Are Millennials the Next Green-Thumbed Generation?

millennials gardening

By Margaret Barthel

Do millennials garden?

This is just one of the many sociocultural questions we ponder regardless of the improbability of successfully generalizing about such a broad swath of the national population. But, after all, it’s no surprise that we seem relentlessly obsessed with defining the millennial generation: currently between 18 and 35-years-old, Gen Y is in the prime of life, busily establishing careers, getting married, contemplating or starting families, finding more or less permanent places to live, and otherwise creating a cultural trajectory for themselves that will determine the direction and character of the nation for years to come (and, if you believe the 24-hour news cycle, we’re also whining, feeling entitled, still living at home, and, with a nod to the character-building effects of the recession, shaping up to be the next Great Generation). Oy.

So, with all that in mind, I’ll bite. Seriously, do millennials garden–and will they in the future?

Probably the best numbers on the subject come from a recently-released five-year report from the National Gardening Association, which found that millennial gardeners increased from 8 million in 2008 to 13 million in 2013, a significant 63 percent change.

The anecdotal evidence is abundant, too. Jessie Banhazi, founder of Green City Growers, a Somerville, Massachusetts-based business that encourages individuals and institutions to get their hands dirty planting and tending gardens all over Boston, finds that her clients tend to be around 25-years-old. Gail Langellotto, who runs the Master Gardener program at Oregon State University, recounts a similar uptick in millennial gardening enthusiasm.

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Banhazi and Langellotto both list a variety of reasons for why millennials might be refining their green thumbs in increasing numbers. The success of the local foods movement in hammering home the message that growing your own food is a healthy and environmentally responsible choice is one. Another is the prominence of food safety scares in the news, most recently the worry over the possible consequences of GMOs. Then there’s the important point that it makes real economic sense to produce some percentage of the food you consume yourself, not to mention how stylish garden-tending looks on Michelle Obama.

After that, we get into cataloguing the millennial temperament, which Joe Lamp’l, host of PBS’s Growing a Greener World, thinks is perfect for gardening. His reasoning? Gen Y already likes cooking, volunteering, sustainability, self-expression and some solid hours of relaxation, so why not staking tomatoes or digging up carrots? Lamp’l believes that all that’s preventing millennials from developing a collective green thumb is that the gardening industry hasn’t molded itself to suit this new audience. For example, Lamp’l has put out a general call for brainstorming a new industry-wide hip identifier to put gardening on the millennial map, just as “foodie” did for cooking. He’s also spoken about the importance of gardening suppliers and experts using social media tools to reach those young would-be growers.

Should we believe Banhazi, Langellotto and Lamp’l in their claims that millennials are both increasingly enthusiastic about and ideally suited to gardening? Maybe: they bring up good points about the current and future attractiveness of growing food to young people. It’s also possible, however, that the perceptions and even the numbers are skewed by the fact that Gen Y (again, let’s say that’s all 18-35 year olds) are only just now striking out on their own, beginning lives outside of their childhood homes and their college dorms. They’ve only just recently gotten the opportunity to (sometimes literally) put down roots. So of course there would be an uptick in millennial gardening over the last five years.

Would millennials be smart to continue to garden well into the future? Considering the economics, sustainability and healthfulness of gardening, the answer to that one is a resounding yes.

Margaret BarthelAbout the Writer

Margaret Barthel recently graduated from Smith College with a degree in English Language and Literature. Among other things, she’s a writer, reader, history buff, and outdoors enthusiast with deep interests in feminism, politics, and the environment. A semester abroad studying at Oxford University and exploring continental Europe, in addition to plenty of quirky family vacations, are to blame for her love of travel. Find more of her work at margaretbarthel.wordpress.com

Millennials Gardening Feature Photo: M. Dolly

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