NPR logo Cultivating A $37 Tomato

Cultivating A $37 Tomato

almost ripe

A novice tomato grower, I bit earlier this week into the first of what promised to be a juicy crop of tomatoes.

I was surprised to discover it wasn't that tasty. Kind of bland actually. Like something I could buy for maybe a dollar at my local grocery store.

Then I started thinking about how much this tomato had cost. The plant itself was a gift back in May, but flush with the excitement of my new farmgirl ways, I had run out and bought a $20 no-rust stand for it. The organic fertilizer was about $9, and the bugspray $8. That made it a $37 tomato.

That estimate doesn't even include my time. I spent hours watering, applying fertilizer, spraying for bugs, monitoring soil conditions, and generally hovering over my plant like an anxious parent.

When the first yellow flower blossomed, I was delighted; when the first speck of a tiny green tomato appeared, I was ecstatic. Naturally, I was anticipating my progeny would taste well above average. But like so many parents, I was forced to accept rather mediocre results.

Let's not forget the opportunity cost. Assume I spent 12 hours total tending to my tomatoes. Had I spent those 12 hours on journalistic endeavors, even on low-end writing wages I could have earned enough to keep myself in tomatoes for months.

To be fair, there are still about a dozen tomatoes on the vine. Let's be optimistic and assume they all ripen and that I get to them before the birds and raccoons. Let's even assume they are delicious. That's still $3.08 per tomato.

The moral: Money-saving exercises often aren't money-saving at all. Next year, I'll go back to buying tomatoes from the store. And I might even go heirloom.



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