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Is it really cheaper to grow your own food?

You are fed up with the high price of vegetables at the grocery store. And have you seen what they are asking for meat? It’s crazy. It’s time to go back to the land — or at least the backyard — and grow your own food. You can hunt, live off the land.

You are fed up with the high price of vegetables at the grocery store. And have you seen what they are asking for meat? It’s crazy.

It’s time to go back to the land — or at least the backyard — and grow your own food. You can hunt, live off the land. Think of the money you will save.

Slow down there, Speed Racer. The return on your investment of money and time is far from assured.

“With a vegetable garden, depending on what you are starting with, you probably won’t make back your investment in the first year,” said Cheryl Topping, manager of Sunshine Coast Nursery. “Soil is the foundation. If you have that already, it’s just a matter of increasing the nutrient content with manure, compost or organic fertilizers.” An established garden suitable for a small family can be planted for as little as $50 in seedlings and seeds, plus the cost of fertilizer. If you have to bring in soil, build boxes and buy gardening tools and gloves, it’s shockingly easy to spend hundreds.

“But you can save money by doing your own starter sets from seed rather than buy plants,” she said.

An organic starter set containing six lettuce plants might cost $4 at the nursery, while grocery store lettuce in the peak of summer costs a buck. Lose a few plants to beetle larvae and your savings disappear before you even factor in your other costs.

Or you can buy 500 lettuce seeds for $2.99.

“If you are starting lettuces and greens, it’s super easy to grow from seed; buy a little seed-starter mix and you are good to go,” said Topping. “Most people go a little crazy at first and plant too much, so remember to stagger your planting to just a few seeds every two weeks. You can’t eat 50 heads of lettuce when they are all ready at once.”

Summer squash provides the biggest bang for your nursery dollar. A single packet of zucchini seeds can produce hundreds of kilograms of fruit. About every three years you’ll have to fork out another $3 for fresh seeds, or save and dry the seeds from your bounty. That’s a whole other skill set.

Start with a small plot so the maintenance doesn’t become onerous and choose plants that are easy to grow.

“Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and potatoes are all super easy to grow,” she said. “Tomatoes are a little more finicky, but so productive and so worth it.”

Fruit trees provide a good supply of food for the space they require and modern varieties are relatively easy to maintain. Dwarf fruit trees that are easy to reach and prune cost about $45 a piece, but produce fruit for decades.

“Apples and plums do very well here, especially European varieties,” said Topping. “Asian pears are super productive here and they store well.”

For those truly determined to go off the grid and cock a snook at Big Food and spiralling produce prices, the next step is a backyard greenhouse.

A greenhouse is a serious investment.

A plastic-walled four-by-four-foot greenhouse you can pick up and move around the yard will run you about $600 with tax.
However, you cannot walk inside it and its heat collection and retention in the cold season are negligible.

An entry level, eight-foot by eight-foot walk-in greenhouse with double-layered polycarbonate walls will run you closer to $2,600.
For that kind of money you can grow on three levels, in pots on the floor, starter set trays on shelves or a workbench and in baskets hanging from the frame.

“You run string up to train cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes and they will literally grow through the roof,” said Angela Drake, marketing director at B.C. Greenhouse Builders.

A greenhouse will allow you to get several weeks’ head-start sprouting seedlings in the spring (no more buying starter sets) and extend the growing season for cool-weather plants such as kale, chard, parsley and cilantro right through the winter, in some places without an additional source of heat.

“The polycarbonate walls give a diffuse light that vegetables really like,” she said.

Four productive vines can produce hundreds of tomatoes, suitable for eating in season, canning and freezing. Basil — which can be a challenge to grow outdoors near the coast — goes berserk in a greenhouse. Hello, pesto.

“All of those things that we buy that are hothouse grown and in the store, you can grow in a backyard greenhouse,” said Drake. “And it’s like eating local times a thousand.”

Exactly how much food you can produce in a kit greenhouse varies from person to person and by expertise, but based on customer feedback Drake reckons such a unit can pay for itself in as little as three years.

“People are really concerned about the price of food at the store and just being in control of their food, so interest is really high in greenhouse growing,” she said.

