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Family Thanksgiving Dinner Could Soon Cost $826, Experts Predict

The jump in food prices on your Thanksgiving table this year is just a hint of what’s coming in 2011 and beyond, according to some experts. You may not be thrilled with the rising food prices this year, but unfortunately they’re a harbinger of what we can expect in the near future. What’s coming down the pike will dwarf those numbers, says Gerard Adams, President of the National Inflation Association (NIA). According to the NIA, by the end of the decade a loaf of bread could well cost $23 and two pounds of sugar could go for $62.
Within a few short years Americans could see the cost of their Thanksgiving dinner cost nineteen times as much as it does today – an 1800% increase. That would bring the tab for a family gathering of ten to $826.50 ($82.65 per person), up from $43.47 for a family meal ($4.35 per person) today. Those figures are an extrapolation based on the projected inflationary trends of six different foods profiled by the NIA.

Sharp increases in food prices are expected to hit in 2011, when fewer and fewer manufacturers will be able to absorb higher commodity prices and will increasingly pass their costs on to consumers. It’s already happening. In the past week, wholesale turkey prices jumped to $1.09 per pound, an increase of 28% over last year. Earlier this month, General Mills increased breakfast cereal prices on about 25% of its product line.

A number of factors are converging that make skyrocketing food prices almost certain. Take the sharp increases in the cost of raising turkeys, for example. The primary culprit? The price of feed, mainly corn, has skyrocketed by 47%, as ethanol producers compete for limited corn supplies. Fuel costs are also a factor.

The price increases come at a time when more American households than ever – one in seven, according to a United States Department of Agriculture report – are affected by food insecurity. The number of people getting food assistance from a food pantry increased by 30% between 2007 and 2009, reports the USDA.

While such price increases are catching many Americans by surprise, others have been well aware of the problem for some time. Many Americans are taking preemptive steps to provide less costly food for their families. For instance, backyard chickens, prized for their steady supply of eggs, have become so popular that hatcheries are having trouble keeping up with demand. The surge in interest comes despite local ordinances prohibiting backyard fowl.

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While regulations are stifling growth in backyard chicken husbandry, vegetable gardening is growing steadily. The National Gardening Association (NGA) reports that more families than ever are growing their own vegetables. The majority of them do so in order to save money. Quality is also an important issue. 36 million households, about a third of all U.S. households, planted a vegetable garden in 2009, 20% more than in 2008.

The NGA believes that the average garden will net a savings of about $500. Vegetable gardens are certainly worth more than the NGA figure of $500, however, when you consider the impact of income tax. A typical taxpaying American, for instance, would need to earn $625 just to buy $500 worth of food. But by growing his own produce, he keeps more money in his pocket.

One blogger believes the cost savings are far higher.  His modest vegetable garden, he calculates, provided the equivalent of $2,400 worth of produce during the last growing season. If he had planted every available space on his one-acre lot, he postulates, he could have grown $60,000 worth of food.

Vegetable gardening has become so popular that seed supply shortages are becoming common. Many companies have trouble keeping up with demand. One Illinois company, Solutions from Science, has experienced this phenomenon firsthand. The company’s Survival Seed Bank, a collection of 22 varieties of valuable non-hybrid, non-GMO seeds, is one of its bestselling items. Because the company contracts in advance for its highly prized seeds, it can’t add additional units to the production lines after a certain point.

“During World War II, home vegetable gardens provided 40% of the produce consumed by the British. Here in the United States, we may soon be facing a war against inflation,” says Bill Heid, President of Solutions from Science and creator of the Survival Seed Bank. “Growing your own food is one of the best ways to provide for your family in an inflationary climate.” While seed prices would escalate in an inflationary economy along with everything else, Solutions from Science offers an innovative hedge against inflation. Packed in a special container call a Seed Bank, its seeds can be purchased today while prices are lower and stored for many years in a freezer until they’re needed.

As 2011 unfolds, consumers should expect prices at the grocery store to soar. Domestically, the recession has impacted capital investment in agriculture, resulting in less production. Short supplies in key commodities such as corn have a ripple effect, increasing feed costs for animals, which in turn pushes up livestock and dairy prices. The recession is also affecting agriculture globally, and extreme weather conditions and droughts are also contributing to food shortages.  Gardening experts believe these factors are why the time is ripe for home gardening to become more popular than ever.

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