If I haven’t mentioned it before, I am a numbers guy. In my real job, I create and maintain computer applications that analyze all of The M.D. Anderson Cancer Center’s numbers. Because I crunch and report numbers all day, every day, I am kind of a nut about them. So, when I found a website that that had numbers relating to gardening, I was ecstatic. All of the statistics that we are about to discuss came from a very cool web page on the Mother Nature Network. MNN got all of their stats from the National Gardening Association.
The Average Gardener - According to the National Gardening Association, the average gardener in the U.S. is female. She is over 45 years old and there is a 79% chance that she has a college degree or at least some college education. She spends an average of five hours a week working in her 600 square foot food garden. Each year she spends about $70 on her hobby and harvests $600 worth of food. In my recent interview with Central Texas Gardener, Linda Lehmusvirta asked me if gardening was worth it. Well, thanks to that last stat, I have scientific proof that at a bare minimum, my hobby is worth at least $530 per year.
Does Size Matter?- Evidently, my little potager is just about average. My potager is 24′X24′ for a total of 576 square feet. According to the stats on the MNN site, the average food garden in the U.S. is 600 square feet. This stat was the one that hit me the hardest. Was it coincidence that my potager was so close to the average? Probably not. I bet the average garden is 600 sq ‘ because that is about the perfect size for a middle aged, college educated gardener to maintain in five hours per week.
Another interesting stat in this line was the reported median size of a garden. In case you have forgotten, the median is the point in a population where half of the values fall above a certain point and the half fall below. So, with a median garden size of 96 square feet (or 12′X8′), that means that there are a lot of people gardening in very small spaces. While this was a little surprising to me at first, it dawned on me that a lot of those middle aged college grads are urbanites that just don’t have a lot of space to garden in. I say YEAH! It is better to have gardened small than to have never gardened at all. My wife’s school garden is based on Mel Bartholomew’s square foot gardening method. It is only 8′X3′, but her second graders grow a lot of produce in that 24 sq ‘ space. So, if you don’t have the space or time to grow an average sized food garden, plant some containers or put together a couple of 3′X3′ sqaure foot gardens in your yard or on your patio.
What Does Our Garden Grow? -It should come as no surprise to you that the most grown vegetable in the American garden is the tomato. Tomatoes are the most grown vegetable in home gardens all around the world. However, I have to admit I was shocked by number two and three. Cucumbers and sweet peppers rounded out the top three. Even though I grow them, I had no idea that everyone else did too. Probably has something to do with how versatile they are and how easy they are to grow. BTW, when you read the chart and you see “Tomatoes 86%”, it means that of the total respondents, 86% grew tomatoes in their garden.
Where We’re Growing – According to the survey, no region of the U.S. gardens significantly more than any other. If you look at the map on the left, you will see that what they call “The South” has the highest number of gardeners. If you look closely you will see that this is the smallest geographic region in size but 29% of the folks that live in that area garden. The second largest region is called “The Midwest”. It is the largest geographically and 26% of the people that live there garden. 23% of the folks that live in “The West” grow their on food. Finally, 22% of “Northeasterners” grow some of their own food. “The Northeast” may have the lowest per centage of gardeners and yet it has the highest population density in the U.S. Because of this, I don’t think these folks garden less because they don’t want to, I think it is probably a result of the VERY urban environments that they live in.
The State of Our Hobby – Right now, the state of our hobby is strong! In 2008, 31% (or 36 million households) of Americans had a food garden. By 2009, that number had grown to 37% of households (or 43 million households). I am not sure what drove this increase but it truly incredible. Whether driven by a desire to eat in a more healthy manner, or the desire to save money because of the economy, over one third of your neighbors are now growing at least a part of the food they consume.
Compared to 2008, 6 million more Americans kept a garden in 2009. This bodes very well for the future of our hobby. However, the most encouraging news in that stat is the fact that 21% (or 1.26 M) of that 6 million were first time gardeners. How exciting is that? Historically, gardening was a hobby practiced by the middle aged and the retired. Not anymore! More and more young people are rolling up their sleeves and getting dirty. These newbie’s are going to ensure that the state of our hobby is strong for a very long time.