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Arizonans Look to Save on Their Food Budget by Starting Backyard Gardens

March 29, 2010

By Julie Murphree, Arizona Farm Bureau

For an initial $400 to $500 investment, you can get the freshest vegetables you want. In fact, families are looking right under their own feet to ease the problem of food prices: their backyards.

As Arizonans balk at the cost of groceries, homeowners increasingly are cutting out sections of lawn and retiring flower beds to grow their own food.

This grow-your-own trend is exactly what Arizona Farm Bureau member Aaryn Green has done.

Aaryn bought local and organic produce at the supermarket but it was getting too pricey for their family food budget so she decided to plant the vegetables and herbs that they use most right in their own backyard. “I know a couple who have their Master Gardner’s certification and they helped me get started by laying the groundwork,” explains Aaryn. “They introduced me to the “lasagna method” of gardening, which involves layering the bottom soil with the necessary components for the correct soil composition for a garden.  It has worked out wonderfully.”

Aaryn has had so much fun with her first gardening experience she’s already preparing for future gardens. “It’s great to be able to walk out into my back yard for fresh basil, thyme, and parsley,” says Aaryn. “We are getting more than enough zucchini, spaghetti squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, cantaloupe, watermelon, and fresh herbs from our small garden to feed our family of four. I can’t wait to get started on adding onto the square footage of the garden.”

 And the Green family can document the savings. Since they planted the fruits and vegetables that they consume the most, including tomatoes, a few varieties of squash, watermelon, cantaloupe, and bell peppers, they can easily plan meals around these foods and avoid purchasing them in the grocery store. They also cook with a lot of fresh herbs, a costly venture when you price them out in the food aisle.

“We use fresh basil and parsley every week, so we made sure that those were among the herbs we put in the garden,” she says. “We started small but we probably save $50 to $75 a month. Once we expand the bed size, the return will grow.”

For those ambitious enough to grow their own backyard garden, Aaryn suggests starting out small with a “test-run type of plot first before delving into an all-encompassing backyard garden. That way, all the kinks are worked out before too much sweat and money is invested.”

Aaryn and University of Arizona Master Gardeners encourage those of us with a budding green thumb to read up on gardening and engage a garden specialist at your county’s extension service office. “If you research what is involved in setting up an Arizona garden, you’ll avoid common mis-steps. Find out what types of fertilizer and nutrients are needed for your particular backyard soil. Ensure that fruits, veggies, and herbs are climate friendly to your area. Your garden will be more likely to flourish under these conditions.”

The University of Arizona Maricopa County Master Gardeners also have a Master Gardener hotline. Just call 602.470.8086 x301. A vegetable planting guide is available at http://cals.arizona.edu/pubs/garden/az1005.pdf.

Beyond the health and savings benefits of growing your own garden, the backyard garden also becomes a family affair. The Green family loves to watch their garden grow. “My husband and daughter give me daily reports on how much the squash has grown, or that they finally spotted the critter that was eating the tomato leaves,” explains Aaryn.

So far, the Greens have been gardening for more than a year; however, their garden consultants (actually her mom and dad who are master gardener certified) are already telling Aaryn what to start putting in the beds for the next season.

“We can’t wait to expand the plot size,” she says. Since we did so well the first time around, we want to plant all kinds of new produce in our backyard.”

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Arizona Farm Bureau is a grassroots organization dedicated to preserving and improving the Agriculture industry through member involvement in education, political activities, programs and services.

For more information contact Julie Murphree at (480) 635-3607 or go to http://www.azfb.org.

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