Costs and Benefits of Vegetable Gardening1

Kevin Athearn, Hannah Wooten, Liz Felter, Catherine G. Campbell, Jessica M. Ryals, Matthew C. Lollar, Juanita Popenoe, Lorna Bravo, LuAnn Duncan, Christa Court, and Wendy Wilber 2

Introduction

One-third of all United States households participate in food gardening (NGA 2014). Vegetable gardening is the most common type of food gardening (NGA 2014). In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic generated a surge of interest in vegetable gardening with people confined at home and trying to be more self-sufficient (Yu 2020).

Benefits of gardening are numerous, and motivations vary. One motivating factor for many gardeners is to save money on their food bill. Other gardeners are motivated primarily by nonfinancial aspects of gardening. In either case, it is helpful to consider the cost of gardening relative to the benefits.

The cost of purchasing food (e.g., $2.00 per pound of tomatoes) or a gym membership (e.g., $50 per month) is straightforward. Estimating the costs of gardening is not as simple. Does it cost you $1.00 per pound or $10.00 per pound to grow tomatoes in your garden? How do you know? This publication serves as a guide for gardeners to estimate the costs of vegetable gardening. But first, we describe the benefits of gardening.

Benefits of Vegetable Gardening

Vegetable gardening can provide many benefits for the gardener and the household. The harvested vegetables are an obvious benefit. Some benefits are based on the individual perceptions of the gardener. For example, people may garden because they enjoy it or perceive better taste from fresh, homegrown produce (NGA 2014).

Other benefits have been determined through scientific research. For example, fresh vegetables gradually lose nutrients after harvest (Barrett). A vegetable harvested from your garden and eaten the same day will have higher nutritional content than an identical vegetable that has spent several days or weeks sitting in storage, transport, and store displays. Numerous other studies have documented the positive effects of gardening on physical and mental health (Armstrong 2000; Soga et al. 2017). Research has also found gardening increases consumption of fruits and vegetables, and even if just one person in a household participates in gardening, it increases fresh fruit and vegetable consumption for all members of the household (Alaimo et al. 2008). Studies have found several benefits for children participating in gardening. For example, they are more likely to eat vegetables (Meinen et al. 2012; Savoie-Roskos et al. 2017), and children participating in school garden programs demonstrate an increase in social and interpersonal skills (Robinson and Zajicek 2005) and have improved educational outcomes (Bell and Dyment 2008) and attitudes toward the environment (Mayer-Smith et al. 2007).

Gardening can also provide financial benefits. If you can grow vegetables for less money than it would cost to buy the same vegetables at the grocery store, you gain a financial benefit (cost savings). Langellotto (2014) reviewed several studies of gardening costs and yields. She found that in most cases the value of food produced was greater than the cost, especially when no labor cost was counted. But gardening does require a financial investment, even if a modest one, and there are no guarantees that your savings on grocery expenses will outweigh your gardening costs.

Knowing your cost savings from growing different vegetables can help you choose the most economical crops and assess whether you are getting a financial benefit from gardening. The next section describes how you can estimate your costs and cost savings from your vegetable garden.

Estimating Costs and Savings from Vegetable Gardening

We suggest a framework to help you estimate your costs and cost savings from vegetable gardening. We assume you do not pay someone to garden for you, but your own labor is an important input, too. Any "cost" you assign to your own time and effort is subjective. You may think of the cost savings or other benefits of gardening as the "return" for your labor. You decide whether those benefits are worth the time you spend on gardening.

Our focus is on estimating the costs of materials, including gardening supplies and tools. A common mistake is to leave some costs out, which makes a cost estimate lower than the actual cost. It is important to think about all the materials that go into your vegetable garden.

Your cost savings (or extra cost) depend on three factors: your gardening costs, the size of your harvest, and the price you would have paid for vegetables if not grown in your garden. To know your cost and cost savings from gardening, you will have to keep records of your gardening expenditures and the amount you harvest. A kitchen scale can be used to weigh the amount of each vegetable you harvest.

