Gardening takes root

BY DANIEL SEIDL | APRIL 24, 2014 5:00 AM

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Students can grow their food and eat it, too.

More people are now gardening than ever before, according to a recent study released by the National Gardening Association.

“You can actually have the fruits of your labor,” said University of Iowa Gardening Club Co-President and UI sophomore Andrew Hirst. “It’s that direct connection that actually resonates with a lot of people.”

In 2013, 42 million — roughly 35 percent — of households in the U.S. participated in food gardening. This is an increase of 16.7 percent over 36 million households in 2008.

Of all age groups, people ages 18 to 34 saw the most dramatic increase of 62.5 percent in just five years. In 2008, roughly 8 million people in this age group were gardening, compared with 13 million in 2013.

One reason for the change is that gardening is more relatable to this age group, said Bruce Butterfield, a market research director at the National Garden Association.

“Environmental things, living locally, trying to be more self-reliant — those are values that seem to resonate more strongly with 18- to 35-year-olds,” he said.

Additionally, growing food in one’s own garden is a valuable experience, said UI Gardening Club Co-President Kain Kutz, a junior at the UI.

“You get a lot of fulfillment from it,” he said. “It doesn’t sound enjoyable on the face of it, but I think people have an honest enjoyment of working in the dirt.”

While the UI Student Garden has been around since 2009, it is now experiencing growth.

Kutz said publicity might have contributed to the trend.

“I believe that a lot more people are informed,” he said. “[There are] a lot of the media that’s being published about all of the diseases that are going on [with processed foods].”

With preservatives in many supermarket foods, students who garden can make sure their food is organic.

Growing your own food makes you more confident it is safe, Kutz said.

“I don’t think people really enjoy being worried about their food, so I think that’s giving a big drive for people to grow their own food,” he said. “You know exactly where it comes from.”

The UI Gardening Club runs a community garden at the university, and Kutz said the community-garden experience can be beneficial.

“Having a community garden, you are in direct contact with other gardeners, and you learn from their experiences,” he said.  “Having your own garden, you don’t have that.”

More students are moving toward community gardens because they do not own homes, Butterfield said.

“The other thing that I find interesting is [people 18 to 34] account for most of the increase we found in community gardening,” he said. “Gardening is something that young people can do whether or not they own their own home.”

While the numbers are at an all-time high now, Butterfield said he is unsure if they will continue to grow.

“We’ll stay at the high level which we’re at right now,” he said. “There’s room for growth, but I just don’t know how soon we’ll see it.”

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