Growth spurt

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Gardens popping up everywhere as families try to save money, eat healthier

By Ben Carlson

Some do it to save money.

Some do it to teach their children the benefits of an agrarian lifestyle.

Others do it just to have a freezer or storeroom full of tasty veggies year ’round.

“It” is gardening, and Anderson County is absolutely blooming this year with green thumbs.

“We have seen a large increase in the number of people planting back yard gardens,” said Tommy Yankey, the Extension’s agriculture agent. “Some are doing it to help their overall food budget and stretch their dollars a little further, some are doing it because they like the freshness of their own produce, and some are doing it out of economic necessity.”

Mike Secen said he and his wife Cindy piddled around for years with planting small gardens at their Glensboro-area home before getting serious this year.

“We really got aggressive,” Mike Secen said. “We like the cost savings, and you can save a lot during the summer time by growing your own food.

“We personally like to eat a lot of vegetables.”

Scott and Jan Frazier, whose family lives on Lanes Mill Road, have also dabbled with small gardens at their home over the years. But this year they decided to join a multi-family gardening effort on neighbor Jess Thompson’s land.

“With the economy in a spiral this year, we decided to plant a lot of vegetables and save some money,” he said. “We’ve got beans, corn, tomatoes and lots other stuff planted out there.”

The Fraziers and Secens have plenty of gardening company. The lingering economic malaise coupled with a desire to go a bit greener has homeowners across the nation planting and reaping what they sew.

Kristin Grilli, a spokesperson for the Burpee Seed Company near Philadelphia, said sales have gone through the roof the past couple of years.

“Our vegetable seeds and transplant sales are up 30 percent from 2008, which is double our normal growth rate,” Grilli said.

Along with the troubled economy, Grilli said a recent rash of contamination problems with tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables have people considering other options.

“People are more interested in eating organically,” she said, “but organic groceries are so expensive, it’s better to grow your own.”

She added that some people don’t necessarily trust the organic labels they see in grocery stores.

“It says organic, but is it really?” she said. “People want to make sure there is nothing on their food they don’t want there, especially when they’re feeding it to babies.”

Taste is another factor, Grilli said.

“Homegrown vegetables just taste better and last longer,” she said. “People would rather eat a tomato picked right out of their garden than one that was picked halfway around the world.”

While the Fraziers and Secens are out to feed their own families, Tim and Peggy Stratton’s garden is designed to feed them and then some.

Their garden, located on a large family plot of land on Carlton Drive, has long been one of the largest and best-maintained gardens in the area.

Tim Stratton said the garden has been in his family for 70 years, and that he took over maintaining it two years ago.

“There has always been a garden there for as far back as I can remember,” he said. “My grandfather had a garden there, and raised 14 kids. He died several years ago, and my grandmother kept the garden going.

“To be honest, I kind of raise it now in her memory.”

Stratton said he works the plot two to three hours a day, raising everything from cabbage to zucchini.

“We can a lot and freeze a lot,” he said. “We have a big family, so we share it with them and with our friends.”

For many, the byproducts of home gardening go well beyond a full freezer or pantry when the leaves turn each fall.

Spending time with their families tending and harvesting are key factors, too.

“I have four sons, and this is a good experience for them,” Scott Frazier said. “I’m taking them there this evening to work on the garden.”

“Gardening is a great way to teach kids responsibility,” Mike Secen said. “There is nothing more satisfying than teaching the kids how to take care of the garden ... helping plant it, water it and watching it grow.”

E-mail Ben Carlson at bcarlson@theandersonnews.com.