North Americans finding soaring food prices hard to stomach are battling back by growing their own food. Home vegetable gardens appear to be booming as a result of the twin movements to eat local and pinch pennies. Vegetable seed sales are up significantly from year-ago figures, said Barb Melera, president of D. Landreth Seed Company in New Freedom, Pa.

“This is the first time I’ve ever heard people say, ‘I can grow this more cheaply than I can buy it in the supermarket.’ That’s a 180-degree turn from the norm.”

Roger Doiron, a gardener and fresh food advocate from Scarborough, Maine, said he turned $85 US worth of seeds into more than six months of vegetables for his family of five. As founding director of Kitchen Gardeners International, a non-profit group promoting home gardening and healthier food, Doiron pays close attention to pocketbook issues. Food prices and oil prices are up sharply compared to a year ago, making it more challenging to put a meal on the table, Doiron said.

”I see home gardens as a way of broadening and democratizing the local foods revolution, which, until now, has been more of an upper-class phenomenon,” he said.

The worst of the price hikes may be yet to come. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization said retail prices would continue to climb as more agricultural crops, primarily corn, are processed into biofuels. Greater demand from India and China also are contributing to what likely will be long-term food cost increases, the agency said.

Those conditions are ripe for an increase in gardening, said Rose Hayden-Smith, a garden educator and historian with the University of California-Davis.

She compares the current period of market uncertainty with that of the early- to mid-20th century, when the concept of “victory gardens” became popular in the U.S, Canada and Europe. ”A lot of companies during the world wars and the Great Depression era encouraged vegetable gardening as a way of addressing layoffs, reduced wages and such,” she said in a telephone interview.

During the Second World War, gardens were pitched as an important part of the war effort — by war’s end, the victory gardens were turning out 40 per cent of the U.S.’s produce, freeing up big farms to supply the troops.

”Home gardens made the difference between people being well fed and going to bed hungry,” Doiron says, adding the gardens increased consumption of fruits and vegetables to historic highs.

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