What is the real value of good food?
I've been enjoying the thought-provoking discussion in the comments section of my Harvest Table review. Specifically, Lisa's question got me thinking about how much time and money we put into our vegetable garden.
The chart to the left shows our garden expenditures for the last four years. The reason I went so far back in time is because I tend to spend a lot more money on the garden when I have the cash since I think of items like straw, cover crop seeds, and fruit trees as an investment in our farm's future health. But I don't want anyone to think you have to set aside $1,000 per year to grow your own vegetables. When we were pinching pennies in 2008 and 2009, we spent less than $200 annually and still managed to grow a lot of food, even if we didn't build our soil and increase our long term capacity with perennials.
How about time? I estimate we put in about 540 hours over the course of the year working in the garden. That's where the real "money" comes in, depending on whether we want to give ourselves minimum wage ($3,915) or the amount I make on ebooks (about $25/hour, which would make our garden time worth $13,500.) To be honest, though, most farmers don't even make minimum wage, so they probably would consider my time worth more like $2,000. That lowball figure would put our total time and money expenditures at $2,200 to grow all of our own vegetables (and some of our fruit), while a more realistic figure is $14,500.
And what do we get for all that time and money? The mainstream estimate would be about $1,500 worth of food, which is what the average CSA would cost if it extended all year. On the other hand, I asked Mark at lunch what dollar figure he'd put on the food I bring in from our garden, and he glowed about the taste for a while before settling on $18,250 (or $50 per day.)
Now, I'm a fan of numbers, so I'd use the following analysis to figure out the value our homegrown food holds for me:
In case you don't feel like pulling out your calculator, that all adds up to an estimated value of $10,859 for our annual garden produce (not counting the enjoyment of running my hands through the dirt.) I guess I'm a cheapskate compared to Mark, but at least we're on the same wavelength.
As one final way of looking at food value, let's delve into history. My reasoning here is that the Green Revolution has hidden the true cost of food --- we pay very little at the grocery store, but then spend money (now or later) cleaning up the environmental repercussions of our factory farming system. In 1900, when we paid for all of our food up front, Americans spent approximately 43% of their annual income on food. The 2010 U.S. census reports that married couples like me and Mark made an average of $58,036 last year, which would put our real food value at $24,955. Of course, that figure includes meat, dairy, and grains, none of which are included in the other estimates above, but even if fruits and vegetables only make up half of our dietary cost, the historical analysis suggests that Mark's and my estimates are on track.
Which figure do you think is the most realistic estimate of the value of our food? Perhaps you have yet another way of looking at food value?
Our chicken waterer never spills or fills with POOP.
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