CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) — There’s no denying a trip to the grocery store costs more now than it did just a few years ago. That has people looking for ways to stretch a dollar further.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, in 2023 food prices are projected to increase 6.5%. Even though produce prices are only expected to increase slightly, many people are considering growing their own vegetables as a way to save a little.
“I’m looking around for some herbs, I started to grow some about three or four in my backyard. I really enjoy the freshness,” said Katie Scruggs, Elkview, WV. She likes the taste of fresh herbs but not the price tag she sees at her local grocery store. “I like to use dill for my fresh pastas. All you get is just a little bit of dill if you buy it at the store and it is very expensive.”
That is why a few years ago she started growing them herself.
“I grew up with a garden and fresh herbs at home. My family always would grow lettuce and tomatoes and so as I started to build my own home, I wanted to try it myself,” Scruggs said.
She is not alone. According to a University of Illinois Department of Agriculture and Consumer Economics report, most consumers said they were coping with rising food prices by buying cheaper brands, going to multiple stores to find the lowest prices or shopping at stores with lower prices.
But 9% of people said they were hoping to save by growing their own produce.
During the pandemic, the idea of growing it yourself started to pick up steam.
“Our friends at WVU Extension Family Nutrition Program have a program called ‘Grow This’ and so they were sending thousands and thousands of packets of seeds out into the community for folks who just wanted to grow their own to save money and I think at the time folks had cabin fever,” said Spencer Moss, Executive Director of the West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition. That program has continued to grow in popularity.
Andy Crihfield has been in the farming business for decades, selling plants and produce with his family. “Vegetable plants have increased in the number of sales tremendously,” said Crihfield, of John Crihfield Farms & Greenhouses, a vendor at Capitol Market. “A lot of people are trying to do small container gardens. A lot of people are doing raised beds.”
He said there is an opportunity for people to save a decent amount of cash.
“You know one tomato plant, you take care of that plant right and you should get 15 to 25 pounds of tomatoes off one single plant throughout the season. You think, tomatoes are $2.69 a pound and you are getting 20 pounds of tomatoes you are getting in excess of 50 some dollars worth of tomatoes for a $4 investment,” Crihfield said. He added that people don’t necessarily have to have land to reap rewards.
“We are really going after that container market. We’ve actually got some container tomatoes here already planted up. There are a couple of plants in a container. We’ve got cherry tomatoes in hanging baskets that work really well. It is a bush-type plant so they don’t get real big and overgrown in those pots,” Crihfield said.
But it is important to consider that you may have to invest more than just the cost of the plant itself.
“I’m looking for tomato plants, cucumber plants, pepper plants,” explained Jimmy McQuain during a shopping trip at Capitol Market. He has a 20 x 30-foot garden at his home in Gassaway, WV. He said even with the extras such as fertilizer, cages, stakes, insect repellents and watering he still comes out ahead.
“I buy it in bulk that way I save a lot,” McQuain said. “So altogether, counting fertilizer and everything, it is 2 to 3 dollars a plant.”
Scruggs said she’s able to grow herbs with minimal investment.
“So my husband made me a box and I have potting soil and starter soil and then I use a fertilizer that I order off of Amazon and I water it with that every week or so,” Scruggs said.
Another factor both McQuain and Scruggs take into account is the reduced amount of spoiled food and wasted money. Instead of buying produce and herbs and then trying to use them before they go bad, they can pick what they need, fresh.
The West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition started the SNAP Stretch Program in 2018. It allows people using the federal Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program or SNAP to buy more fruits and vegetables and support local farmers at the same time. The program also applies to plants that produce food and applies to herbs as well.
“If you are a single person using EBT/SNAP formerly known as ‘Food Stamps’ we can match you one to one. If you have children with you at the market we are going to match you 1 to 2. And the little secret sauce here is if you are a grandparent raising your grandchild, we are going to match you at a 1 to 3 ratio,” explained Moss.
There are other programs too, for mothers and seniors, that make local produce more affordable while also supporting area farmers.
“With WIC new moms are going to be able to take that to the farmers market and similarly the Senior Voucher Program got a bit of a facelift this year,” Moss said. “West Virginia is per capita one of the biggest participants in that program and so it gives seniors a bump in their fruit and vegetable intake.”
And even though he is happy to sell fresh produce all summer to anyone who isn’t up for the “grow it yourself” idea, Andy Crihfield said the money that you’ll save, isn’t the only benefit when it comes to raising fruits, vegetables and herbs at home.
“There’s nothing like you starting that plant, putting in the work and then going out and being able to harvest that ripe tomato. That first bite, it sends you to a different world. It is really good,” Crihfield said.
He said there are some plants that won’t do as well in a container. Things like squash, zucchini, green beans and corn wouldn’t thrive. He said while container growing is a great option plants will often produce more when they are in the ground.
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