You can use the blank Vegetable Cost Table (Table 1) to calculate costs for a single vegetable. Start by listing all the materials you use to grow this vegetable only. Materials that are shared by multiple vegetables will be listed separately in a Shared Cost Table (Table 2). Once you have listed all your gardening materials, including any garden supplies and tools, enter the Original Cost (the amount you paid) for each item. Some of the materials will last for more than one year. In the Use Years column, estimate the number of years you will use each item for gardening before it is replaced. Then calculate the annual cost for each item, which is the Original Cost divided by the Use Years.

Table 4 shows an example Vegetable Cost Table for tomatoes. Direct materials (used only by tomatoes) include the tomato seedlings, tomato cages, and pest management material. Tomato cages are purchased for $40, and we expect the cages to be used for 4 years before being replaced. Therefore, the annual cost of the tomato cages is $10 ($40 ÷ 4). It is not appropriate to assign the entire cost of the cages to your first year's tomatoes, and no cost to the tomatoes in following years. Instead, we spread out the cost of the cages over the tomato crops that use the cages. Each year's tomato harvest is assigned a portion of the original cost. Conversely, if you do not commit to growing tomatoes for three additional years, the first year's cost is much higher.

What if some of your materials are shared by multiple vegetables? Put those shared items into costs groups. Each group should contain items shared by the same vegetables. For example, our raised beds are shared by tomatoes, baby spinach, and carrots. We might also have a hydroponic system to grow various types of lettuce. In that case, we put the raised bed materials into one cost group and the hydroponic system materials into a separate cost group.

You can use the blank Shared Cost Table (Table 2) to list shared materials for one cost group. Enter the Original Cost and Use Years for each item, just as you did for Table 1. Calculate the annual cost for each item by dividing the Original Cost by the Use Years. At the bottom of the Shared Cost Table, list the vegetables sharing that cost group. For each vegetable, enter a percentage of the total group costs that should be allocated to that vegetable. In the second column at the bottom of the Shared Cost Table, you can enter the "allocation base," which are numbers used to assign a percentage to each vegetable. For example, a percentage based on square feet occupied by each vegetable could be a reasonable way to allocate shared costs. Calculate the dollar amount allocated to each vegetable by multiplying the percentage (as a decimal) times the total shared material annual cost for the group. Your percent allocations for all the vegetables sharing the group should sum to 100%. The dollar amount allocated to all the vegetables should sum to the total shared material annual cost for the group from the top portion of Table 2.

Table 7 shows an example Shared Cost Table for two raised beds. In our example, baby spinach is grown in one, and carrots are grown in the other during the winter. In the spring, tomatoes are grown in both raised beds. Based on the number of beds occupied (or square feet), we assign 50% of the raised bed costs to tomato, 25% to baby spinach, and 25% to carrot.

In the Vegetable Cost Table (Table 1), you can sum the annual costs of the direct materials (materials used only for that vegetable). Then enter any shared cost allocations from Shared Cost Tables. Sum the annual direct cost plus the shared allocation(s) to get the total annual material cost for that vegetable. Then at the bottom of Table 1, enter the harvest unit (e.g., pounds) and the annual amount harvested. Calculate the total material cost per unit by dividing the total annual material cost by the amount harvested. The total material cost per unit is what you can compare to the price you would have paid for the vegetable at the grocery store.

Tables 4, 5, and 6 show examples for tomatoes, baby spinach, and carrots. Those three vegetables are grown in raised beds. Our estimates for material cost per unit are $1.48/lb for tomatoes, $3.33/lb for baby spinach, and $2.00/lb for carrots.

You can use the blank Cost Savings Table (Table 3) to compare your garden vegetable costs per unit to the price of similar vegetables at the grocery store. Your cost savings per unit is the grocery store cost per unit (price) minus the garden cost per unit. To compare the two, the units must be the same (i.e., track your harvests using the same unit as the grocery store price—pound, dry pint, piece, head, bunch, etc.). In the example shown in Table 8, we save $0.51 per pound of tomatoes and $4.67 per pound of baby spinach grown in the garden. But carrots cost us $0.50/lb more from the garden than from the grocery store.

