Fighting rising food costs

According to AOL’s Daily Finance report of Oct. 15 2009, the cost of groceries has risen 45% over the past two years. They’re set to rise another 5% over the next year.

I do what I can to help put food on the table by growing as much of our own food as possible. Having a mini-orchard and veggie garden in our small 6,000 sq ft urban yard is at least a hedge against inflation. And it’s a psychological comfort, which counts for something in these nervous times.

nectarinesOur 1750 sq ft house, three-car garage, driveway, deck, patio, and sidewalks occupy most of that 6,000 sq ft. That leaves little room left for food production. But into the remaining space we’ve managed to fit three vegetable growing areas and 21 fruit trees. I chose varieties that would produce fruit at different times of the year, so there is usually something to eat year round from our fruit trees. peaches

We have:

  •  apples (Fuji, Gala and Granny Smith),
  • apricots (Katy),
  • Asian pears (Shinseiki and 20th Century),
  • avocados (Littlecado),
  • lemons (Eureka and Meyers),
  • limes (Bearrs),
  • nectarines (Panamint and Snow Queen),
  • peaches (August Pride, Babcock, Florida Prince, and Garden Gold),
  • plums (Santa Rosa) and
  • oranges (Navel and Valencia).

These are all varieties that will bear fruit in coastal southern California. But the trees are young with their prime bearing years yet ahead of them. If the “Big One” hit on the San Andreas fault now, we couldn’t survive for long on what is growing in our yard. We’d be gnawing on bark in a matter of days.

We also have blueberries (Sunshine Blue), thornless blackberries, and grapes (seedless Red Flame). Like our fruit trees, these are still too young to give much fruit. And given how much the berry vines and fruit trees cost in the first place, we’re not even close to breaking even on our investment. We’re doing this more to have really good, locally grown, organic food as much as to save money.

sidewalk gardenThe vegetable garden is another story. I grew most of my plants from seed this year, which is very cost effective. The value of the amount of food that I get from a typical packet is about five times more than what the seeds cost. I focus on heirloom seeds. Unlike hybrid seeds, these breed true and can be saved from year to year. That’s when the real savings kicks in.

But produce is only a small portion of our grocery bill. We buy toilet paper and paper towels (with recycled paper content of course), meat (we’re only semi-vegetarian), dairy, eggs, flour, sugar, olive oil, cereals, grains, snack food, wine, cleaning products,  and a host of other products. Even with our home garden, our grocery bill for the two of us runs about $450 a month. That’s not counting what I spend on tools, stakes, cages, seeds, plants, compost, fertilizer, and organic pest control for the garden. Those costs must be factored into the cost of my home-grown food, unless I just chalk it up to hobby costs (which I do). The value of what I harvest probably averages about $20-30 a week.

peppers and an onionBut the peace of mind that comes from knowing that our food is organic and not contributing to the carbon-load of being trucked or shipped from South America? Priceless. And the freshness, taste and unusual varieties? Well, those are reason enough to keep on gardening. Besides, it’s FUN! I’m headed outdoors to plant artichokes and rhubarb.

(To read more of Lou Murray’s environmental writing, see her weekly column, Natural Perspectives, in the Huntington Beach Independent at www.hbindependent.com, under columnists.)

About Lou Murray, Ph.D.

I'm a professional writer/photographer, avid gardener, and active environmentalist living in southern California. I am retired from writing a weekly newspaper column on environmental topics in the Huntington Beach Independent, but I am still teaching at the Orange County Conservation Corps. This blog chronicles my efforts to live a green life growing as much food as possible for my husband and myself on a 4,500 sq ft yard that is covered mainly by house, garage, driveway, and sidewalks.
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2 Responses to Fighting rising food costs

  1. Laura Klure says:

    I’m impressed by the wonderful variety of fruit trees you’ve planted. Are they all big enough to bear fruit? Have you noticed a decline in how much you need to spend in a store for fresh fruit?

  2. lmurrayphd says:

    Thanks. No, some are still too young to bear fruit at all, and most aren’t up to their prime bearing years yet. The yields of the more mature trees, because they’re mainly dwarfs and semi-dwarfs, are fairly low, around 18 fruits per tree. So my grocery bill is reduced by a few dozen pieces of fruit a year. But the satisfaction of growing so many different kinds of fruit? Priceless.

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