Suburbanites Turn Green Yards Into Cash With Minifarms

Rising food prices have made some suburbanites grow food in their yards.

ByJOHN BERMAN, JESSICA HOFFMAN and STEVE PETYERAK via via logo

April 29, 2008 — -- Rising food prices have yielded a throwback to a more agrarianlike lifestyle in suburbs throughout the nation.

People like Norfolk, Va., resident Sue VanHecke are turning their green gardens into green cash by turning their homes into profitable farms.

During the summer VanHecke made $100 per week from her minifarm.

"We'd like to double that [this summer]," said VanHecke, who plants, tills and waters her garden no more than 10 hours a week.

It's only the beginning of the growing season, but VanHecke already has tomatoes, beets, chard, radishes and lettuce in every spare nook and cranny of her yard, which she sells to a local restaurant.

"With them it's half the cost and it's organic," said Stove Restaurant owner Sydney Meers, who buys fresh food from VanHecke.

According to Meers, the suburban farmers and local restaurants win with this setup. In fact, she said there is only one loser — "the big purveyor."

Farmers like VanHecke hardly are crying for corporate producers — in part because food prices have increased so drastically. This new way of life helps bring in food and cash during a time when high gas prices and a credit crisis are strangling the economy.

"[It] helps to have a little extra cash in your pocket to pay for ballet lessons and putting gas in the tank. [It] eases the pinch a bit," VanHecke said.

While it may seem pricey to make your yard a farm, it may be easier than you may realize.

"You don't need a lot of land and you don't need a lot of startup capital," said Roxanne Christensen, of SPIN Farming in Philadelphia, a farming system that teaches people how to make money by farming on land smaller than an acre.

For larger planters, the startup cost can run between $2,000 and $10,000 for special coolers and irrigation systems, but VanHecke and her husband have been able to do it for much less.

"[We] get seed catalogues for free and a packet is two or three bucks," she said.

You don't even need your own yard. When Boulder, Colo., resident Kipp Nash finishes gardening his yard, which is filled with bok choy and beets, he farms his neighbor's. People even can rent unused yards online on places like Craigslist.

The farmers believe good food can equal good money and improve their diet.

"It's about being conscientious about what you are putting in your body and giving your kids to eat," VanHecke said.

Click here to learn more about SPIN Farming.

The Wall Street Journal first reported this story.

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