'Recession gardens' catch on in Brainerd

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BRAINERD, Minn. - Families can stretch their food budget by turning a portion of their yard into a victory garden, replacing a trip to the grocery store.

Victory gardens — or in plainer terms vegetable and/or a fruit gardens — are now beginning to be called recession gardens because of the economy. More and more people are beginning to start their own recession gardens to save money, as well as reap the benefits of healthier food.

Janice Bradshaw, Nisswa, who has been a Crow Wing County master gardener since 1986, said victory/recession gardens are up 40 percent this year because families are trying to stretch their food budget.

Jackie Froemming, Crow Wing County Extension educator, said the extension office has been receiving calls from people inquiring about victory/recession gardens. Froemming said people have told her they are growing more food on their property to give away to their extended families — or they're offering the food to those in need.

For the first time this growing season, Froemming is growing cherry tomatoes and two kinds of herbs — basil and cilantro. Froemming said last year she got hooked on cherry tomatoes, but said they were too expensive for such a small quantity.

"I realized that I could save a lot of money by growing my own," said Froemming. "So I'm trying it out this season."

Froemming said people do not have to have a lot of space to grow a victory/recession garden.

"Any victory garden is a true victory," she said. "People would be surprised on how much food can be grown in a small city lot. ... There are resources out there to help people on how they can maximize their garden."

Froemming and Bradshaw suggested that first-time gardeners with limited space should read "Square Foot Gardening." Bradshaw said through the book and her own experience she has found that a person with a 4-by-8 garden bed would be able to plant 60 pounds of carrots or a bushel of potatoes in one growing season.

Froemming, who lives in north Brainerd, has many neighbors who have used their city lots wisely to grow their own victory garden.

That includes Sonya and Laurence Chamberlain, who have seven raised garden beds in their front yard that are roughly 5-by-12 in size. In addition, they planted six fruit trees and raspberry bushes. The Chamberlains have had their organic gardens since they moved into their home in 2006.

"I've always been interested in where my food came from," said Sonya Chamberlain. "I've always supported locally grown foods and I wanted to produce it myself. There's nothing more satisfying to me than to pick and eat my own strawberries and know where they came from than buying it from a store with the thought that it could have came from Mexico."

The Chamberlains have educated their two children, Edith, 4, and August, 2, where food comes from and the children also get involved with the gardens.

"Many times I catch the kids eating the vegetables in the garden," said Sonya Chamberlain. "But I can't yell at them for eating it because it's good for them. The kids love it and I think they eat better because of it."

Chamberlain said she starts her food produce by seed in March indoors and then plants it outdoors in April. The family doesn't grow enough food to last year-round, but Chamberlain said the family is still eating their garden produce through the end of December.

Chamberlain said the family saves a lot of money by having the gardens. She spends about $120 a month from the grocery store from January until the next garden season on organic produce. She spends about $30 on seeds per season.

"What's also nice about growing our own food (besides the cost savings) is that there are so many varieties of produce out there that one can grow and all these varieties can't always be found at the grocery stores," Chamberlain said. "Plus fresh produce is so flavorful and so fresh."

Not only will the Chamberlains save money on produce this summer, they also will save money on eggs. Just last week the family purchased four chickens.


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