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Growing organic food helps health, wallet

September 7, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Americans spent nearly $25 billion on organic food in 2009. While many believe that means healthier diets, it also means higher totals in the checkout line.You can cut down on some of that cost by growing your own organic food. In fact, two women used organic gardening to turn their hobby into big business.

Annette Pelliccio and Emily Houman's dreams are in the dirt.

"It's bringing us back to nature," said Pelliccio, the founder of The Happy Gardener.

Instead of going back to work after having kids, the former teacher and stay-at-home mom turned their passions into paychecks.

"I was just looking for some way to contribute to the family," said Houman, the distributor of The Happy Gardener.

"When I started thinking what could I do instead of going back to a conventional job, I really started wondering how I could incorporate gardening into that," Pelliccio said.

With $3,000, Pelliccio started an organic gardening supply company in her Virginia garage.

It blossomed into a more than $1 million consulting business with 1,000 distributors across North America.

"As a single mom with two kids, I've been able to do it still being home with them," said Pelliccio.

Her first organic gardening tip is to put down the weed spray and pick up a newspaper.

"Lay it down and then cover it with your dirt. Weeds need sunlight and moisture to grow and the newspaper will act as a barrier, and then it will also biodegrade naturally," Pelliccio advised.

Do animals and bugs like your veggies as much as you do? Instead of pesticides, try companion plants like onions, herbs or flowers that scare off pests with their strong scents.

"Here we've got a hedge of marigolds and the marigolds are good deterrent for deer and rabbits," said Pelliccio.

Also, you can protect your tomatoes with basil.

"So basil will detract the worms from getting on your tomatoes," Pelliccio said.

To keep moisture in, most use peat moss or mulch. An earth friendly alternative is coconut fiber.

"It's lighter, so it's going to cost less too," said Pelliccio.

Finally, roll out the welcome mat for feathered friends.

"They will make a home in the garden and they will be your cheapest, least maintenance pest control," Pelliccio said.

California leads the U.S. in most certified organic cropland. Wisconsin, North Dakota, Minnesota and Montana round out the top five.

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