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Our grocery bills shrink as more gardens grow

One of the residents in my Clearwater subdivision has turned his front yard into a vegetable garden.

There was a time when the neighbors might have muttered about this oddity in a sea of manicured St. Augustine lawns. In some subdivisions, having bean vines on poles in your front yard would bring a stern letter from the homeowners association.

But the garden appears to be growing unabated by summer heat or neighborhood critics. Perhaps others, like me, admire this urban farmer's skill and determination to grow his own food, even in a city subdivision.

He didn't just plow up the front yard and stick seeds and plants in the ground. He created a system of rectangular raised beds, each bordered by wooden planks. The vegetable plants don't sprawl all over — tall plants are neatly staked, and bush plants are carefully contained in the beds. Around the outside of the beds and the edges of the front yard, typical landscape plants and flowers are growing. The overall effect is different, but not at all unattractive.

With Friday's headlines declaring that Florida is now officially in a recession, and with families struggling to pay rising bills, we may see more gardens popping up in neighborhoods, especially when the fall planting season begins. A garden can help out with the grocery bills.

My mother, who remembers the rationing and other hardships in this country during World War II, was a city girl, but she said that every family she knew had a vegetable garden in their yard. When there was no meat or flour, the gardens provided good food for the dinner table.

I asked her, "What other ways did people find to get by then?" It is a subject that interests me now that Americans are trying to waste less and save more.

Very little was wasted, she said. She remembers, for example, that her mother would cut the worn middle out of bed sheets and use the edges to make pillowcases. When towels got too thin or frayed, the good parts were cut out and hemmed to make washcloths. When those got too thin, they became rags, because there were no paper towels, and in those days, paper towels would have been rejected as excessively wasteful, anyway.

She recalls that empty cloth seed sacks, which often had beautiful designs, were turned into children's clothing. Gas was rationed, so people used their cars to go to work and church, but not much else.

"And we took care of the things we had," she said. Because leather was needed for the war effort, shoes were rationed and people could only get a couple of pairs a year. So everyone took good care of their shoes.

Attitudes obviously were different when material goods were not so available. Today, "we're so used to having whatever we want, whenever we want," she said, that we have forgotten how to live frugally.

Like me, you might learn a few things from asking an elderly relative or acquaintance how people who lived during the Great Depression and World War II stretched their resources. If you get some good tips or stories, send them to me and we'll print the best.

The Internet also has a wealth of money-saving information. Popular Web sites such as Kiplinger.com and www.howisavemoney.net contain tips about how to get by on less.

Recession, rising unemployment, high energy costs — this is no fun. But it isn't a bad idea to learn how to stretch a dollar and waste less — even those of us who don't have to. It's good for us. It's good for the planet.

I don't have much of a green thumb, but I'm considering container gardening after Mom told me her three squash plants and six tomato vines were producing so much that they had veggies to give away.

Diane Steinle's e-mail address is dsteinle@sptimes.com.

Our grocery bills shrink as more gardens grow 08/02/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 6, 2008 12:14pm]

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