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|A Seedy Affair : International edition : Saturday, 21 September 2019 10:14 DT : a service of The Public Press|
Upper Connecticut River Valley
Portland, Oregon - Vancouver, Washington
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A Seedy Affair ... The Economic Alternative
by Stephen Morris
This is a titillating story, but only for gardeners.
Many residents on my road have home vegetable gardens. You know this because in late August you can see wheelbarrows beside driveways filled with oblong, green baseball bats with hand-scribbled signs “Free Zucchini. Take them ... Please!” One year someone tried “Free Zucchini. Take them ... or else!”
Then, every spring, we plant too many zucchinis again, and we will this year, too, but this year we collectively got smart and decided if they were going to plant too many zucchinis, they may as well save a little money on the seeds.
It was with this in mind that we gathered on a cold, January night to place a collective seed order. “Seeds keep getting more expensive, especially if you want organic. And supplies are limited, so if you wait too late you can find your preferred varieties sold out for the year,” says Zach McDermott, a professional landscaper who specializes in growing Blue Hubbard squash in his garden.
After shedding coats and putting out tea, coffee, and sugary goodies, the group settled in for business. The first item was easy- to decide which company from which to order. With one of the nation’s fastest-growing, organic seed companies located just up the road in Wolcott, Vermont (High Mowing), it was easy to decide to buy local.
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The economics of seed packaging are eye-opening. A single package of Detroit Dark Red Beets, costs $2.75 and contains 1/16 ounce of seed. Do the math and this works out to a whopping $704.00 per pound. The next size option is a 1 ounce package for $4.30 ($68.80 per pound, or the equivalent of $0.27 per packet. The next size option up is 1/4 pound (4 ounces) for $7.40. This brings the per pound cost down to $29.60 and the packet equivalent to $0.12.
Can someone check the math? For $0.12 a package can anyone afford not to garden?
High Mowing sells a package of Black Seeded Simpson lettuce for $2.75 (1/32 of an ounce). A half-ounce packet is $5.50, and two ounces are $7.00. This translates to per pound costs of $1408/$176/$56 and single packet prices of $2.75/$0.34/$0.11.
Said differently, the same amount of lettuce seed that cost $2.75 in a single package only costs $0.11 if purchased as part of a two-ounce bulk order, a savings of 96%!
In addition to deciding which company to order from and figuring out what to do with all the savings the group had to:
This last function was accomplished by purchasing a quantity of small, brown envelopes at the local five and dime (two cents each), then dumping the seeds onto a large white plate (for visibility), then separating them into piles that approximate the percentage of each individual’s order. We considered more scientific methods of measuring out the seeds, but ultimately concluded that eye-balling was accurate enough. The whole process made us feel like we were doing something deliciously illicit. Talk about guilty pleasures!
There were a few wrinkles. In some cases the economies were reversed. A package of zucchini seeds cost $2.75, but contains 20 seeds, and any gardener can tell you that 20 zucchini plants will result in pick-up trucks, not wheelbarrows, parked out by the “Free” signs. By sharing a single packet among 5 people, we were able to reduce the “unit cost” to $0.55.
Then there was the issue of onions, ordered from a separate source, but offering the same economies of scale. Expect to see a lot of Lancelot Leeks vying for the Blue Ribbon in next year’s county fair.
None of the attendees qualified as spreadsheet whizzes, but luckily an operation like this can be managed with a legal pad, calculator, and 9th grade algebra skills. It’s easy to envision the development of a more sophisticated spreadsheet that would automate the clerical part of the process.
The seeds are now nestled comfortably in their envelopes, awaiting the arrival of spring. No one at the “seedy affair” could think of a way to calculate our collective savings, but our best guess is that we each paid about 1/3 of what it would cost us to order on our own. But saving money wasn’t only what it was all about. Here are a few comments heard as people put on the coats and boots, preparing to face a cold January night:
“It was a fun thing to do on a winter night. I would have come even without the seed part.”
“It got me psyched for spring. Looking at the seed catalogs is fun, but this was even better.”
“Ginny’s coffee cake was great!”
“I think I might have ordered enough spinach seed to start my own farm.”
“When do the onions arrive?”
We jump-started the garden, saved some significant money, and got to swap gardening tips with the neighbors. That's a win-win-win for this seedy affair.
4,539 neighbors have viewed this article.
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