La. Base Program Situation: Home Vegetable Gardens; 2008
A statewide survey of over 500 home vegetable gardeners in summer of 2008 returned a 42% response. Clients randomly selected from Extension mailing lists and Hort Hints readers were polled.
About one-third of Louisiana families garden regularly. Home gardening is estimated to be suitable for about 20% more households. The average Louisiana gardener is an older (62 years) male living in a suburban area. Most activity is from those in their mid-60s (median 67). About 40% of reported gardens are found in the three metropolitan areas of New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Shreveport. The state was divided into primarily rural parishes or into urban-suburban parishes based on population density. Half of the surveys went to each group. All values for surveys were remarkably similar for the two groups except where noted. The groups thought their gardens had a worth averaging only $385 and $400 for gardens averaging 4,474 sq. ft. and 4,567 sq. ft., respectively (urban versus rural). The median guess was $250, and half of all value guesses were between $110 and $500. Some stated they had no idea as to value or their gardens were invaluable.
An average Louisiana garden is 4,898 sq. ft. Such a garden planted with traditional crops in a good, successful season has a cash equivalent value of $3,135 calculated at $0.64/sq. ft. (An Ohio State garden study in 1978 valued gardens at $0.60/sq. ft. while an IFAS-CES study in 1979 reported gross values of $0.83 and net values of $0.67/sq. ft.) The median garden size is 800 sq. ft. for a normal cash equivalent value of $512, which may be used for statewide average estimates. In 2007, we had 332,980 home gardens reported with a calculated current gross value of about $100 million (@$300; older value).
Home garden popularity continues because people enjoy working with plants (88-99% much-some). They believe a garden produces a better and fresher product than is routinely found in the stores (83-98%). Cutting food costs and improving nutrition are also very important, but less so (60-90%). Our routine and technology-oriented society appears to develop in people an interest in working with nature, while mechanization and retirement have given people more spare time to fill. Most people polled are satisfied with their average gardens (48%), but only 38% thought they had a better-than-average garden. Louisiana gardeners were equally divided in finding value or not finding value in personally growing specialty vegetables or growing organically. Getting out for fresh air and exercise was valuable to most surveyed (76-96%). Since the average age is 62 (median 67), gardening can be a significant benefit for this senior population.
Louisiana home gardeners mostly garden in spring (88%). About half (53-50%) say they also garden a lot in summer and fall. About half (49%) said they did little or no gardening in the winter season. Suburban gardeners garden less in winter than rural gardeners -- 58% versus 41%.
Basic gardening information is
[Image: garden] still popular in Louisiana. New gardeners and growing numbers of young gardeners who have never been exposed to agriculture and new residents from different regions of the United States need production information. New varieties are continually developed, producing better-quality produce and higher yields. Not all of these new varieties are adapted to our climate. Continual screening and evaluations must be reported to gardeners who are constantly bombarded by sales promotions. Health considerations also have some people looking to home gardens for fresh produce and reduced chemical exposure. Rural residents need gardens for convenient access to food.
Fifty-one percent of Louisiana gardeners find information from newspapers helpful and 58% find garden magazines likewise. Television and radio were not useful information sources for 55% of those surveyed, but 84% thought friends and neighbors were helpful to their gardening. LSU AgCenter information was helpful to 95% of those surveyed. Seventy percent surveyed said their local county agents were helpful, but 30% said they did not use them. Garden centers were considered helpful by 75% of participants. This being an older population, only 37% found the Internet useful for garden information.
For AgCenter BMP adoption, participants use extension-recommended varieties sometimes and often at 32% and 50%, respectively. BMP-recommended insect controls were used 30% and 55% (some, often). BMP-recommended disease controls were used 32% and 47% (some, often). Fertilizing according to a soil test was 25% and 28% (some, often), but soil tests are not regularly needed or done. Almost 30% of the survey said they never use a soil test. Participants often (68%) used recommended planting dates w
[Image: veggies]ith only 12% indicating seldom or never. About two-thirds use recommended irrigation practices, and one-third do not.
When asked to indicate their biggest problems, 99-100% checked insects, weeds, diseases, drought, finding proper varieties, varmints and time to garden. Other problems listed were poor soils and drainage.
The 2008 gross farm value of home vegetable gardens in Louisiana was estimated to be $136.4 million. Parish reports indicated 341,013 home gardens statewide, suggesting that garden interest was up 2.4% from last year. The reason this figure does not show a greater participation in gardening is that many South Louisiana residents who gardened were displaced by the 2005 hurricanes, and not all have yet returned to their home sites or resumed gardening. A discounted, new median garden value ($400) was given for 2008 due to hurricane losses that year.