What's Happening

HOW many Millennials have taken up Gardening?

shutterstock_101142337

Photo from Shutterstock.

This article in the Washington Post about the White House having gone all “junk food to veggies” is a fun read.  Group fitness challenge!  Electronic tracking of progress toward fitness!  Apples in bowls!  I mean it – I love this stuff.

But of interest to us gardeners in particular:

National Gardening Association President Michael Metallo said his group found the rate of gardening among millennials has risen 63 percent in the past five years, and one in three U.S. households now has a food garden. “I don’t think you can look at that 63 percent and not think their message is getting through.”

The push is also credited with helping shift public attitudes about eating and contributing to the 43 percent decline in obesity rates among children ages 2 to 5 over the past decade.

I confess to being gobsmacked by these numbers.  Gardening up 63 percent?  One-third of U.S. households growing food?  (And wasn’t that 43% figure debunked?)

To answer my first devil’s-advocate question, the link provided with the Post’s story shows the quote to be misleading.  The 63% increase in gardening among millennials is for food gardening.  So considering that few of them were growing food five years ago, a 63% increase over that period is easier to believe.  I hope that continues to climb or at least that those new gardeners keep it up.

And about that National Gardening Association report saying that “35% of all U.S. households (42 million) participated in food gardening in 2013 – an overall increase of 17% in only 5 years.”  I hope it’s true, but really?

Finally, input from the world of stock photos.  Putting “young gardeners” into the Shutterstock search yielded lots of young adults with flowering annuals, and a guy moving a potted palm, then finally some shots like the one here that get with the program – young people growing food.  The caption on this photo is “Gardening in summer – happy couple harvesting and having lots of fun.”  Indeed.

Photo source: Shutterstock.

 

Posted by on May 2, 2014 at 7:43 am, in the category What's Happening.
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21 Responses to “HOW many Millennials have taken up Gardening?”

  1. Susan says:

    Well, if the kids are starting to get more heavily into gardening, affordability of food must have a lot to do with it. I’m appalled at how much money I can drop on a trip to the store for NON-food items, let alone with a full list of items! I have no idea how families with 2 and 3 kids are doing it, given flat wages (if you’re lucky enough to have a job at all) and the fact that the price of everything seems to go up daily. Makes the price of a few seed packets and some time look like a really good investment!

  2. Laura Bell says:

    I am not a Millennial – I’m an older Gen Xer who is mother to some of the younger Millennials. But in my pay-job (as opposed to the things I do regularly that do not garner a paycheck), I work with a lot of these young folks. Are they into food gardening? Unequivocally YES. It is not so much to save money (though that is a great bonus). Their main reasons for growing food have to do with controlling what fuels their bodies, knowing what goes into their food, living in the culinary season, and to some degree, the science of how soil & conditions affect the plants they grow. These kids are definitely trying to get back to the soil.

    Perhaps it is because I live near the self-proclaimed Farm-to-Fork Capital, or perhaps it’s the nature of the work we do, but I see this interest all over our region. Part of it is certainly because we are an urban island in a sea of agriculture, and the amazing variety of food available at every turn is simply astonishing. But obviously this interest is not bound by my region. It’s good to see the next generation get caught up in backyard (or front yard) farming. I hope it is something they carry with them as the become parents & families & the backbone of the nation. It will serve them well.

    • susan harris says:

      So where ARE you?

      • Ellen W. says:

        Sacramento, California has declared itself (well, the whole region) the Farm-to-Fork Capital. (it’s my hometown as well)

        I think one thing that doesn’t get mentioned is that gardening, especially growing your own tomatoes and peppers & herbs , is fun! I’m not fond of generalizing by generations but if it’s true that the millenials were over-scheduled as children and didn’t get to do a lot of the free play the rest of us got to do* and are finally able to get into a hobby that a) they’ve picked for themselves and b) is pretty easy. At least, here in Sacramento it’s pretty easy; the weather is very cooperative for herbs especially.

        *Technically I’m a millenial but my childhood was more like a Gen X-er. as in I got to run around the neighborhood catching frogs and climbing trees and things like that.

  3. Chris says:

    I hope this trend continues, because after we are done paying college tuition and get the millennials that still live at home we hope to downsize. Even yesterday when I was culling apples from the four espaliered trees that are my front fence I wondered if the edible landscaping would deter someone from purchasing this house.

    It does take a bit of maintenance to care for fruit trees, berry bushes, grape vines and the flower/herb beds that also include chard, lettuce and asparagus. This is not a chuck a few seeds and harvest something later kind of hobby. It also involves lots of pruning, cleaning up and checking the pear everyday for pear rust (and quickly remove those leaves).

