Mickie Anderson – (352) 273-3566
Sydney Park Brown – email@example.com, (813) 757-2286
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — With the nation’s economy withering, University of Florida experts say many state residents are looking to put food on the table – by growing it.
Sydney Park Brown, a UF extension specialist with the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, said extension agents around the state have noticed a big uptick in interest about vegetable gardening.
Extension agents have seen higher than usual numbers of people with questions about how and when to grow vegetables. And a videoconference IFAS hosted on the subject Feb. 28 drew more than 450 viewers, Park Brown said.
"We’ve been overwhelmed with people interested in growing their own vegetables," she said. "And it’s really picked up in the last year."
Extension agents’ interaction with the public dovetails exactly with the National Gardening Association’s recent survey, that shows 7 million more American households plan to grow their own fruits, vegetables, herbs or berries this year – a 19 percent jump from 2008.
There was also a 10 percent increase in households with gardening plans from 2007 to 2008.
The NGA’s Bruce Butterfield, involved with the survey for 30 years, said the results are tied to the economy. When people feel anxious, they often literally return to their roots, he said.
"There’s this whole sense of, in a world gone crazy, things might be terrible out there, but I’m not helpless, here’s something I can do," he said.
But, he noted, the survey also showed that the economy wasn’t the only factor.
The annual survey, sponsored by Scotts Miracle-Gro Company and the Garden Writers Association and conducted by Harris Interactive, found that while 54 percent of those planning to grow food were doing so to combat high grocery bills:
- 58 percent hope to grow better-tasting food
- 51 percent hope for better-quality food
- 48 percent plan to grow their own food to ensure its safety
Butterfield said the survey results feel to him a bit like "back to the future." When he was first involved with the study around 1978, Americans were also turning to gardening as a way to be more frugal.
Floridians face challenges as gardeners, he said, most notably from the wilting heat, sandy soil and ever-present bugs.
Park Brown, based at UF’s Gulf Coast Research and Education Center, said that’s where IFAS extension can offer help. County extension agents are well-armed with tips for even the most inexperienced gardener.
The recently updated Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide, with a comprehensive list of vegetable varieties best suited for growing in Florida, can also be found at the site. Another online IFAS resource for Florida vegetable gardening: