By Lauren C. Williams
Capital News Service
Now, with nearly 3 million American workers having lost their jobs since the recession began in December 2007, consumers are looking to cut costs.
Food prices have risen 4.8 percent each year since 2007 and interest in backyard gardens is "on the rise from what I can tell," according to Dale Johnson, a farm management specialist for the University of Maryland. "It makes sense."
Marylanders are looking to their backyards to bolster their bottom line against the recession and capitalize on the healthy, local food trend.
"We received 90 calls today," said Lewis Shell, a certified professional horticulturist, on the March 20 call volume to the Maryland Cooperative Extension's Home and Garden Information Center hotline. "People are asking how to start their own gardens."
Because of the recession, people want access to better food and may wonder, " 'Hey, what can I grow myself?'," said Jon Traunfeld, an extension specialist.
"We've had twice as many questions about fruits and vegetables this year," Traunfeld said.
In response to the rising interest, the information center launched a statewide "Grow It Eat It" gardening program on Mar. 9 to help new gardeners.
Callers "want to know what things will grow well in Maryland" said Traunfeld, who said the center received more than 150 e-mails from residents who want to start gardening in January and February.
"We want people to start small and grow the things they eat," Traunfeld said.
He suggests beginners start out with vegetables and herbs.
"If everyone in Maryland went out and planted a small garden, imagine all the produce we would be producing," Johnson said.
"It takes a little bit more energy than watching the plasma screen (television) and the same amount of time."
Consumers' interest in growing their own food seems to be bigger than ever and the trend is hot, even the new residents of the White House are doing it.
Last month, first lady Michelle Obama broke ground on the first kitchen garden there since Eleanor Roosevelt's World War II victory garden.
Obama told grade-schoolers at the March 21 event that the purpose of the garden was to make sure her family had access to fresh vegetables and fruits.
"My girls like vegetables more if they taste good," Obama said, according to pool reports.
"Especially if they're involved in planting it and picking it, they were willing to give it a try," she said.