this is definitely a cost saving, and I also like not having to plan ahead for what herbs I may need during the week.

  • jzanger  on  1/10/2013 at 5:26 PM

    Wow I just devoured that blog! Thank you for introducing me to it!

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