Home Vegetable Gardening Statistics

What's happened to home vegetable gardening in the 16 years since MOTHER EARTH NEWS was founded? Learn about gardening statistics gathered over the years from the National Gardening Association.

| September/October 1986


To put the answer simply, the worse the economy, the more people garden.


Just how common is home vegetable gardening? Who's doing it? Why? And what is everybody raising? Well, if it weren't for the National Gardening Association (Burlington, VT), nobody'd really know. Fortunately, that nonprofit group has been commissioning an annual Gallup poll on the topic for well over a decade on home vegetable gardening. The answers they've received are revealing and definitely worth a look.

Home Vegetable Gardening Statistics

In 1971, the year after MOTHER EARTH NEWS N0. 1 was published, 25 million households, or 39% of American families, were raising some of their own vegetables. That number quickly rose until, by 1981, 38 million — 47%, or almost half — of our nation's households were gardening. Then, however, the numbers started to drop. By 1985, 33 million households — 37% — were growing vegetables.

What happened?

To put the answer simply, the worse the economy, the more people garden. In 1981, interest rates were 20%, the nation was stuck in a deepening recession, and people were growing food primarily to save money. (And gardeners do save money — spending about $32 a year per family while harvesting $356 worth of produce!) Today, the financial climate appears rosier, so the pressure to "garden for greenbacks" has slacked off.

As a matter of fact, in keeping with our increasing national interest in nutrition and health, the number one reason people garden today (30% gave this answer) is home vegetable gardening for fresh vegetables, and number two (25%) is to get better-tasting, higher-quality food. Even gardening for fun (22%) beats out saving money (15%) as a motive.

And fear not — gardeners are hardly an endangered species. Indeed, that 37% of households raising crops in '85 made vegetable growing the second most popular outdoor leisure activity in America. Actually, if you include the flower growers, gardening rises to the most popular form of outdoor recreation.

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