At the ANLA Management Clinic, I heard a lot of people talking about the generation gap. Some were mystified about these foreign entities called Gen Y, and wary of the untold damage they will do to their business in the next few years. Others enjoyed batting around statistics and sharing opinions. Others dismissed the idea of a gap as overblown and as something that would have very little effect on garden centers.
The reason the topic stirs so much anxiety is that retailers don’t have concrete ideas of how to attract younger gardeners. More money on marketing? Better signs, more color in the store? Those ideas are good ones -- and frankly, something stores should be doing anyway. But they are kind of nebulous, not solid in the way that will reassure retailers.
I think I know of a good, tangible way to draw in younger gardeners: Vegetables.
Are veggies the answer?
Growing veggies at home meets a lot of different needs for young homeowners and even apartment dwellers with a sunny balcony.
* Economic. Homegrown veggies are cheap. Prices are soaring at the grocery store, and the first group to feel the pinch are those on their own for the first time and new homeowners.
* Buy local. One of the mantras of the sustainability movement is to favor local vendors first. When it comes to food, this is even more explicit. Consumers are urged to consider “food miles” when they buy their meat and produce, the distance the food had to travel to reach the stores. Stores popular with the younger crowd, like Whole Foods, have really embraced this trend. And what could be more local than growing the vegetables at home?
* Cooking is hot. This generation is really into cooking shows. The hosts are superstars, and many are their peers, like Rachael Ray, Jamie Oliver and Giada. And those customers that are just a few years older have their own peers in Bobby Flay and Mario Batali. Cooking is sexy. And each of these chefs emphasizes good food requires good ingredients. What’s better than freshly harvested?