From time to time I deal with cost benefit analysis at work and I’ve been reading recent discussions on the cost of veg growing with interest. It’s one fundamental question that all of us growing our own, or thinking of doing so, have to face up to: Is growing your own cheaper than buying your fruit and veg in the supermarket?
On the face of it, in pure financial terms, of course it isn’t. The statistician in me would like to work it all out (I wish I’d kept the receipts!). But when you start to think about allotment rents, or allocating a value to the part of your garden you’ve turned over to veg growing, costs of a greenhouse, or shed, tools, seeds, manure / compost etc it soon adds up. Of course in accountancy terms you’d capitalise a lot of this expenditure over future years as one off purchases will eventually pay for themselves but in the short to medium-term, say 5-10 years, there’s no way your veg costs can compete against the rock-bottom supermarket prices.
Fortunately we are not dealing with a black and white world. And when looking at grow your own versus the supermarket we’re comparing apples and pears, there are so many intangible benefits to growing your own which, if we could put a value on them, would far outweigh the supermarket.
So why do I do it?
1) It’s a genuine hobby and interest of mine. I love the satisfaction of sowing a seed and nurturing it to fruition. I suppose it’s a basic human instinct that many people have lost over generations. I also meet and speak to like-minded people, it’s a huge pastime in this country and as we are now in an age of austerity re-discovering a back to basics approach is seriously on-trend at the moment. It’s probably the one time that I can say I’m doing something fashionable in my life!
2) I firmly believe that it’s a hobby that reduces stress and blood pressure. In the summer after a hard day at work I can go out in the garden and all the concerns and worries of the day ebb away. Put a £ value on that!
3) I can involve my family in the process. My children will have that awareness of how things grow and where they come from. Vegetables aren’t meant to be uniform and wrapped in plastic. In time they can help out and this will be a lifeskill they can take with them into adulthood.
4) I can control what my family eats. I know exactly what has gone into producing this food and they eat it at its freshest. There’s no better feeling than watching my children tucking into fresh veg that I picked minutes before. Those of us who choose this path try to be as organic as possible so we are benefitting wildlife at the same time.
5) I can grow different varieties that I can’t can’t get in the supermarket. Also I can concentrate on veg that is more expensive to buy, such as sprouting broccoli, but I may not grow many onions which are cheaper to buy in the supermarket.
6) Seasons and Air Miles – 3 years ago I didn’t have much of a clue about what grew when and where it came from. Country of origin was a part of the label I never checked. Now I know that a butternut squash in May is from Argentina, Green beans in February are probably Kenyan and raspberries in December will be from the land of the Pharoahs! I still want to eat exotic things that can’t be grown in this country from time to time. But what can be grown in this country I’ll eat in season as much as possible. It’s fresher, tastes better, and helps cut down air miles. There’s the argument in some cases we’re supporting families in developing countries but shouldn’t we be supporting them to grow food for their own, and neighbouring countries?
There are also ways you can reduce costs. Take membership of a local Horticultural Society, Gardening Club or Allotment Association as an example. I pay £5 a year to be a member of the Winterslow & District Horticultural Society. For that I get 50% off my annual seed order. Stop there, I’ve already saved way over my £5. But I also get free entry to shows, where I can partake in a bit of friendly competition with other local gardeners, and access to expert talks such as the ones given by Ray Broughton, from Sparsholt College, where I have learnt things that I have never seen in books or on-line. And I can tap in to the collective encyclopedic knowledge of the membership if I need to. So £5 a year is fantastic value!
You can also save and swap seeds, recycle materials, make your own compost and leaf mould. The list of money saving ideas is endless.
So if you’re only interested in the £ price of fruit and veg stick to the supermarket. However, as you can see, there’s so much more to it than that, take this photo for example:
How can you put a price on that?