The Opportunity Space for Growing Food Locally is HUGE

Today, let’s do some thinking on the market potential for growing food locally.

Let’s start with a big number.  US households regularly spend $44 billion a year on ornamental landscaping.   Wow.

Traditional Landscaping (Scottish Golf Course)

It would be easy to write an entire letter on how much of a waste, on many levels, this expenditure is.  However, I don’t see it as a waste.   Instead, I see it as a huge, sprawling opportunity for building businesses that help people grow food locally.

Let’s explore why.

Landscaping is already a huge market space.  It’s not tiny.  It already exists.   If we put that into perspective, the landscaping industry is nearly twice the retail value of the entire organic food market.

This also means that people clearly value growing plants and a HUGE number of them regularly spend some of their hard earned cash growing things locally.

The industry’s numbers back this up:

Percentage of U.S. Households Participating in

Lawn and Garden Activities 2001-2007

Activity 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007
Lawn Care 56 55 54 48 54 48 48
Flower Garden 43 41 38 36 41 33 30
Indoor Houseplants 46 44 41 39 42 35 31
Landscaping 37 34 33 33 31 30 27





In sum, the number of US households that actually grow something is 85 million on average, or about 77 percent of all households.   That’s goodness.

However, one thing you may notice from the numbers in the chart above is that they are all declining.  There’s a slow erosion, across the board, in ornamental gardening.  Where are they going?  Many of them are food gardening instead.  An estimated 36 m households are now food gardening and a whopping 21% of them were new to food gardening in 2009.

What does this mean?

This data indicates that budgets, tastes and priorities are changing.  That food gardening is replacing ornamental landscaping.

This implies that there is a growing opportunity to convert households that have professionally managed ornamental landscaping to professionally managed food gardens at an equivalent cost.  An opportunity to capture a large part of that $44 billion in spending to turn yards into gardens, before much of it evaporates in the next big crisis.

Remember, each person working on food, energy, water, or product production locally brings us one step closer to community resilience.   More on this topic in a future report on “Foodscaping.”

Your thinking about a future filled with fresh, local food analyst,


John Robb

PS:  Good news. 12 m growing households are already using natural fertilizers and pesticides.



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  • Scott Supak

    When I lived in drier regions, I never watered anything I couldn’t eat. It rains where I am now, so, free flowers!

  • Captian America

    I wrote a masters thesis on home food production about six years ago. I had the chance the other day to walk over areas I canvases for my study. At the time, there were very few kitchen gardens and even less fruit trees in this fairly affluent area of a university town. Today, there are many, many gardens in this area, including some where the entire backyard had been converted for food production. People are becoming aware of the situation we find ourselves in.

  • John Galt III

    In the northern parts of the US, greenhouses are a great idea. There should be some very successful products that go with the market opportunity. Some of the design features can be opensource/crowdsourced. The main innovation that will make greenhouses commercially viable is robotics to avoid the cost of labor for tending the plants. Unfortunately, our area only averages 5% of summer sunlight for the entire months of January and December. Thus, supplemental lighting probably would be required and is shockingly expensive.

    • johnrobb

      JG, Some amazing designs are being developed/trialed. JR

  • different clue

    Thinking big . . . one does have to ask: if half the money referrenced as spent on landscaping ( 44 billion) were diverted to being spent on foodscaping ( 22 billion), how much moneysworth of food would be growable after such an investment were made in foodgrowing infrastructure and biostructure? The experiment definitely deserves to be run, and I hope that 22 billion does indeed get spent diffusely all over America so we can see how much food emerges from the collective foodscape after

    all that spending on hopefully intelligently engineered foodscaping infrastructure and platforms.

    Mr. Ms. Average Homeower could redirect the landscaping money to foodscaping, and the same amount of money that was heretofore spent on lawncare and treeshrubushes care would instead go to bedbuilding/ soil testing and missing mineral nutrient restoration and soil multi-mineral balancing and rebalancing, foodgrowing irrigation design and installation, multi-thousand-gallon roofwater tank storage systems with controllable gravity waterfeed from the tank to the foodgardens/micro-orchards/ etc. With the homeowers themselves supplying the directed physical labor of planting/maintaining/harvesting the foodplants in the growspaces which the foodscaping service would build and maintain for the feepaying homeower.

    • johnrobb


      That’s definitely the direction it is already going. Further, most of that foodscaping is going to end up organic (++ soil) due to lifestyle trends.

      What’s interesting is that this actually improves the bottom line for households since the ~400 lbs of fresh/high quality food produced per small plot lawn garden may actually pay for the foodscaping.


  • RecoveringSalesman

    After being exposed to hurgelkultur for the first time on GGs coverage, we’re in the process of making four 6’x40’x3′ beds in an un-used field. You wouldn’t believe how much wood it takes to fill one!

    Recently I attended a Food Council meeting in St. Helena, CA (very posh) that had a number of prominent growers as speakers – They are flat out soliciting more people (including financial support) to grow food in the area because the demand exceeds the capacity by a substantial margin. This was everything from small (1-3 acre) fruit orchards to bonsai radish production.

    • johnrobb

      RS, Thanks much for the update and good luck. You can create raised HK beds or in ground beds. How much wood you use is up to you. Make sure you check out all of the literature from Sepp. JR

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