    I hope it does not fall to the fate of my neighbor’s yard where the owner hired the cheapest gardeners in the world after her mother, who had a lovely rose garden, died. Every couple of weeks these guys come in and whack down the lawn, and weed whack the encroaching blackberries, but let the field morning glory grow rampant (they whack at my grape vines, and let the bindweed grow into my yard!).

    Well, I now need to go put my tomato and pepper seedlings into larger paper pots, and make sure they have enough water as the sun hits the south window they are all sitting by.

  4. I’ve seen the huge interest in food growing as I travel around. It does seem to be widespread. And it does seem to be bringing many young people (who otherwise wouldn’t spend money/water/energy on a garden-for-beauty-only) into this activity.

    I agree with Laura that the primary purpose of food gardening for a majority of these newer food gardeners is not to save money, but to provide healthy food (and a healthy environment) for themselves and their families.

    Chris, your garden has an advantage over your neighbor’s in that the plants will reward the next homeowner’s care with (beautiful!) food, rather than just beautiful flowers.

    • Chris says:

      Thanks. Though if they don’t take care of it, the other neighbors will have words when the Chinese wisteria starts taking the siding off their garage. Fortunately it is easy to prune, and lovely to look at (in bloom now!).

    • Chris says:

      “Chris, your garden has an advantage over your neighbor’s in that the plants will reward the next homeowner’s care with (beautiful!) food, rather than just beautiful flowers.”

      Though they would have to cull the apples and wrap them nylon socks to keep out the apple maggots, make sure to remove any leaves with evidence of pear rust, cover the berries and cherries with a fine net to prevent cherry fruit fly… AND also do battle with the birds, squirrels and raccoons for the fruit!

      Then they will have to learn how to keep the fall produce available past harvest. Which pears will need time to ripen? And how much apple sauce and butter do I really need? (last year the local food bank did get a generous donation from my apple fence)

      Though this is stuff I started to learn in my late teens and early twenties. I started growing food after pilfering a garden catalog from my dad when I was in college. My first tomatoes were grown in the window of the apartment I lived in as a college student. Part of this was spending time between high school graduation and college living with my mother’s cousin who routinely grew veggies with her flowers almost forty years ago. Something that really annoys my mother-in-law* (an actual florist who would never grow food in her front yard!).

      I love how this “new trend” was something I have been doing since I was in college, as a mother anxiously hoping to go to a couple college graduations this year of my own kids!

      * Her son was my apartment roommate who did not complain since I paid the rent. Also he has learned that my “hobby” has benefits, like the fresh raspberries he can put on his cereal, the blueberry muffins with applesauce, the ham biscuit sliders with apple butter, the really fresh tomato pasta sauce, the really lovely pears at New Year;s, ,… and on an on.

      Next week he is building me some veggie containers. He knows where his the food his stomach likes comes from… like the veggie-licious risotto he had tonight (sorrel, chard, basil, parsley, etc).

  5. Jennie Erwin says:

    I’m a millennial. One of the older ones, with 2 kids.
    I’m gardening close to 1000 ft square this year. This will be my 10th year of gardening.
    It’s partially a food cost thing, we’re a one income family right now, hubby is having a hard time finding work. So we grow a ton of veggies to try and offset the cost of food.
    It’s partially a money making thing, if I grow enough, I can sell the excess, as organic food is in high demand.
    It’s partially a disgust with the processed food that has become so rampant.
    We live in Iowa, so we’re very aware of where high fructose corn syrup comes from and the degradation to the environment that monocropping contributes too.
    Plus, I’m not interested in joining the ranks of the obese, or having my children contribute to those statistics. Hoeing weeds and hauling compost get me lots of exercise. The boys love digging in the dirt and eating things straight out of the garden. It’s a win-win in my book, and times are too hard not to take advantage of the win-win’s.

    I’m a bit of an evangelist too, a gardening evangelist if you will. I will talk to anyone who stands still long enough about gardening and growing their own food. I routinely supply my friends and loved ones with seeds. I host seed saving swaps and workshops in my tiny town. I know I’ve personally helped other Millennials get on the gardening bandwagon. I must not be the only one spreading the good word. :-D

    Anyway, enough from me. I love your site.
    -Jennie (in Iowa)

  6. I’m a Millennial who lives on a street in suburbia lined with other millennials. We’re growing our own veggies! Or, we are encouraging each other to start gardens!! (or maybe it’s just me giving that gentle shove =)

    But that’s the key. Encouragement. Being positive. Most of us learn from doing…right? Not watching videos/blogs/hearing people talk/getting lectured……doing. But be nice to us millennial gardeners.

