“A lot of people tell us they are planting vegetables for the first time because of the economy,” said Doris Roth, who advises first-time gardeners at the sprawling East Bay Nursery in Berkeley, Calif. “Some of them don’t even know what they’re doing, but they want to plant vegetables anyway. Some varieties of tomatoes, we can’t even keep them on the shelf.”
Lee Serrie, 61, had to wait nearly a month for the seeds for a French hybrid tomato to arrive from a supply house in Maine. She intends to plant them in her backyard in Mendocino County, Calif.“People are turning to gardens as a way to weather this economic cycle,” said Serrie, who took up serious gardening after retiring from her job as a network TV camera person. “I basically am increasing the size of my garden by a third so that I can feed other people.”
"Astonishing" demand for seeds
George Ball Jr., the CEO of Burpee Seeds in Warminster, Pa., said his firm experienced an “astonishing” rise in demand for vegetable seeds this year. “Last year’s growth was sensational, but few expected demand would increase even more this year,” Ball said in an interview.
While the recession is a key factor in drawing new gardeners into the yard, the aging of the boomer generation is also fueling growth. “Most people start gardening in their 40s and never stop. Gardening is a 45- to 70-year-old prime-time activity,” he said.
And the fact that first lady Michelle Obama helped plant a vegetable garden at the White House didn’t hurt, Ball said.
“It’s the perfect storm,” he said. “There’s health, demographics, the money you save, food safety and environment—it’s all fashionable. But I really think that taste is on top of it all. The taste of a homegrown vegetable just isn’t comparable to anything else.”
Michael Zielenziger writes on economic and consumer issues for Bulletin Today.