Profile of gardeners: an energy-wise, self-reliant lot

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Gardeners, it seems, are a decidedly competent bunch of people, a self-reliant group better prepared than most to face up to whatever challenges the final decades of the 20th century are likely to throw at us.

They are conservation-conscious, they recycle waste, choose quality over quantity, and take advantage of solar and other renewable forms of energy. They also contribute, through the value of their home-produced crops, to the gross national product in a quite substantial way. In short, their contribution to the well-being of society is significant.

This much I have always believed. Now a national survey provides confirming statistics.

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Gardens for All, the Vermont-based national gardening association, added some new and interesting questions to its annual gardening survey. This is what it found:

* By a 3-to-1 margin over nongardeners, gardeners are likely to rely on wood, solar, or other less-conventional energy sources for part or all of their heating, domestic hot water, and cooking

* Twice as many gardeners insulate, weatherize, or otherwise tighten up their homes, compared with nongardeners.

* Again, by a margin of 3 to 1, gardeners top nongardeners in recycling house-hold waste -- from composting kitchen scraps to turning in bottles, cans, and newspapers at local recycling centers.

* Three times as many gardeners do their own home repairs.

* By a somewhat narrower (3-to-2) margin, gardeners abide by the 55 -mile-an-hour national speed limit.

Most gardeners look for durability in the products they buy.They do less impulse buying, budget more carefully, and buy fewer convenience products. As a group they go into debt less often than nongardeners.

While this survey accurately reflects the gardening community's strengths, it is, we must admit, a little unfair to other segments of the population in that it lumps them all together as one. The home economists among us, even the nongardening ones, would score equally impressively if put to the test. So, presumably, would other specialized groups.

However, there is no denying what gardeners are accomplishing. For instance, the survey also found that some 34 million US households, or 43 percent, grow some or all of their food. Their contribution to the nation's economy is significant -- an estimated $15 billion (retail value) in fresh food.

The typical home vegetable garden was found to be 663 square feet, yielding $ 460 worth of food for a $19 investment.

What Gardens for All terms a "significant finding" is that food gardening has come to the city. No longer is food raising confined to rural and small-tow n USA.

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