At the height of the pandemic when most of the world was in lockdown and people were forced to stay home and had to endure limited mobility, Sustain: The Australian Food Network, conducted a nationwide Pandemic Gardening Survey.
Spearheaded by Dr. Nick Rose and Dr Kelly Donati – Executive Director and Chair, respectively of Sustain, the survey received an overwhelming response from 9,140 respondents across Australia.
The online survey, conducted between mid-June to mid-July 2020 wanted to find out the impact of the pandemic on food production, on gardeners and people who want to produce their own food. During that period, news of plant nurseries and garden shops running out of seeds and seedlings made the headlines as people started their home gardens.
Aside from the huge number of people who readily shared their edible gardening experiences, Sustain found some critical insights on food accessibility and production challenges faced by many Australians during the pandemic.
The findings of the survey were clear and powerful:
- Edible gardening matters immensely to many thousands of Australians and made a significant positive difference for people during lockdown.
- Edible gardening can, and does, contribute to food security and dietary diversity for low-income households who have knowledge, space and support to grow food.
- The overwhelming majority of respondents stated that edible gardening substantially improved their mental wellbeing.
- Growing food, particularly in visible or public spaces, has a powerful capacity to bring people together, create new friendships and foster social connectedness.
If you dig deeper into the survey findings, Nick Rose said one of the unexpected findings was the fact that “So many respondents were from low-income households and that many respondents from that demographic grew a lot of their own food (i.e. exploding the myth that food gardening is purely a middle class / urban hippie activity).”
Reading through the responses and stories shared by those who participated in the survey, it was clear that having an edible garden at home played a vital role in how many people coped with the pandemic. From the health, mental and physical benefits, people also confirmed the improved community relationships they had during the pandemic because of the edible garden they tended.
One respondent said: “Growing food and gardening are essential to me. I have PTSD, fibromyalgia and arthritis and being in the garden provides huge relief. Growing food is also really satisfying and therapeutic, it makes you feel you are contributing in a meaningful way. Food growing and gardening have particularly helped during lockdown to help cope with increased anxiety.”
Another respondent shared the impact of her gardening not only to her and her family but in the neighbourhood as well. She said: “Being able to garden and have some food security means everything to our small family. For myself, it has allowed me to tackle family life with a healthier mental and physical state. For my family, it meant less risk (going to supermarkets) and less waste. Our community is happier and much closer now we have started swapping vegetables and resources.”
According to Nick Rose, “The pandemic is a moment of rapture in a lot of sense. It brings to the fore the issues and strains on our food system. The health issues, soil erosion and degradation problems are only some of the issues that have been highlighted.
And these problems may not go away even if the pandemic goes away. But what we found out during the survey is that having an urban edible garden – sustainable an accessible source of food for people – is a great way to address the problems and challenges in our food system,” Nick said.
The survey cited a report from Food Bank Australia: Foodbank Australia’s annual Hunger Report which documented a 47% increase in demand for emergency food relief during COVID-19. This demand is expected to continue to increase into 2021.
To a certain extent, the findings about the benefits of edible gardening didn’t come as a surprise to Andrea Gaynor, the Director of the Centre for Western Australian History within the School of Humanities. (University of Western Australia).
She said the Pandemic Gardening survey results confirmed that that edible gardening has multiple social, economic, health and environmental benefits.
Based on her studies of historical situations like World War II and previous economic crises, Professor Gaynor said: “People have often turned to edible gardening in times of crisis – whether war or economic depression or oil shocks. Not only does it provide greater food security – and the psychological security of self-provision – but it can also be an important means of stretching a strained household budget.”
She added that while 20th century gardening magazines often debated whether it was possible to grow one’s own food for less than buying it, the Pandemic Gardening Survey reveals that in the 21st century there is a sector of society reliant on edible gardening to make ends meet.
While edible gardening should not be a substitute for effective income support, it certainly can make an important contribution to food security, where households have access to sufficient knowledge, land and inputs.
Join us in part 2 to find out more about the next steps and how Sustain are lobbying government to drive a mass expansion of urban food production.