Saturday, March 13, 2021

The REAL Cost of Growing Your Own Food

Yelling at the sky about the cost of tools for growing your own food

"Hey now, what's the big idea, are you trying to jip us?  Your last post didn't include any of the actual expenses associated with growing your own food.  How much does it really cost to grow your own food anyways?"

I know, I know, that information was left out intentionally.  Not to try and deceive you but so that information can have it's very own post!!!  Alas, here we are.  Now we're going to dive into the costs associated with growing your own food.  As you've been reading through my super awesome guide of how to grow your own food you've probably noticed a recurring theme of "buy this", "buy that", "go get this", etc.  Which likely has you wondering, how much money is all of this actually going to cost me???

Which is a fantastic question to know the answer to before you dive into growing your own food.  The simple answer to this question is:

It can cost as much or as little as you want it to!

You are in full control over how much you want to invest into your urban farm.  You can spend $3 on a packet of seeds, plant them directly in the ground, water them with the glass that you drink out of and manually pull weeds around your vegetables.  Costing you a whopping $3 plus water.  Or you can buy all the latest and greatest gardening gizmos and do-hickies costing you more than your house is worth.

I am part of the dreaded, feared, and "lazy" millennial generation so naturally, I really like and enjoy tech.  However there is something that I enjoy more than just about anything in the world (except for goat cheese and guacamole):  Efficiency.

I try and keep my expenses as low as possible however I won't shy away from spending money on something that will make me or the process of growing my own food more efficient, all within reason of course.  Landscaping fabric is a great example of this.  During my first two years of the urban farm, if I had known about landscaping fabric, there's no way I would have bought landscaping fabric after seeing the price of it.  I would have stuck to my guns about pulling weeds by hand, "It'll be easy" I would have told myself.  You just pull them out of the ground, it'll take no time at all and it won't be hard.  After the first two years of the urban farm I barely blinked an eye when I saw the price of the landscaping fabric once I realized how much more efficient it would be.  It's hard to see potential efficiencies if you haven't lived through the inefficiencies yourself.  Pulling weeds by hand is probably one of the most inefficient, unenjoyable, and mostly preventable activities on this planet.  Spending a few hundred dollars on something that should last for 7 years while preventing the majority of weeds from growing during those 7 years seems like a steal of a deal to me now.

This blog and my grow your own food guide are geared towards helping you avoid the mistakes I made, which does involve spending some money to get going in order to have a pretty efficient process from the get-go.  I'm attempting to take you from zero to hero in no-time at all!  However you are the one who determines the path you take, I am merely your guide.  The only one who decides the actual twists and turns of your journey is you.  Yes, you are the one who determines your own fate, nobody else, not me, not your dog, cat, or goat, not your grandma, only you can do that.

Alas, lets explore the costs of growing your own food, both one-time and recurring expenses.  Are you ready for this?

Your actual costs will likely vary, most yards are going to be smaller than mine (6000 sq. ft or 557 sq. m. is the rough size of my urban farm area dedicated to vegetables).  If that's the case for you then your costs will likely be lower since you'll need less material.  Here we go:

"The farmer is the only man in our economy who buys everything at retail, sells everything at wholesale, and pays the freight both ways.” 
-John F. Kennedy

Garlic - $100 (one-time)

Veggie Seeds - $500 (recurring) - For a boatload of seeds that will likely be enough for you and your neighbors to use (hint, hint: go in on them with friends, neighbors, etc.).  Recurring expense unless you save seeds, which can save you a boatload of money, you could even recoup some of your costs by selling seeds*.  Seed saving in a small, confined space is not easy though due to cross pollination.

Flower Seeds - $100 (recurring & optional) -not necessarily necessary but they fuel your pollinators and look cool.  They're necessary in my book.  Likely a recurring expense for a few years until the flowers are established and they start re-seeding themselves in plentiful amounts.

Drip Irrigation - $850 (one-time purchase & optional) -large drip irrigation system and enough drip tape for at least 3 more systems. 

Landscaping Fabric - $499 (one-time & optional) - The nuclear option for killing weeds, it may need to be replaced after 5 to 7 years.  You could also use mulch, straw, newspapers, cardboard instead.

Row Covers - $185 (one-timeish & optional) - I'm not sure how hardy these are yet but they should be re-useable for at least a few years, I'll let you know as soon as I find out!

Soil - $100 (recurring) - For potting seedlings and hanging plants, etc.  Recurring expense unless you make your own potting soil (this experiment is in progress on my end, I'll keep you updated).

CobraHead Tool **- $30 (one-time purchase & optional) - Best gardening tool ever, it's basically the only tool I use every single day in the urban farm.

Compost - Traditional - $0.  Bokashi Bran- $100 / year (recurring & optional)

Seed Trays & Pots - $100 (one-time & optional) - This will vary depending on how many seeds you start at the beginning of the year.  Once you have them you don't need to buy them again.  This is optional because you can always make your own pots for planting, which is more sustainable anyways.

Water - $294 yearly (recurring).  For the months of April thru September my water bill averages out to be $49 / month higher then it does the rest of the year.  Watering a bunch of vegetables is needed and this cost is actually a lot lower than I thought it would be.  As you build up the soil health the soil will start retaining more water just like a sponge.  If you use landscaping fabric it will help keep moisture in the ground as well.

Electricity - $13 / month (recurring) - For running two, 300 watt grow lights 8 hours a day for seedlings which I run February Thru May = $52 / year.  Your actual expense is going to vary depending on how much energy your lights consume as well as what the electricity rates are in your city.  An electricity cost calculator is pretty handy.

Full Spectrum LED Grow Lights - $150 for two (one-time) - Prices vary widely for these, you can currently get two decent grow lights for $75 / each which you can start a boatload of seeds under.  I'm currently trialing a set of cheaper grow lights, I'll keep you updated.

