With the recent fall of the Canadian dollar, imported produce in Canada is beginning to rise in price. Especially during the winter, this affects most of our available fruits and vegetables. Cauliflower especially has been making headlines for prices up to $8 (!) per head. While factors other than the dollar have contributed to these prices without affecting other vegetables, most analysts agree that produce prices are likely to rise over the next several years as the dollar stays low.
For people looking to minimize their grocery budget by growing their own produce, two different strategies are available. One is to grow high-value food for the maximum savings when compared to what you would typically buy at the store. The other strategy is to grow high-calorie foods in an attempt to survive as long as possible off of what you grow.
To grow high-value crops, you first must take into account what you usually buy and eat. Although organic chard might be pricey, the amount you save is only equal to what you would have spent, so consider the cost of the food you will be replacing. Some high-value vegetables are tricky to grow, but many are simply difficult to store or transport, problems which do not affect the home gardener. Some that are fairly easy to grow include lettuce, spinach, chard, rhubarb, peas, beans and herbs such as parsley, dill, basil, sage and chives. Other vegetables that offer a little more challenge are tomatoes, cucumbers and broccoli. Unfortunately, you will have the biggest harvest during the summer when prices are lowest, but it is still worthwhile, especially if you are able to preserve any extra.
Fruit trees also provide a good return. Although they can initially be expensive or take several years to fruit, the continued production over many years can repay your investment many times. Apples are usually inexpensive, but cherries, plums and strawberries will likely give you a good return. Raspberries are an especially good choice, as they are easy to grow but expensive to buy in stores.
Planting high-calorie crops might require some shifts to your diet, but many of these vegetables are easy to grow and require less care. These are the foods many of our ancestors lived off during long winters because of their good storage qualities, and they provide a lot of food for the effort and area required. A heavy crop of potatoes, for example, will feed you for far longer than your harvest of peas from the same space. Some examples of these vegetables are carrots, onions, potatoes, parsnips, beets, winter squash, cabbage, sunchokes and even sunflower seeds.
Although it's always a great time to start growing your own food, the best time to gain experience is when you don't have to depend on your garden to survive. So if you feel like higher produce prices will pinch your budget in the future, now is the time to start getting some experience and put your vegetable garden to work for you. Good luck!