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COVID gardening on the rise

Sylvain Charlebois
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A Dalhousie University survey shows more Canadians are gardening during the COVID-19 crisis. Anxiety may play a role.

They say gardening is good for the soul. Apparently many Canadians agree as they have opted to ‘pandemic garden’ this year.

The Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University, in partnership with Angus Reid, recently released a study on home gardening, just in time for Thanksgiving. The survey was conducted earlier this month and included more than 1,000 Canadians from across the country.

The study, entitled Home Food Gardening in Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic, looked at the prevalence and varieties of, and attitudes tooward home food gardening in Canada during the pandemic.

The report suggested that 51 per cent of respondents grow at least one variety of fruit or vegetable in a garden. Of those, 17.4 per cent started growing food at home in 2020 during COVID-19 – that’s almost one in five Canadians.

A total of 67 per cent of new gardeners in 2020 agree that the pandemic influenced their decision to start growing food at home.

More British Columbians and Prairie residents are home food gardeners than are not. Ontario is almost exactly even between those who grow food at home and those who don’t, at 50.1 and 49.9 per cent respectively. Of all respondents who grow food at home in Atlantic Canada, 23.7 per cent started gardening this year, the highest proportion of new gardeners in a region of Canada.

Anxiety may have something to do with why people gardened so much this year. The report showed many Canadians remain concerned about our food supplies with 52.6 per cent of respondents at least somewhat worried about food shortages during COVID-19.

Given that the survey was conducted just days ago, that was surprising.

Only seven per cent of respondents are not worried about food shortages. Among new home food gardeners, 53.9 per cent are worried about food shortages compared to 55.2 per cent of longtime gardeners.

Furthermore, 39.8 per cent of total respondents at least somewhat agree that finding certain specific foodstuffs has been challenging during the pandemic.

Many Canadians are clearly concerned about food affordability, another reason why perhaps many started to garden this year. Of total respondents, 85 per cent are concerned that food prices will rise because of the pandemic. That’s a lot.

Living arrangements were also evaluated. You don’t need a yard to grow food in Canada. In fact, 18.6 per cent of gardeners are growing at least some food on balconies. Of all respondents who grow food at home and live in Quebec, 31.3 per cent grow at least some food on a balcony, the highest percentage in the country.

A total of 82.4 per cent of home food gardeners live in single-family homes, which corresponds to the fact that 70.2 per cent of them grow at least some of their home produce in their yards.

This was truly a stellar year for gardening but it remains unclear whether it will last.

The lockdown in the spring got us to spend more time at home, which got many to redefine their living space. Most importantly, given concerns related to potential food shortages and affordability, new gardeners simply wanted to take control over their food supply chain.

And gardening is a perfect compliment to cooking, which most of us have done plenty of since March.

Gardening is a good thing, even in the worst of times. As such, the report provides several recommendations. For example, it recommends that municipal governments increase awareness of their community gardens and that studies be conducted among city residents to discover their level of interest in growing their own food in a community garden.

The report also states that given the number of condominium and apartment home food gardeners, this presents a unique opportunity for condo boards, renters’ groups and neighbourhood organizations to start home food growing associations.

It will be interesting to see if Canadians remain committed to gardening in years to come, when our quest towards normalcy is complete.

Dr. Sylvain Charlebois is senior director of the agri-food analytics lab and a professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University. Lisa Mullins, a research associate at the School of Information Management and Dalhousie University, co-authored this commentary.

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