BUFFALO. N.Y. — There’s been a boom in gardening during the pandemic. In fact, according to the National Gardening Association, the pandemic led to more than 18 million new gardeners.
There’s also been a growth in urban gardening. Both are bridging the gap in food deserts, plus, it’s keeping families fed in a time when prices are rising at the grocery store. According to the USDA, food prices will go up 4.5 to 5% this year.
So what does it take to be an urban gardener, or even plant a garden of your own?
“I think there are over 20 urban farms in the city of Buffalo alone,” said Mayda Pozantides, founder and farmer with Groundwork Market Garden.
It’s been growing over the past seven years. Their mission as urban farmers has been steadfast — make food easily accessible and affordable.
“Part of our mission is to help people grow food at home,” Pozantides said.
That part has taken on a whole new meaning and will only continue to.
“Especially now more than never, we have seen how delicate our food system can be,” Pozantides said. “We as farmers knew this, but I think this is the first time consumers really felt it when grocery shelves were empty and food prices were going up. What can combat that is this.”
Pozantides says take tomato plants, for example.
“[We have] about 200 tomato plants, and we are pumping out about 1,000 pounds a week,” she said.
Last year alone, the entire market produced more than 16,000 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables. Those are available at farmer’s markets they attend during the summer. They also have free plant giveaways and a CSA with roughly 80 members.
“We try to just stay super engaged in this community particularly, where the need is greater,” Pozantides explained. “There’s limited options especially if you are on foot.”
According to the National Gardening Association, your home garden can produce $600 worth of food. That’s a lot, especially with the USDA projecting fruits and veggie prices going up 3% to 4% this year, on top of the already 7.7% rise in price last year.
Pozantides says to start small so you don’t overwhelm yourself.
“Focus on a couple of crops that are expensive, like tomatoes and peppers,” Pozantides said. “They are really expensive in the stores, and they will give you a lot of fruit throughout the season.”
She suggests finding what works for you, and asking questions. The farm is part of a network called Greater Buffalo Urban Growers. There’s a wealth of information you can find, plus the questions to ask a farmer.
And here’s another piece of advice: “Pet your plants; it helps them if they are growing in a greenhouse,” Pozantides said.
The mimicking motion of the wind helps them get stronger for when they are transplanted outside.
“I think everyone can have a green thumb,” Pozantides smiled. “I cannot keep house plants alive, but I am able to keep thousands and thousands of plants alive on the farm.”
If you were wondering how much it could cost you to start a garden, here’s a breakdown:
- Raised bed materials will be between $50, if you find a steel one, and $200 or so for wood. Cedar is best. Raised beds are preferred so you know the soil is not contaminated with lead
- Soil is between $3 and $11 per 40-pound bag
- You can add fertilizer. That’s another $6 to $30
- Then there are seeds. Packets will give you more bang for your buck if you are willing to put in the extra work. Those run $1 to $3, compared to an already grown single tomato plant which can start at $7
Grassroots Gardens WNY can help you get started if the price tag of a home garden seems a little too high.