Tiller ** - $160 (one-time & optional)

Broadfork - $217 (one-time & optional)

Weeding Gloves - $20 (one-time) - These will likely have to be replaced every few years but that's completely dependent on you and how much you use them.

PVC Trellis' - $50ish (one-time) - Build your own trellis' for beans, cucumbers, anything else to climb up if you are growing those types of climbing plants.

Super Cool Panamanian Farming Hat - Priceless

The bells and whistles (one-time and optional expenses) aren't necessary but they do make your life easy and if you're after efficiency then you'll want them.

If you were to go with all of the bells and whistles you're looking at about: $3,368   Which certainly seems like a lot, because it is a lot but this is just about equivalent to how much I spent on food in 2020.  It takes a years worth of food expenses to set yourself up to grow food for however long you want, even until the end of time if you'd like.  Once the one-time expenses are in-place, you don't have to pay for them again and they work for you to help you grow more food.

After that first year (or if you skip all the one-time purchases) your expenses drop down to being just recurring expenses which will run about: $1,107 each year.  

If you go with the barebones approach, which would be starting with just:  Vegetable seeds, soil, and water then you're looking at: $894 each year.

Each of these options puts you on the path to food security.  It's just a matter of what you're able to do, how much time do you want to spend in your yard and what makes sense for you as well as your space.  Once you start growing your own food then it blows open the doors for you to go to the store less, making this an optional errand, to get things that you don't really need but want (e.g. goat cheese).  It also opens the floodgates for you to start saving more money then you're used to (after the first year, two, or three).  Food is obviously a necessity but it isn't necessary to go to the store for food, you can grow it yourself.  This also gives you as a consumer more power by voting with your dollars, when you become less reliant on the food system that's in place then you can funnel your money to systems, companies, and families that you believe in and want to support such as your everyday, friendly, local and sustainable family farm in your area.  By growing some (or all) of your own food then visiting sustainable and local farms for everything else you need, suddenly you don't need the grocery store at all and you're keeping your money within both your town and your bank account.  Not to mention the health benefits (and potential medical bill savings) of eating fresh food all the time to keep your body and mind in tip-top shape.

Now that we know what the costs of growing your own food are, lets revisit my food expenses from my previous post, "How Much Money Did I Spend on Food in 2020?", with the food growing costs added in.  My urban farm was well established in 2020, I didn't have any one-time expenses and my recurring expenses were $1,107 for growing my own food in 2020.

The Grand Total from buying food during 2020 was:  $3,274.74
Growing my own food in 2020 cost me a whopping: $1,107.00
Real Food Cost for 2020:  $4,381.74

With 12 months in a year my actual monthly food costs were:  $365.15 / month.  With 1095 meals a year this averages out to $4.00 a meal, each and every day.  If you don't remember how much luxury is involved in these numbers then go back and read my previous post.  For how many luxury food items I purchased in 2020 I would consider $4.00 a meal to be a steal of a deal!

Lets take this a step further and hop back into the theoretical realm and see what would happen if I had cut out all of the excess luxury in 2020.

My necessary food spending total during 2020 was: $1,494.53
Growing my own food in 2020 cost me a whopping: $1,107.00
Total for necessary food in 2020:  $2,601.53

This would bring my monthly food costs down to: $216 / month.  With 1095 meals a year this would average out to about $2.38 a meal.  Not too shabby at all for the most tasty and nutritious food that money can buy and has the potential to put your local 5 star restaurant to shame while costing less then your average fast food joint.

We can even kick this up another notch by comparing this to how much your average American spends on food.  Business Insider wrote a pretty good article on March 5th, 2020 titled "What average Americans spend on groceries every month in 22 major cities."  I'm not too sure how accurate this article actually is but they got their data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Surveys so it seems to be much more accurate than almost any other food expenditure article I've read.  Plus when I think back on my own food expenses in a prior life, it seems about right.

They took a look at the food expenses for households that range in size from one to three or more people across 22 different cities.  It's broken down into grocery expenses and total food expenses.  Total food expenses is what I calculated for my expenses so that's what we want to compare my spending to.  Denver is the closest city to me and is within an hours drive of my house.  In this sprawling metropolis in 2020 households spent an average of $758.83 a month on their total food expenses.  This comes out to $9,105.96 a year or $8.32 a meal just for food!

This means that I saved $4,724.22 over your average Denver household just in food expenses for the 2020 year alone!  Plus I was swimming in food luxury for the entirety of 2020 while doing this.  If I did this over a 10 year period that would mean that I would save $47,242.20 more than your average Denver household and that's not even taking into consideration rising food costs at the store, inflation, or my falling food costs.  That is a crap ton of money if I do say so myself!

Now what do you think about the expenses associated with starting your own urban farm and growing your own food?

Keep in mind the urban farm also basically doubles as a gym and therapist while allow me to simultaneously spend time outside and get in touch with nature.  Plus this is all being done in a sustainable, beyond organic manner which is regenerating the soil, capturing carbon, and helping to heal the environment instead of contributing to global warming.

Hop aboard the urban farming train already!  The weather is nice, warm, comfortable, and sunny over here!

In the comments below:  What are your thoughts on the costs associated with starting an urban farm?  What about the potential savings?  What gardening tool excites you the most?  How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

*Selling seeds is a potentially epic side hustle if you can avoid cross pollination and you get your seed saving technique down).  I'll be listing side hustle opportunities wherever I see the potential for them within this blog.  I love me a good side hustle!

**That is an affiliate link where if you make a purchase on that site after using that link I do receive a meager amount of money back from it.  It's a small attempt on my part to try and make a little bit of coin in exchange for providing you with a free resource for growing your own food!

No comments:

Post a Comment