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Cheaper dinner grown in the backyard

Andrew Stelzer Mar 23, 2009

Cheaper dinner grown in the backyard

Andrew Stelzer Mar 23, 2009

Bob Moon: Last week, Michelle Obama turned the first shovel for a vegetable garden on the South Lawn of the White House. According to the National Gardening Association, 7 million American households plan to start their own vegetable gardens this year. That’s a 19 percent increase from 2008. Not surprisingly, more than half those people say they’re doing it to save money.

But what if you don’t have a green thumb? Well, a few companies have popped up recently that help people use their outdoor space to grow nothing but food. Andrew Stelzer has more from San Francisco.

Andrew Stelzer: In the backyard of an old Victorian house, Sara Weihmann empties a bag of soil and pours it onto a clearing of dirt. She picks up a shovel and demonstrates something called double-digging.

Sara Weihmann: This is just to make sure that the roots are encouraged to grow straight down instead of compete horizontally, so that you can grow things a lot more closer together.

It’s part of a day-long organic gardening crash-course by Weihmann’s company, All Edibles. They design and build your garden and teach you how to take care of it.

First-time gardeners Paul Silverman and Laura Shapiro are doing a new low-budget package developed by All Edibles. The entire garden gets built in one day, and the clients have to help do the work.

Laura Shapiro: But we wanted to do that anyway, we wanted to be a part of the entire process.

And even thought that sweat equity helps save money, they’re still planting the garden in phases.

Paul Silverman: This the first third of the yard, and then somewhat later, then we can do an installment with another portion and that’ll help keep it manageable on a cash flow basis.

This one-day build costs $1,400. Not cheap, but the garden planted today should produce enough vegatables and herbs to feed a small family for the entire year.

Even with the poor economy, All Edibles co-founder Kirk Saunders says business for his 4-year-old company is good:

Kirk Saunders: Gas prices go up, food transportation costs go up. If you’re growing it yourself, you don’t really have that problem.

By 3 o’clock, the backyard has 15 different crops planted, ranging from blueberries to broccoli. There’s a drip irrigation system so that Shapiro and Silverman won’t have to water the 150 square foot garden by hand.

Shapiro: Look, we can harvest our dinner — and not just salad.

Silverman: We can harvest four people’s dinners, I think.

Shapiro: Haha, I hope so, I hope we have that kind of productivity out here.

A few other edible landscaping companies have recently sprung up around the country. The National Gardening Association says during the 1970’s oil crisis, vegetable gardens were more common than at any time since. Those tough, but fertile economic times may be upon us again.

In San Francisco, I’m Andrew Stelzer for Marketplace.

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