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Even the most extreme couponers can have some areas of their grocery shopping that they may end up paying shelf prices for. Fresh produce is an area where I haven't been saving much money over the past couple years. My family and I have had a family garden in the past and we're looking forward to harvesting our own produce this year – to get our produce savings back on track.
If you aren't yet saving money through gardening, take a half hour and read online about the best ways to start a small garden. If you are limited on space, I recommend searching for “square foot gardening” – a great way to grow great produce in small spaces. Even caring for a few plants can pay off for you when the harvest arrives.
I'll save the “how to's” for the real gardening experts. I would, however, like to share my top ten reasons to get started this year if you've never grown your own fruits and veggies.
1. Save Money! There is a clear money-saving opportunity from growing your own fruits and vegetables. The average American family spends $50 a month in the produce department (although most will admit it should be more). You can offset these costs with a few seeds, some soil, water, and a little attention.
2. Better control! If you prefer organic vegetables, the cost savings opportunity is much greater. The price of organic produce is typically much more. When growing your own produce, you'll be in control of what pesticides (if any) you use. You'll be in charge of what your soil is made of (what kind of fertilizer, for example). You'll be in charge of what goes in your body – as opposed to trusting the produce supplier of your local grocery chain.
3. Availability! If you enjoy vegetables that your local grocer doesn't carry and you can grow them in your region, a simple online search will get you access to seeds for nearly any fruit or vegetable you can imagine. If you're brave, you can find some pretty exotic varieties of fruits and vegetables that are sure to catch the attention of your friends and neighbors when they're ripe for harvest.
4. Wellness! Gardening can be good exercise. Regular activity that's both enjoyable and gets your heart moving deserves to be a high priority. Additionally, you will be working with and in nature – which is good for the soul. Finally, the accomplishment of a successful harvest is emotionally rewarding.
5. Better for the environment! If being green is important for you, you'll have a positive effect by not needing your vegetables to be shipped across the country – or even internationally. Your vegetables won't require the extra chemicals in the environment often used in mass farming. Your own “footprint” will be next to zero.
6. Educational! Working together in the garden provides the opportunity for a number of teaching moments on both biology and the law of the harvest. Your kids can learn that their hard work will pay off with dedication and daily responsibility.
7. Family bonding! Kids (especially younger ones) can take pride in ownership of a special vegetable plant that is all theirs. The time you spend together caring for your new, green arrivals can be precious and memorable.
8. More veggies on the plate! Kids are MUCH more likely to eat vegetables that they helped grow.
9. Nutrition! When buying produce at your local grocery store, it could be several weeks between being picked and being on your plate. Grocery store produce is often picked before it is fully ripe to compensate for this lag time. This results in fruits and veggies without the full nutritional benefit you'll get from your garden vegetables. You'll be able to keep vegetables on the plant until they are ripe and you're ready to eat them.
10. Taste! I saved this one for last – because it is so significant. I've never eaten a tomato from the grocery store that tasted anything like my own. One of the biggest reasons for the lack of taste in supermarket produce is because of the necessity for early picking and the delay in getting it on your plate. You can learn more about the science of this online, but there are chemical changes that take place within the vegetable when it's allowed to fully ripen on the vine and go straight into your mouth – as opposed to early picking and 2-3 weeks' delay.
If you're uncertain as to whether you'll be able to manage a large garden, start smaller than you think you can handle. Do some homework ahead of time to make sure you're hitting the right growing seasons, and that you're taking the right precautions to minimize weeds and pests. The rewards may be minimal throughout the spring and early summer – but when you're able to replace bland vegetables with your own flavor-rich varieties and keep more money in your pocket, you'll know that your time invested will have been worth it.
Josh Elledge is chief executive “Angel” of SavingsAngel.com, a website that teaches consumers how to save money through a free money savings video eCourse and podcast. SavingsAngel also provides hundreds of 50% off or better deals each week to members by matching local grocery and drug store sales with its free database of over 5,000 accessible coupons.