Thursday, August 21, 2008
More people putting up fresh produce
By SUE WATSON
It can’t be said it’s a back to earth movement, yet, but more people are hedging their bets on the economy this year by freezing and canning produce.
Seed sales were on the rise nationally this year as more people planted gardens, according to Mayo Seed Company and Burpee & Company.
W. Atlee Burpee & Company reported twice as many seeds sold this year than last, in an article written by Larisa Brass that ran in the Knoxville News Sentinel.
Mayo Seed Company in Knoxville reported seed sales were up 15 percent in a News Sentinel article saying more people planted gardens this year.
The reason – sticker shock at the gas station and everywhere else as prices continue their upward streak due to the rising cost of energy in the global oil-based economy.
Seed companies say every dime spent on seeds earns a gardener $1 in produce, Brass said.
Some people are skipping summer vacations to gather produce and store it for winter, Brass opined.
Locally, produce grower Brad Carpenter agreed he is seeing an increase this year in requests for bulk items.
People are buying tomatoes, peas, butterbeans and squash in bulk and canning or freezing them to hedge off rising food prices, Carpenter said.
“They are doing a lot more - it’s way up,” he said. “I can’t keep enough peas and butterbeans. I’m assuming it’s because of the economy.”
The Carpenters are doing what their customers are, canning lots of produce. His family has put up 171 quarts of tomatoes so far and will put up some more, he said.
“I’ve put up peas and butterbeans,” he said.
Carpenter said he has not noticed a big increase in home gardens yet, but he thinks it will come back if economic woes continue to force prices and the cost of living up further.
“People have to learn how to survive,” he said. “It’s expensive to grow a garden, too. Fertilizer is going up and seeds.”
The Carpenters cultivate about 40 acres of produce, what once was referred to as a truck patch. Most of what is sold at their produce stand on East Salem in Holly Springs is grown pretty close to the stand.
But most people don’t preserve - can or freeze - produce to save money alone, he said.
“The main reason people grow or put up fresh vegetables is for the flavor,” he said.
Corrine, who runs Carpenter’s produce stand, said people are begging for peas by the bushel - a bulk item always in demand.
Regular customers or serious ones know to ask that their name and number be posted on the waiting list for when the next field of peas ripen, she said.
Lots of people are canning tomatoes and some customers are buying and canning Irish potatoes this year, Corrine said.
Another item in demand in bulk is squash and some people are cutting up bell peppers and freezing them, she said.
She thinks something is up.
“People got out of the habit of canning and putting up stuff,” Corrine said. “I don’t know whether it’s the economy or what, but they are putting up more this year than I’ve ever seen.”
Prices for fresh, locally grown produce are not cheap anymore, either.
That’s because it is costing producers more to make a crop.
Tomatoes were $1.50 a pound and were selling for $1.25 at Carpenter’s three weeks ago, she said.
The price for squash, $1 a pound - is the same as last year, she said. Unshelled peas rose to $18 a bushel this year at Carpenter’s market. They sold peas in the hull for $14 to $15 dollars a bushel last year.
Even with whacky weather in the spring and summer, the quality of produce has been pretty good this year, Corrine said.
Many of the customers who buy produce in bulk are the older generation, she said.
“The younger generation doesn’t know how to can and put up like the older generation,” she said.
Brass, who interviewed Sam Mayo, of Mayo Seed Company, learned that the movement toward home gardening was significant this year, but nothing compared to the way people relied on gardens a few decades back.
Garden seed sales saw a drop of 70 to 80 percent over the 40 years Mayo has been in the business. But just 35 to 40 years ago, you could drive through the country between Knoxville and Asbury or Asheville and see a big garden beside every home, he said.
Mayo said a lot depends on how successful new gardeners were this year as to whether they will try again next year.
“I think it’s important we have good weather,” he told Brass. “If these new farmers are successful this summer, it will be a big help,” Mayo said in his interview with Brass.
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