Baseball may be the nation’s pastime, but gardening is making bank. The $36.9 billion dollar gardening industry is growing steadily, led by millennials and the desire for fresh, home-grown food, according to this year’s National Gardening Survey.
An estimated 90 million households participated in do-it-yourself lawn and gardening activities last year – inside and outdoors. That’s about 75-percent of all U.S. households.
Gardening can take place virtually anywhere: From urban environments with rooftop gardens, to vacant lots, to balconies, to backyards.
Companies such as Instant Garden are servicing this growing market. Instant Garden recently introduced the world’s first hydroponic, portable system to grow plants, flowers, herbs, fruits and vegetables at home – without dirt.
With Instant Garden’s patented hydroponic technology, people can garden indoors or virtually anywhere. The small, portable unit sits comfortably on a balcony, patio, or indoors near a window, and automatically provides water and nutrients to plants so that anyone can grow healthy food, beautiful flowers, or fresh herbs, quickly and easily.
However, not everyone is green with passion for this pastime. Some say that urban gardens take away land that could be used to help provide affordable housing. For instance, a new law was passed in San Francisco: The city became the first in the country to offer a financial incentive for urban farming. Owners of empty lots could save thousands of dollars a year in property taxes in exchange for allowing their land to be used for agriculture for five years or more.
But talk to tech workers, low-income families, or housing lawyers, and they’ll all agree on this much: There aren’t enough affordable places to live, and as a result, the city’s renters are pinched more than at any time in living memory.
In fairness, we hardly believe that giving tax breaks to owners of vacant lots if they allow urban farming on the land, is really an issue. It’s more of a red herring. The fact is, that land was vacant for a reason, and of the owner’s thought there was a better and higher use for the land, they would be developing it, assuming financing was available.
Research shows that urban farms reduce violence
There’s been a growing body of research that suggests that urban farming and greening not only strengthen community bonds but also reduce violence. In 2000, Philadelphia had 54,000 vacant lots, and so the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society reclaimed 4,400 of them, mowing lands, providing upkeep, planting trees and gardens, and erecting three-foot-high fences that served no purpose other than as a kind of statement that this land now belonged to someone.
The greening of these parcels (just 8 percent of the vacant land in the city) had an unexpected effect: Over the course of 10 years, it reduced shootings in the areas surrounding these renewed lots. Part of it was practical: The vacant lots had previously been hiding places for guns. But as Charles Branas, an epidemiologist at the University of Pennsylvania who released a study on the project late last year, says, “People just became more in touch with their neighbors. People felt more connected to each other.”
Calls from neighbors complaining of nuisance crimes—acts like loitering or public urination or excessive noise—went up significantly in the immediate vicinity of the newly greened land.
At first, Branas worried the land had attracted ne’er-do-wells, but what he came to realize is that it had emboldened neighbors to call the police for minor disturbances, something they hadn’t done in the past. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has begun to look at gardening as a tool for violence prevention.
At the Community Christian Alternative Academy, a charter school on the city’s West Side, students have been gunned down in neighborhood incidents. Principal Myra Sampson says they’re in a constant state of agitation. “A bump in the hallway can lead to a major flare-up,” she said. “It’s almost like, ‘The only thing I have is myself and my image.’”
To help combat violence she built a garden just north of their building, a place that now draws people from throughout the community, young and old, a place to share lunch or just congregate. Neighbors feel such ownership over the garden that Sampson has never seen the need to erect a fence.
The school’s also experimenting with aquaponics, and she says that the communal aspect of growing food and raising tilapia and perch has gotten students more invested in each other and in their neighborhood, so much so that she’s asked the city—which has embraced urban farming as a community development tool—to turn over 10 vacant lots to the school so that it might convert them into gardens and orchards.
Millennials Want Green Thumbs
According to the survey, the highest spending was among Baby Boomers, married households, those with annual incomes of more than $75,000 and college graduates – but the most important market force was 18- to 34-year-olds. Five million of the six million “new” gardening households were Millennials.