There may be other benefits to growing carrots in a home garden, but in this example cost savings is not one of them. Every gardener needs to decide whether the benefits outweigh any added cost, or whether the cost savings and other benefits are worth the time spent gardening.

We hope this document helps you estimate the costs for your garden so that you know whether it costs you $1.00 per pound or $10.00 per pound to grow tomatoes. If you would rather do cost estimates on a computer and let the computer do the math for you, an interactive Excel Cost Workbook (https://journals.flvc.org/edis/article/view/123485/129603) and an Instructional Video (https://tinyurl.com/y7mm5eag) explaining how to use it are available at the links shown. Those tools and others can be found on the UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions website (https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/get-growing/).

Conclusions

Vegetable gardening is an activity with many benefits but also some costs. Knowing your costs will enable you to compare the benefits with the costs. Accurately estimating your cost per unit harvested will allow you to calculate the financial benefit (cost savings) from growing different vegetables.

Acknowledgements

We would like to acknowledge Debora Bell and Dr. Saqib Mukhtar for their role as facilitators of the team that produced this document.

References

Alaimo, K., E. Packnett, R. A. Miles, and D. J. Kruger. 2008. "Fruit and Vegetable Intake among Urban Community Gardeners." Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior 40 (2): 94–101. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jneb.2006.12.003

Armstrong, D. 2000. "A Survey of Community Gardens in Upstate New York: Implications for Health Promotion and Community Development." Health & Place 6 (4): 319–327.

Barrett, D. M. Undated. "Maximizing the Nutritional Value of Fruits and Vegetables." University of California, Davis. http://www.fruitandvegetable.ucdavis.edu/files/197179.pdf

Bell, A. C., and J. E. Dyment. 2008. "Grounds for Health: The Intersection of Green School Grounds and Health-Promoting Schools." Environmental Education Research 14 (1): 77–90. https://doi.org/10.1080/13504620701843426

Langellotto, G. A. 2014. "What are the economic costs and benefits of home vegetable gardens?" Journal of Extension 52(2). https://www.researchgate.net/publication/306223401_What_Are_the_Economic_Costs_and_Benefits_of_Home_Vegetable_Gardens

Mayer-Smith, J., O. Bartosh, and L. Peterat. 2007. "Teaming Children and Elders to Grow Food and Environmental Consciousness." Applied Environmental Education & Communication 6 (1): 77–85.

Meinen, A., B. Friese, W. Wright, and A. Carrel. 2012. "Youth Gardens Increase Healthy Behaviors in Young Children." Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition 7 (2–3): 192–204. https://doi.org/10.1080/19320248.2012.704662

National Gardening Association (NGA). 2014. "Garden to Table: A 5-Year Look at Food Gardening in America." https://garden.org/special/pdf/2014-NGA-Garden-to-Table.pdf

Robinson, C. W., and J. M. Zajicek. 2005. "Growing Minds: The Effects of a One-Year School Garden Program on Six Constructs of Life Skills of Elementary School Children." HortTechnology 15 (3): 453–457.

Savoie-Roskos, M. R., H. Wengreen, and C. Durward. 2017. "Increasing Fruit and Vegetable Intake among Children and Youth through Gardening-Based Interventions: A Systematic Review." Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 117 (2): 240–250. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2016.10.014

Soga, M., K. J. Gaston, and Y. Yamaura. 2017. "Gardening Is Beneficial for Health: A Meta-Analysis." Preventive Medicine Reports 5:92–99. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211335516301401

Yu, A. 2020. "Emptier Grocery Shelves Help Cultivate a Growing Interest in Home Gardening." WHYY.org. https://whyy.org/articles/emptier-grocery-shelves-help-cultivate-a-growing-interest-in-home-gardening/

Tables

Table 1. 

Vegetable Cost Table: Blank

VEGETABLE COST TABLE

Vegetable:

Description:

List materials used to grow this vegetable only. Enter original cost and the number of years of gardening use before replacement. Calculate original cost ÷ use years = annual cost.

Direct Materials

Original Cost

Use Years

Annual Cost

       
       
       
       
       
       
       
       

Total direct materials

     

For materials that are used to grow more than one vegetable, add up costs in a shared cost table. Then enter the amount allocated to this vegetable here.