If you are prepared to take up arms in your quest for free food, know this: A skilled hunter can fill her freezer for the year with one bullet. Did I say “her?” It turns out that women are the fastest-growing class of new hunters in B.C. and have been for a decade, driven by a renewed interest in back-to-the-land self-sufficiency. The number of licensed hunters in B.C. has grown by 25 per cent in recent years, to about 100,000.

“People in the city are really engaged with hunting for food and building the skills they need,” said hunting instructor Dylan Eyers of Eat Wild ( “I run 10 CORE [see information box] classes a year and they always sell out.”

In order to become a successful hunter, certain financial, physical and psychological barriers must be overcome. Gutting and disarticulating a large mammal in the field takes skill and emotional balance. Hauling a carcass out of the bush takes physical strength. And you’ll need a truck to get it home.

Eyers and Forage restaurant chef Chris Whittaker are in the early planning stages of a fundraising event from which they hope to award truck rentals for new hunters, especially women.

“If you ask 10 guys, four will have a pickup truck. That’s not the case with women,” said Eyers.

There are ways to reduce some of the barriers to entry by forming hunting groups. That way, not everyone has to have a rifle and scope, not everyone has to have a truck.

With a $10 Youth licence or a $19 Initiation licence, novices can hunt and shoot without a firearms permit as long as they are under the supervision of a qualified adult, according to Jesse Zeman, a spokesman for the B.C. Wildlife Federation.

The courses and permits required to become a licensed hunter will cost at least a few hundred dollars, but the biggest barrier is time, said Eyers.

“You can usually find a friend with a truck and if you go out with an experienced hunter, they usually have more guns than they can use, so those barriers are manageable,” he said. “I’m a successful hunter because I dedicate all my holiday time to hunting.”

A new hunter can easily spend weeks in the bush before bagging an animal.

“The average mule deer hunter takes 24 days to kill an animal; for an elk it’s closer to 50,” he said.

Hunter training programs run locally by Eat Wild or the B.C. Wildlife Federation’s New Hunter Bootcamp can significantly cut that time investment.

Fishing presents far fewer financial barriers than hunting, right up until you need a boat.

For that you need a lot of money up front and an ongoing source of money for repairs and moorage. Barring that, you need a generous friend with a boat to take you out on the chuck.

Fishing for trout from the side of a lake requires only a modest investment in licensing and equipment, but — like most backwoods skills — the knowhow is typically passed from parent to offspring. A mentor will come in very handy.


This is low-hanging fruit. If you have a backyard — or a front yard for that matter — you have space to grow vegetables. If you are just getting started, you are going to need some equipment and supplies.

• Wheelbarrow $129.99
• Shovel $29.99
• Hoe $21.99
• Work gloves $7.99
• Compost, 1 cubic yard $60
• Organic fertilizer, 2 kg $15
• Rough cut cedar planks, for building raised beds 8 X $24.99
• Hose $49.99
• Sprinkler $20 to $50
• Sprinkler timer $59.99


When you get really serious about growing food, this is the next logical investment. If you learn its strengths, you can harvest a year-round food supply.

• Greenhouse 8-foot by 8-foot kit $2,395
• Gravel, cubic yard, for the floor $30
• Pressure-treated 4X4s, for the base
4 x $12.99
• Cedar benches $250
• Watering can $9.99


If you are prepared to use lethal force to feed yourself, hunting and fishing allow you to harvest the bounty of our forests and oceans, within strict limits. But be warned, the investment is significant, and butchering a large animal in a meadow is not for the faint of heart.

• Conservation and Outdoor Recreation Education (CORE) course $185
• Firearms training course $250
• Possession and Acquisition licence fee, with photo $95
• Hunter field skills camp $850
• Hunter Number Card Free
• Hunting licence and species permit for deer $47
• Rifle, scope and ammunition $500 to $2,000
• Buck knife $40
• Compass $20
• Binoculars $200
• Rain gear and boots $400
• Tent and sleeping pad $400
• Camouflage ball cap $20
• Gun club membership $125
• Ford F-250XL $42,826
• Fishing licence $36
• Conservation permit $10 to $25
• For shellfish, rustproof bucket $15.49
• and spade $26.45
• Fishing rod, reel and lures, for finfish $200 to $500
• Boston Whaler Classic with outboard motor (used) $10,000