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More mid-Willamette Valley residents are growing their own fruits and vegetables due to factors such as the recession, produce-contamination scares and the foodie movement, said owners of local garden stores.

“They want to have things they can grow easily, things they can eat out of their own landscapes, and things where they know how it’s been grown,” said Tom Krupicka, owner of Tom’s Garden Center in North Albany.

And now’s the time to plant berries and fruit trees, which are hot sellers, as well as other plants such as onion starts.

“People are ready to get their fingers dirty, get into the soil and start growing things,” Krupicka said.

During the economic downturn, gardening was a way to pinch pennies for many frugal families in the area, he added. “Everybody had less disposable income. … A garden center will always come through a recession, because people will go back to their roots,” Krupicka said.

And residents are sticking with the activity, he said.

Industry consultant and financial advisor Steve Bailey, who is based out of Illinois, said that gardening sales helped offset some of the overall decline due to the recession for nursery, gardening and landscaping businesses.

But gardening isn’t a large percentage of overall profits for the industry, he added. Sales in general have started to recover across the nation since 2013, Bailey said.

“The Pacific Northwest has recovered a little quicker than other areas of the country. And the Pacific Northwest has a history of good gardeners,” he added.

Erica Powell Kaminskas, owner of Garland Nursery on Highway 20, said that gardening sales at her business don’t fluctuate much with the economy, at least for plants. People just didn’t buy expensive pots or other frills, she added.

“Weather is the most important factor” on sales, Powell Kaminskas said. In other words, if it’s sunny outside during the spring, people get in a gardening mood.

“Last year was an amazing year. We didn’t have a freeze after February,” Powell Kaminskas said.

Lynette Shonnard, owner of Shonnard’s Nursery, Florist and Landscape in Corvallis, said that food contamination problems from about five or more years ago, such as e-coli in spinach, convinced people to garden.

“People went, ‘I can’t trust anything in the grocery store. I should grow as much as I can myself,’” Shonnard said.

And that tied in nicely with the foodie movement, where people want locally grown and fresh ingredients for their dishes. After all, what’s more local and fresh than your back yard?

“We have that client base that wants to get back to nature, and that wants to teach their kids about nature and gardening,” Shonnard said.

Of course, people garden for other reasons, such as stress relief, exercise or fun, Powell Kaminskas said.

“There is nothing more exciting than watching something you planted grow, leaf out or bear fruits or veggies. Yum city,” she said.

The hottest selling plant in the area, according to Shonnard and Krupicka, are blueberries. Shonnard said she’s having trouble keeping them in stock.

“Blueberries are really easy to grow and they don’t take a lot of care,” Shonnard said. Plus, there’s been plenty of news coverage about the health benefits of the fruit, she added.

Shonnard said that, depending on the variety, gardeners could plant blueberries in the soil or pot the bushes. With the latter, blueberries can thrive even on an apartment porch.

Strawberries and most other berries also are popular because they are easy to grow in the valley, and garlic has been a hot seller in the last few years, as well.

Fruit trees such as pears also are seeing an uptick, but what’s really trendy in that category is apples, and more esoteric varieties that are expensive at the grocery store, such as honey crisp and pink lady, Shonnard and Krupicka said.

One edible that doesn’t sell very well locally are blackberries, Shonnard said. The reason could be that people mistake varieties sold at garden centers with the invasive Himalayan blackberry bushes that rampage across Oregon landscapes, she said.

“In general, people have this weirdness about blackberries,” Shonnard added.

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Kyle Odegard covers business for the Albany Democrat-Herald and Corvallis Gazette-Times. He can be reached at kyle.odegard@lee.net, 541-812-6077 or via Twitter @KyleOdegard.

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