Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Victory Garden: Heavy Investing in Agricultural Futures


It turns out gardening isn’t cheap. Recently TWSF (That's What She Fed) went to the Home Depot to upgrade our solo cup nursery and prepare for the big move outside on May 15th. The startup costs of this investment are quickly adding up. In the last post TWSF said that we were going to "stick it to the Man" by growing our own vegetables, but I guess he’s called the Man for a reason. I am becoming concerned that economies of scale are not tipped in our favor and my mouth may have approved a mortgage that my ass will quickly default on. To get a grasp on the return on investment required to win the battle against supermarket tyranny, I dusted off my engineering finance skills and did a little break-even analysis.

The break-even point for an investment is the magic number where the total revenue earned (crops eaten) equals the total initial investment (gardening supplies) and any operating costs (all free in this case: slave labor, tap water, and sunlight).

Calculating initial investment is easy enough simply add up any gardening related stuff purchased.

Seeds - $6
Plants - $7
Miracle Grow - $5
6 Pots - $36 (since we have no yard)
Potting Soil -$15 (seriously, $15 for dirt?)

So just to break-even in this crazy exercise we have to recover $69 (hah 69) worth of produce.

Calculating revenue is a little more difficult. TWSF will consider each time we use a one of our crops in a recipe as a return. We will use supermarket prices as the revenue earned from each consumption. Granted, we will most likely never use the same amount found in a package of herbs from the super market, but the argument (and reason for this experiment) is that anytime you need fresh herbs, you only use a portion of whats given and any leftovers will most likely go bad before they can be used again. Below are the metrics that we will be using for our garden.

Herbs - $2 per use (we have basil, rosemary, oregano, mint, and sage)
Tomato-$1 per tomato ($4/lb about 4 tomatoes per lb)

That means that we have to get about 35 uses from our little garden during the summer to break-even. That seems pretty doable, we already used the sage once. TWSF will be keeping a running Gexcel spreadsheet documenting our progress, so if you’re super bored at work and have exhausted all other internet options give it a look.


Don’t let this economic analysis fool you, there is a huge difference between the bottom line realities of farming and the pride of ownership that comes with recreational gardening. Gardening is much more than a financial investment, it is a hobby that I have enjoyed for years. There is nothing like the feeling of eating something that you grew with your own hands. I have already grown attached to many of the plants, from the fast growing tomato (I can’t wait till he’s big enough to play catch in the backyard) to the tiny struggling rosemary (I hope the other plants aren’t picking on him). They would probably all have names by now, but I am trying to keep my distance as I am concerned that I will not be able to pull the trigger when the time comes. After months of raising these plants I worry that it would be like eating your kids . . . well maybe your pet . . . actually, I guess it would be more like eating a favorite house plant.

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