Whatever you think of Burpee, America’s largest seed company, I think they’ve been pretty shrewd in the way they market their wares to would-be vegetable gardeners. These are the vulgarians who bought the revered Heronswood Nursery and gardens
in 2000 and then, a few years later, moved the plant stock to Pennsylvania and shut the gardens down. Maybe they don’t understand beauty, but they do understand economics. And while economics has nothing to do with exquisite hellebores, it has everything to do with the kitchen garden.
Now Burpee is really hitting the sweet spot and talking cash to all of us over-leveraged Americans. They are selling something called the "Money Garden" for $10–a seed starter pack of six unadventurous vegetable varieties that "will produce over $650 of legally tender vegetables." This calculation is roughly based on the results from test gardens it planted at its research facility Fordhook Farm in Bucks Country, PA.
Burpee concluded that for every dollar spent on seed or fertilizer, the home gardener would harvest $25 worth of vegetables.
Of course, adjust the variables and the 25:1 ratio could be even higher. What if you skip the bagged fertilizer and use free manure and hay from a nearby farmer? What if the vegetables you’re comparing your own to are pricey organic ones from the farmer’s market?
Nonetheless, when Burpee President George Ball argues that "A hundred dollars will produce $2500 in groceries…that’s $2400 a family can save in five months," he’s really in my ballpark.
I probably spend $150 on seeds and seedlings every year. In return, I cut my grocery bill at least $100 a week for seven solid months. No hedge fund ever delivered this rate of return.
Of course, I was delighted to present Burpee’s mathematical proof of the value of my efforts to my husband, who occasionally grouses at my sense of urgency about the garden, "You act as if you are a professional farmer!"
My husband’s response was terse: "Right. Don’t see second home factored in here anywhere."
It’s true. I’m an example of nothing. I do my vegetable garden at a cheap but charming little house in the country. No one in my family cares about the place but me, and it’s my favorite place on earth. It makes no sense whatsoever.
But I am paying a third of the tiny mortgage with all the green beans I grow.