Vegetables in Canada are ridiculously expensive. Cauliflower has hit $10 a head, the price of lettuce has tripled, and your co-worker spends $13 on veggie “detox” juice every morning. (don’t even get us started on what the “experts” think about millennials and avocados.) Yes, this is all bonkers.
If you’ve ever dreamt about skipping the supermarket lines and just growing your own produce, you’re not alone. As many as 16,000 people have recently sat on the waitlist for a spot in one of Vancouver’s urban community gardens.
It’s not just the savings potential that’s driving the practice. According to Rebecca Cuttler, a Vancouver-based urban gardening teacher, writer, and radio host, the spike in popularity is aligned with the growing interest that people are having with food in general. “People are invested in their food and where it comes from, the environmental implications, and the lives of the farm workers who are creating it,” says Cuttler. “Growing our own produce is a great way to take charge of our food system.”
I think ethical eating is important, I’m pretty broke at the moment, and I’ve managed to keep my air terrarium alive since 2016. But should I get into gardening as a way to save money on groceries? We broke it down to find out.
Budget Gardening 101
Aaren Topley, 28, is a local food activist and organizer of a Farm to School program that teaches gardening skills and food literacy to high school students in Victoria. Here are his tips on how to start growing with savings in mind:
1.Assess your space
Your ability to garden depends hugely on the space at your disposal. If you’re sharing a north-facing studio apartment in Halifax, don’t read gardening blogs aimed at rich homeowners in southern California. And unfortunately, the less room you have to grow, the less money you’re likely to save.
“Balcony gardens often end up being the most expensive, because you have to bring all the materials in,” notes Topley. “You can’t create anything on your own — unless your landlord is cool with you having a composter and water collection system on your balcony.”
Topley suggests sticking with smaller, vertical planters to maximize small spaces. And for backyard gardens or more spacious patios, Topley suggests skipping the expensive wooden beds and going the DIY route. Apparently punctured Rubbermaid containers are great for this.
2.Pick your vegetables strategically
Vegetables like onions and potatoes are already super cheap at the store. So while producing your own might be satisfying, after factoring in your start-up and maintenance costs you’ll be paying substantially more to grow them at home.
Topley suggests sticking to smaller plants like basil and thyme, choosing items that are expensive to buy retail (like the aforementioned cauliflower), and opting for vegetables than can be easily preserved like cucumber, carrots, or zucchini.
3.Lower your expectations
“Chances are, you’re going to fail quite a bit in the first year or two, and you’ll lose money failing,” says Topley. “Gardening in your teens and 20’s is less about saving money on food, and more about building a skillset that will save you money in the future when you have a place of your own and are more settled.”
Starting your own garden is a great hobby. You’ll learn a valuable skillset, eat a little healthier, and remind yourself of all the hard work that goes into getting that bunch of kale into your grocery basket. But while there’s potential to save some money, that’s really only during the few months that your plants will be bearing veggies.
If you still want to eat ethically (and save money) without getting dirt on your kicks, there are always other options. Hit a farmers’ market, purchase things in season, and try to buy in bulk. Hey, you’ve still got the air terrarium.