Shared Material Cost Allocations

Annual Allocation

Shared Cost Table 1

 

Shared Cost Table 2

 

Shared Cost Table 3

 

Add the direct material annual costs and the shared material annual allocations to get the total annual material cost. Enter the harvest unit and amount harvested. Then calculate Total annual material cost ÷ Annual amount harvested = Total material cost per unit.

 

Unit

Annual Totals

Total annual material cost

$

 

Annual amount harvested

   

Total material cost per unit

   
Table 2. 

Shared Cost Table: Blank

SHARED COST TABLE

Cost Group Name:

Description:

List materials used for this shared cost group. Enter original cost and the number of years of gardening use before replacement. Calculate original cost ÷ use years = annual cost.

Materials

Original Cost

Use Years

Annual Cost

       
       
       
       
       
       
       
       

Total shared materials

     

List the vegetables sharing this cost group. Enter the % allocation for each. For each vegetable, calculate % of Total (as a decimal) x Total shared material annual cost = Annual allocation.

Vegetables sharing this group

% of Total

Annual Allocation

     
     
     
     
     

Total

   
Table 3. 

Cost Savings Table: Blank

COST COMPARISON TABLE

For each vegetable, enter the unit, the grocery store cost per unit, and the garden cost per unit. Calculate Grocery store cost per unit - Garden cost per unit = Cost savings per unit.

Unit

     

Grocery store cost per unit

     

Garden cost per unit

     

Cost savings per unit

     
Table 4. 

Vegetable Cost Table Example: Tomato

VEGETABLE COST TABLE

Vegetable:

Tomato

Description:

Grown in 2 raised beds, spring 2020.

List materials used to grow this vegetable only. Enter original cost and the number of years of gardening use before replacement. Calculate original cost ÷ use years = annual cost.

Direct Materials

Original Cost

Use Years

Annual Cost

Seedlings purchased

$24.00

1.0

$24.00

Tomato cages

$40.00

4.0

$10.00

Pest management

$8.00

2.0

$4.00

     

$0.00

     

$0.00

     

$0.00

     

$0.00

     

$0.00

Total direct materials

$72.00

 

$38.00

For materials that are used to grow more than one vegetable, add up costs in a shared cost table. Then enter the amount allocated to this vegetable here.

Shared Material Cost Allocations

Annual Allocation

Shared Cost Table 1

$36.00

Shared Cost Table 2

$0.00

Shared Cost Table 3

$0.00

Add the direct material annual costs and the shared material annual allocations to get the total annual material cost. Enter the harvest unit and amount harvested. Then calculate Total annual material cost ÷ Annual amount harvested = Total material cost per unit.

 

Unit

Annual Totals

Total annual material cost

$

$74.00

Annual amount harvested

pound

50

Total material cost per unit

$/pound

$1.48

Table 5. 

Vegetable Cost Table Example: Baby Spinach

VEGETABLE COST TABLE

Vegetable:

Baby Spinach

   

Description:

Grown in 1 raised bed, winter 2019–2020

List materials used to grow this vegetable only. Enter original cost and the number of years of gardening use before replacement. Calculate original cost ÷ use years = annual cost.

Direct Materials

Original Cost

Use Years

Annual Cost

Seeds

$5.00

1.0

$5.00

Pest management

$7.00

1.0

$7.00

     

$0.00

     

$0.00

     

$0.00

     

$0.00

     

$0.00

     

$0.00

Total direct materials

$12.00

 

$12.00

For materials that are used to grow more than one vegetable, add up costs in a shared cost table. Then enter the amount allocated to this vegetable here.

Shared Material Cost Allocations

Annual Allocation

Shared Cost Table 1

$18.00

Shared Cost Table 2

$0.00

Shared Cost Table 3

$0.00

Add the direct material annual costs and the shared material annual allocations to get the total annual material cost. Enter the harvest unit and amount harvested. Then calculate Total annual material cost ÷ Annual amount harvested = Total material cost per unit.

 

Unit

Annual Totals

Total annual material cost

$

$30.00

Annual amount harvested

pound

9

Total material cost per unit

$/pound

$3.33

Table 6. 

