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As food prices shoot up, so do backyard gardens

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At Running Brook Farms, a nursery in Killingworth, Conn., sales of plant seeds are already up, according to manager Louann Papoosha. Sales of starter plants have jumped as much as 20 percent this year, according to Ms. Papoosha, even though the planting season here has just begun. In fact, it's still a little bit early on the Connecticut coast for some of the more tender vegetables.

"But we are selling lots of lettuce, peas, and broccoli – the plants you can put out early," Papoosha says.

Early spring is also when many people plant trees. Last year, Running Brook sold maybe a half-dozen fruit trees, according to the staff. This year, there's been a "real heavy" run on apple, pear, and other fruit-bearing plants.

"Rather than just buying a decorative or ornamental, people are looking at fruit trees so they can have sustainable agriculture in their own backyard," says John Neely, who was busily pruning azaleas at Running Brook. "People are more inclined to get their hands dirty and have the profit of their work as opposed to just an ornamental type of planting."

Farther south, at the Oakhurst Community Gardens in urban Decatur, Ga., the gardening season is already "going gangbusters," says director Stephanie Van Parys.

The summer gardening class – usually reserved for about four or five people – filled the front room of the garden's center last month. They even had to turn people away. A class on how to raise "Chicks in the City" was also packed. And the crowd, which was usually made of the retirement set, included lots of 20- and 30-somethings.

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