April is National Garden Month, packed with garden tours and garden shows, and it’s almost all about flowers. But 35% of U.S. households grow vegetables, fruits and, “other food”—whatever other might mean. I was pleased to find these great garden statistics at Ruby Home and Cooped Up Life. (Please note: garden plants can be poison!)
- Gardening by Gender:
- Male 52.5%
- Female 47.5%
- Gardening by Age: More than half of all gardeners are under forty-five.
- Ages 29-34 (millennials) – 29%
- Ages 35-44 – 35%
- Other – 36%
- Gardening by Marital Status: Married people are by far more likely to garden.
- Married – 71.6%
- Single – 11.6%
- Widowed – 6.8%
- Divorced – 5.6%
- Other – 4.5%
- Gardening by Income: The 2021 national median annual income was $79.9K, but here’s the breakdown among gardeners.
- $100K and higher – 34.1%
- $75-$99K – 20.5%
- $50-$74K – 2.6%
- $25-$49K – 17.1%
- $25K and lower – 5.8%
- (And I don’t know why the total is less than 100%!)
- Gardening by Education Level:
- I was surprised that 79% of people who garden attended college or are college graduates.
- Gardening by Dwelling:
- 91% of people who garden live in a single-family dwelling and garden in their backyards
- 2 million (5%) – grow food at neighbors, family or friends
- Some homeowners as well as apartment dwellers—1 million (3%) – grow food in a community garden, aka urban farms.
Only 1% grow food at other (unknown) locations. That 1% is still significant. Condominium or apartment owners and renters often grow herbs indoors, on window sills or with the help of grow lights. Plants grown in containers or hanging pots on patio or balcony, and rooftop gardening are becoming more popular options.
Overall, 55% of U.S. households (71.5 million households) garden. Of those who garden, 55% garden primarily to create a beautiful space, and 43% garden primarily to grow food.
|Growing Activity||Percent of Gardeners|
Clearly, gardeners often garden in more than one way! But growing food (fruits, vegetables, berries, and others) has been the fastest-growing gardening category in the past five years.
According to the National Gardening Association, 35% of U.S. households, or 42 million households total, grew vegetables, fruits, and other foods in 2021, an increase of 6 million from five years prior. Having 1 in every 3 American households growing food is a massive 200% increase since 2008. Most of the growth came from millennials and families with children.
The average U.S. garden is 600 sq.ft. but the median garden is 96 square feet (12 feet X 8 feet). In other words, 50% of the U.S. gardens are 96 square feet or smaller.
|Garden Size||Hours/Week||People Fed/Year|
|100-199 sq.ft.||0.5-1 hr||1 person|
|200-399 sq.ft.||1-2 hrs||1-4 people|
|400-799 sq.ft.||3-5 hrs||2-6 people|
|800-1499 sq.ft.||4-6 hrs||4-8 people|
|1,500-2,000 sq.ft.||6-8 hrs||6-10 people|
Humans have worked together as communities to grow food since our very early ancestors first started experimenting with agriculture. People in small groups grazed animals or raised food plants on communally-held land. Even when humans began to divide up land and consider property to be a privately-held commodity, groups of people still worked together to perform tasks that were very labor intensive or time-sensitive, such as harvesting crops.
In the US, community gardens started to regain popularity in the 18th century. Moravians created a community garden for Bethabara, Winston-Salem, in North Carolina to encourage families to come together and grow their crops on shared land. Since 2012, the number of community gardens has increased 44%. Today there are 29,000 community gardens in the 100 largest U.S. cities.
Community gardens play an important role in addressing food insecurity and food deserts in urban areas. According to the USDA, approximately 13.5 million people in the US live in an area with little to no access to grocery story or supermarket; some researchers put the estimate as high as 19 million. In such areas, community gardens provide residents with critical access to fresh produce as well as simply having more food in general.
Community gardens in schools or on school grounds provide even more benefits. In addition to improving students’ diets and the quality of school lunches, these gardens provide students with hands-on lessons about biology, plant life cycles, nutrition, and patience. Children who garden regularly come into contact with beneficial soil microbes that improve their immune systems. They also practice self-regulation, experimental mindsets, empathy, and observational skills. When students grow food in a school garden, research suggests that the entire neighborhood benefits from cross-generational learning, community involvement, and better health.
Why Grow Food?
Because the average garden produces $600 worth of food, and the average return on investment is enormous: it was 757% in 2021. Even a small food garden of 100-200 sq.ft. can feed one person year-round.
Within the food category, growing vegetables was the most popular trend. And what are the most popular vegetable to grower?
Vegetables by Percentage of Gardens
- Tomatoes 86%
- Cucumbers 47%
- Sweet peppers 46%
- Beans 39%
- Carrots 34%
- Summer squash 32%
- Onions 32%
- Hot peppers 31%
- Lettuce 28%
- Peas 24%
Food gardening is pretty evenly distributed across regions of the U.S. This somewhat even distribution per region demonstrates people’s willingness to garden no matter where they are – in Florida, where the growing season is year-round, or New York, where gardening is limited to just five months a year due to the weather conditions.
- South 29%
- Midwest 26%
- West 23%
- Northeast 22%
Other Benefits of Gardening
But what if you don’t need to garden to put food on the table?
Of the entire U.S. population who grow vegetables, 25% do so because it tastes better, and they prefer their products to be as fresh as possible. A lot of produce has a higher nutrituonal content when eaten shortly after being harvested than when it sits in transit and on store shelves for days or weeks before being eaten.
And if you are fine with supermarket taste and freshness? Do it for your health and well-being! As an exercise, gardening is comparable to biking, walking, or jogging. Gardening activities, such as pulling weeds, strengthen cardiovascular health and increase muscle tone and dexterity.
Additionally, multiple scientific studies linked gardening to emotional well-being and an increased sense of accomplishment and happiness. Here are some of the key findings from research studies by UNC Health and Princeton University:
- Gardening fosters self-esteem and a sense of accomplishment.
- Gardening relieves stress, anxiety, and depression.
- Gardening increases the level of vitamin D, vital for the normal functioning of the immune system.
- Gardening increases the level of serotonin, a brain chemical responsible for the feeling of happiness.
Gardens of any sort are good for the environment! Plants act as highly effective air cleaners, absorbing carbon dioxide, plus many air pollutants, while releasing clean oxygen and fragrance. Also, a dense cover of plants and mulch holds soil in place, reducing erosion and keeping sediment out of streams, storm drains, and roads. Gardens create an ecosystem for birds and insects. Increasingly, gardeners choose plants and locations with an eye to incorporating native species, attracting pollinators, or reducing watering cost.
Bottom line: Gardening is good for what ails you—and if nothing is ailing you, it’s good for you anyway!