    Do I make lots of mistakes…yep. That’s okay. The older people on my block don’t have gardens and I always have extra for them so it works out. I think it is the younger people who are interested in gardening because food is so dang expensive and with little kids, it’s tough!

  7. Jen says:

    I think I’m technically a Millennial, but on the older end. I took up gardening about four years ago, partly because it was relevant to my research, and partly because I always wanted to. I’d have started sooner, but didn’t have access to outdoor space.

    Like most, it started with food. I’m obsessed with good food and garden-grown tastes better, and also the issues surrounding industrial agriculture and food miles. (Yeah, we have chickens in the city too.)

    But it quickly grew out (pun intended) from there. First it was things to attract pollinators to the food crops. Then it was perennials to replace the turf grass. And now it’s fussy things like tulips and dahlias. I just grew to be fascinated by plants and all their forms. At this point my garden is more “plant collector” than design – I work full time and my partner’s in grad school, so I still put more emphasis on the things we can eat. But it’s a start.

  8. Hi there,

    I think it’s a good sign that more youngsters are willing to leave their tablets, and phones, and getting their hands dirty in soil. Food or plants, at least they are getting an appreciation for the basics, and getting some sun :)

  9. Peggy says:

    It is great that they are interested in edible gardening but I think they will need to learn “all over again” — they may not have information that was handed down from generation to generation. On the other hand, they may learn differently, like via Internet. That is why we need to encourage and educate them and let them know how they will be able to fit gardening in when life gets so busy and they start to have kids.
    Chris, I have an edible garden and I am hoping it will add value to the house if I tell them what the plants are and how to grow/use them. I have documented all of my plants in a word file for such a time.

    • Carolyn says:

      so true that the knowledge has gone away! I was lucky enough to grow up in a gardening family, but I see a lot of people struggle with growing things because they didn’t learn from their parents. No wonder the garden department at the big box stores are full of people buying mulch and bags of pesticides…they really don’t know how to do anything else.

  10. Abraham Lincoln once said that 87% of all statistics are just made up.

  11. Lena says:

    Susan, this trend is true! I teach at a college and I would say that a majority of students I meat deeply care about food, where it comes from, how it is made, and what they eat. Many don’t have a place to grow anything, but they want to. Some are working a student’s organic garden where they have their small own plots.

    A lot of the undergrads are complaining bitterly over the dorm rooms without any kitchen facilities at all – they want to cook (or learn how to) but can’t. I think one of the next steps will be ‘back to the basics’ (and healthy, non-processed food) cooking for young people that never learned or wanted to cook produce at home.

    I have one of those kids in college now, she whips up omelets with local veggies and talks about having tomatoes on her apartment roof… She begs me for canned food and recipes and advice. We have a growing program in agriculture that has young students that want to be farmers and CSA managers. And they do it. Around where I live in NJ people (not just millenials) are putting in raised beds, raising deer fences, and putting their first seeds in the soils. You can’t even have a flower garden here without a fence, unfortunately.

    So, I am very very hopeful for the new generation. They care, even if they don’t always know what to do, they want to do something good, something fun and important, and something that makes a difference. I think caring about food, social issues, nature, beauty, art, and climate change goes hand in hand. It is all important, and many young people understand that.

  12. Tom says:

    I think there is a trend to try and grow your own food amongst all age groups, as the concerns over food quality and security rise. This is only to be encouraged although speaking as a grower with a good sized garden it is hard to fully feed yourself off what you grow – it’s fine when things are in season but we still get a taste for things like strawberries and other fruit out of season.

    One point on the statistics is that the Millennials are a fixed group that is getting older (unlike say measuring all 18-25 year olds now and 5 years ago). As they get older people are more likely to own larger properties with gardens so have more opportunity to grow things. I didn’t grow tomatoes aged 25 as I lived in a flat in London. Now I have a large garden that almost invites you to grow things in it.

  13. Carolyn says:

    I work in a software company with Gen X’ers and Millennial, and while I see some interest in gardening from my coworkers, I would say I get more blank stares than nods of agreement when I talk plants. Maybe it’s not hard for gardening to go up 63% and still encompass a very small minority of people.

  14. Dave says:

    Almost no one of any age grows food here. The numbers could double if one other person started a garden!

  15. Now a days youngsters don not take any interest in nature particularly gardening. They prefer to wast time on tech. Specially in Asia we really need to go back to old tradition of growing food to have a healthy life style.

  16. Jeff Morgan says:

    It’s funny that you wrote this post, I was just talking to a friend the other day about the different ways Millenials are acting like the 60s generation. Not only have I heard Millenials talk about gardening organically, they are really involved in everything green, even with their transportation. Could it be that this generation will carry through on the hopes of the 60s generation and not become yuppies? ;)

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