Big rewards from a small market garden

There are millions of videos extolling the joys and rewards of smallholder farming. Here, however, I’ll focus on two aspects of small-scale farming that don’t get a lot of attention: the labor that makes you sweat and the meager money it makes.

I grow fruits and vegetables in a 10,000 square foot garden in Orleans. I bring my produce to Cape Town farmers’ markets. For a market garden, 10,000 square feet is not very big; it’s less than a quarter of an acre. I look around; I can see that there are opportunities for this garden size all over the city.

My fees are low. I do all the work myself, no help hired. I maintain soil fertility with leaf mulch and cover crops. I irrigate the garden with city water, mainly with drip drops. I never water the lawn. During the 2021 gardening season, April through September, I used about 4,000 gallons of water at a cost of $ 44.

I started bringing products to the market in 2003 when I was 65. Now I’m 83 and still doing them, still enjoying them. Over the past 10 years, from 2011 to 2021, I have grown 14 tonnes of produce.

I take physical exercise seriously. At the time, in northern Wisconsin, I competed in cross-country ski marathons. Here in Cape Town, it’s the garden. The American Heart Association and American Cancer Society websites tell it like it is. They would really like you to get five hours a week of moderate, vigorous exercise. And more than that, it’s even better.

Moderate exercise, they say, is like a brisk walk or, of course, gardening. Vigorous exercise “makes you sweat”. I guess during the summer I’m in the garden 20-30 hours a week, with two-thirds moderate exercise and one-third vigorous exercise. The great thing about the garden is that it forces you to keep moving.

Then there is the money. I’m talking cash, man! Over the past 10 years, I have earned $ 56,000 in cash. I guess if I add about $ 2,000 per year in products kept for family use and deduct about $ 1,000 per year in costs, the annual take is about $ 7,000. It’s definitely a little return to the hard work, the long hours.

It is much less than if you worked in a grocery store. But I don’t compare myself to someone who earns an hourly wage. I compare myself to the golfer who is out on the courses three or four days a week and spends the winter golfing in Florida or Arizona. He is retired and I am retired. But I cashed in $ 56,000 while my golfer friend was spending it!

I had long assumed that all the money I could raise would come from the sale of products. But I recently learned that there could be a substantial cash bonus like “a dime saved is a dime earned”.

Last September, I saw my cardiologist for a checkup. He told me about the growing understanding of the critical importance of exercise: “Stay active! He apologized. “Don’t make a TV friend!” If you avoid the chair, if you stay physically active, you might not live longer, but you will not be spending the last three to five years of your life in a retirement home!

Those of us who follow the advice of the right doctor will avoid the ruinous cost of long-term care. According to the Genworth Financial 2020 Cost of Care Survey, nursing home care in Massachusetts costs $ 12,623 per month for a semi-private room. One year would be $ 151,476; five years $ 757,380. Maybe what we really did in our years of gardening was put together an account, a health account to draw from in our later years.

Today’s 60-year-old male cohort has a median life expectancy of 82.5 years. In twenty-two years, half of this cohort will still be coming to lunch. Sixty is a great time to start developing skills in a home garden. Then, in retirement, comes the opportunity to ramp up, as I have done for the past 18 years.

David Light lives in Orléans.

This article originally appeared on the Cape Cod Times: Healthy Living and Income Comes from a Small Garden in Orleans.

Terri S. Tomasini