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Back to the Garden

Local people start gardens to combat high food prices

June 8, 2008
By KAYLEIGH KARUTIS, The Leader-Herald
Inspired by those who planted victory gardens during the two World Wars, some area residents are using their green thumbs to grow fresh veggies and save some money on their grocery bills.

Those familiar with vegetable gardening say it doesn’t take much — a small plot of land and some elbow grease — before they’re reaping the rewards of a modest garden.

“This certainly isn’t the first time this has occurred,” said Crystal Stewart, horticulture and agriculture educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Fulton and Montgomery counties. “When economic times are tough … people look at trying to save money by growing their own food.”

Stewart said those who are starting their first vegetable gardens should start small and stay focused.

“It’s better to take care of weeds when they’re small,” she said. “Beginners tend to put it off and then you have a mess on your hands.”

Using a layer of newspaper mixed with mulch acts as an excellent barrier to weeds, she said. Gardens also should be watered daily and kept in nearly full sunlight.

Tomato plants are a staple for the beginner gardener, she said.

Bob Farrel, a master gardener with Cornell, said lettuce, beans and radishes are other vegetables that are relatively easy.

Steer clear of peppers and most types of fruit, though, he advised.

Other tips Farrel offered include planting an early and late variety, in order to enjoy a fresh crop all season.

“You’d be amazed what a 10-by-10 plot could produce,” he said. “The best thing about it is you know what goes into it and you don’t have to use pesticides if you don’t want to.”

Farrel said he has a 50-by-50-foot garden that gives him fresh vegetables all year round. He freezes the produce he can’t use immediately. The economic impact is substantial, he said.

“It does lower our grocery bill,” he said.

Farrel said he has been gardening for nearly 20 years and began in earnest when he retired. His position as a master gardener is a voluntary one.

Glen resident Linda Chapin said her family relies entirely on their 3,000-square-foot garden to grow all the fresh produce they could ever want or need.

Chapin, who is a co-club leader for 4-H and helps club members to grow their own gardens as well, said she loves being able to use her own vegetables to create meals.

“Just the other day I was making dinner and I didn’t even use a recipe,” she said. “I just went out into the garden and grabbed handfuls of cilantro [and other foods].”

“It’s really a great feeling,” she said.

Her family grows everything from tomatoes to artichokes to okra, she said, and has been doing so ever since she and her husband, Joel, married.

Joel, she said, began gardening when he was 8 years old.

“When I married him, I became a gardener, too,” she said with a laugh.

Like Farrel, Chapin cited a definite economic advantage to growing one’s own food.

“It significantly reduces our grocery bills,” she said.

Through 4-H, Chapin said, many local children have developed partnerships with their local Price Chopper to sell the produce they grow to the supermarket chain.

The children choose the Price Chopper closest to them and sell up to $500 worth of vegetables once the garden starts producing, Chapin said.

Stewart acts as a liaison between Price Chopper and the children, Chapin said, and has been instrumental in developing the program.

“This is our first year doing it,” Chapin said. The kids are planning on growing and selling crops such as tomatoes, summer and winter squash and cucumbers, she said.

Saving money by growing one’s own groceries is nothing new, said Fulton County Historian Peter Betz.

“There were victory gardens in World War I and II,” Betz said. “My own grandfather in Amsterdam won an award for having an excellent victory garden during World War I.”

Betz said an entire part of the city along Route 30 in Amsterdam was dedicated to plots of land for victory gardens.

“They had competitions for the best looking and best producing gardens,” he said, adding that Johnstown and Gloversville had similar arrangements.

“From 1944 to 1955, it was estimated that 40 percent of the produce consumed [in the U.S.] was from these gardens,” he said.

While garden production may not be quite that high now, those who use their own modern day victory garden to supplement their kitchens find it a very satisfying venture.

“I’m a big fan of people growing their own food,” Chapin said. “It definitely helps.”

Kayleigh Karutis covers rural Fulton County. She can be reached at

Article Photos

The Leader-Herald/Kayleigh Karutis
Ben Chapin, left, works with neighbor Amanda Young Thursday setting up a structure for his family’s bean plants to climb up in their family garden.



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