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Planting the seeds for food security at home

Over the years, science has allowed us to make agriculture more efficient by way of high-performing greenhouses, vertical farms and other types of facilities. Farmland supplies most of the food we eat as most of us don’t have the time to work on our own gardens. With COVID-19, time at home is exactly what we have, which is why gardening is making a roaring comeback.

Estimates suggest the gardening industry is worth about $4 billion in Canada, but our time spent at home may get Canadians to spend more this year. Some early reports indicate online sales for compost, seeds and home gardening equipment are up by more than 150%, and it’s still early in the season. This is not only happening in Canada. Reports suggest the U.S. and Europe are seeing increases of more than 250%. These are spectacular jumps. So much so, some seed shortages in parts of the United States have been reported.

The popularity of gardening has stagnated of late. According to Statistics Canada, 57% of Canadian households claim to have a garden and flowers, but only 17% of those households grow their own food for consumption. StatsCan also shows the highest gardening rate in the country is in Peterborough, while the lowest is in Moncton. Major urban centres, such as Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, have lower gardening rates as space can be an issue. Community gardens have become more popular in recent years. In Montreal, 9% of city dwellers claim to use a community garden. Of people who do grow food at home, 31% use a balcony, 22% grow food inside, while the vast majority grow food in their backyard. These rates have barely move over the last five years.

COVID-19 could be exactly what the gardening movement was looking for. Gardening is not only good for anyone to have a better appreciation for how food is made, it is also good for the spirit. Gardening connects you with nature and can be therapeutic. To a certain extent, gardening provides you with a sense of control over your food supply chain, even if you can only grow just a few commodities such as lettuce, spinach and carrots. The same can be said about cooking. COVID-19 has made us realize that food security is not just provided by farmers, processors, distributors and everyone else. It’s also a mindset, something we all feel and the sentiment of food insecurity for many has been powerfully transformational.

The anxiety generated by empty shelves and lineups can be offset by producing food at home—cooking and growing. Many Canadians have always had the ability, the land and the space to make themselves feel more food secure. But many of us have chosen to ignore or forget this. Land is an important asset to have and to share, and COVID-19 is a powerful reminder of that. What is also prompting many to look at growing vegetables and fruits at home are retail prices. These are set to rise by as much as 5% this year due to a weaker dollar and challenges to get workers supporting agriculture both sides of the border. By fall, access to produce may become an issue.

If gardening centres are not considered an essential service across the country, they should be. Some provinces aren’t there yet. Our stomachs need it almost as much as our souls. This is an incredible opportunity for many city dwellers to repurpose their backyards, balconies, kitchens and living rooms, so they feel more in control during an era of doubt and confusion. As we remind ourselves to stay safe, and take appropriate measures to remain healthy, gardening could become the escape many of us are looking for, without leaving home.

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