Vegetable Cost Table Example: Carrot

VEGETABLE COST TABLE

Vegetable:

Carrot

   

Description:

Grown in 1 raised bed, winter 2019–2020

List materials used to grow this vegetable only. Enter original cost and the number of years of gardening use before replacement. Calculate original cost ÷ use years = annual cost.

Direct Materials

Original Cost

Use Years

Annual Cost

Seeds

$6.00

1.0

$6.00

     

$0.00

     

$0.00

     

$0.00

     

$0.00

     

$0.00

     

$0.00

     

$0.00

Total direct materials

$6.00

 

$6.00

For materials that are used to grow more than one vegetable, add up costs in a shared cost table. Then enter the amount allocated to this vegetable here.

Shared Material Cost Allocations

Annual Allocation

Shared Cost Table 1

$18.00

Shared Cost Table 2

$0.00

Shared Cost Table 3

$0.00

Add the direct material annual costs and the shared material annual allocations to get the total annual material cost. Enter the harvest unit and amount harvested. Then calculate Total annual material cost ÷ Annual amount harvested = Total material cost per unit.

 

Unit

Annual Totals

Total annual material cost

$

$24.00

Annual amount harvested

pound

12

Total material cost per unit

$/pound

$2.00

Table 7. 

Shared Cost Table Example: Raised Beds

SHARED COST TABLE

Cost Group Name:

Raised Beds

Description:

Two raised beds, 4' x 8' each, 64 sq. ft. total. November 2019 through June 2020.

List materials used for this shared cost group. Enter original cost and the number of years of gardening use before replacement. Calculate original cost ÷ use years = annual cost.

Materials

Original Cost

Use Years

Annual Cost

Raised bed lumber and hardware

$70.00

5.0

$14.00

Raised bed soil

$120.00

5.0

$24.00

Annual soil amendment and fertilizer

$18.00

1.0

$18.00

Gardening tools and hose

$104.00

8.0

$13.00

Hose nozzle

$12.00

4.0

$3.00

     

$0.00

     

$0.00

     

$0.00

Total shared materials

$324.00

 

$72.00

List the vegetables sharing this cost group. Enter the % allocation for each. For each vegetable, calculate % of Total (as a decimal) x Total shared material annual cost = Annual allocation.

Vegetables sharing this group

Square Feet

% of Total

Annual Allocation

Tomato

64

50%

$36.00

Baby Spinach

32

25%

$18.00

Carrot

32

25%

$18.00

     

$0.00

     

$0.00

Total

128

100%

$72.00

Table 8. 

Cost Savings Table Example

COST COMPARISON TABLE

For each vegetable, enter the unit, the grocery store cost per unit, and the garden cost per unit. Calculate Grocery store cost per unit - Garden cost per unit = Cost savings per unit.

 

Tomato

Baby Spinach

Carrot

Unit

pound

pound

pound

Grocery store cost per unit

$1.99

$8.00

$1.50

Garden cost per unit

$1.48

$3.33

$2.00

Cost savings per unit

$0.51

$4.67

($0.50)

Footnotes

1. This document is FE1092, a publication of the Food and Resource Economics Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date February 2021. Visit the EDIS website at https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu for the currently supported version of this publication.
2. Kevin Athearn, regional specialized Extension agent, UF/IFAS North Florida Research and Education Center, Suwannee Valley; Hannah Wooten, commercial horticulture Extension agent, Orange County; Liz Felter, regional specialized Extension agent IV, UF/IFAS Mid-Florida Research and Education Center; Catherine G. Campbell, assistant professor, Department of Family Youth and Community Sciences; Jessica M. Ryals, sustainable food systems Extension agent, Collier County; Matthew C. Lollar, commercial horticulture Extension agent II, Santa Rosa County; Juanita Popenoe, multi-county commercial fruit production Extension agent, Lake County; Lorna Bravo, county Extension director, Broward County; LuAnn Duncan, family and consumer sciences Extension agent, Sumter County; Christa Court, assistant professor, Food and Resource Economics Department; and Wendy Wilber, Florida statewide master gardener program coordinator; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.