Gardening and Foraging Helped with Hunger During the Pandemic

Gardening, hunting, fishing, foraging, and having “backyard” poultry or livestock all increased during the pandemic, and those who partook in these activities were able to reduce their food insecurity, according to new research.

There has been much anecdotal evidence of people sourcing their own food during the pandemic, and new research suggests this phenomenon had a tangible impact on levels of food insecurity — showing that those who engaged in home and wild food production (HWFP) were much more likely to be food secure months later.

Published in Scientific Reports, the research features survey responses from more than 1,000 residents of rural Vermont and Maine. The survey found that nearly 60% of respondents engaged in HWFP in some way during the first year of the pandemic, with food insecure households more likely to do these practices.

Those who engaged in HWFP early on in the pandemic were found to be much more likely to have improved food security in the following nine to 12 months, though this was primarily the case for newly — not chronically — food insecure households.

“We’ve suspected that producing some of your own food through hunting, fishing, foraging, gardening helps people’s food security,” said Sam Bliss, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Vermont who was involved in the research, in a news release. “This is the best evidence yet that we have that producing your own food makes a difference.”

Rates of food insecurity skyrocketed during the pandemic, especially as a result of travel restrictions, stay-at-home orders, and disruptions to the supply chain.

The paper shows that individuals engaged in these activities during the pandemic for a variety of reasons, including food security and supply chain concerns, a desire to spend time in nature, more free time, a desire for spaces of refuge and community, stress reduction or mental wellbeing, and a perception that HWFP activities done in the outdoors were COVID-safe.

Previous research has shown that gardening is associated with increased food security, increased fruit and vegetable consumption, reduced food costs, and additional income-generating opportunities, but the authors say the impact of other HWFP activities, such as fishing, hunting, and foraging, have been less understood until now.

“It’s exciting because we haven’t really seen this scale of data before and over multiple time points to assess this issue,” said Meredith Niles, an associate professor at the University of Vermont and the lead author of the study, in a news release.

The researchers hope that by demonstrating the ways in which HWFP can strengthen food security — especially in emergency situations the results will help to inform future policies that support these activities. Next, the team aims to understand why those who were newly food insecure during the pandemic were more able to recover through HWFP than those who were chronically food insecure.

“Home and wild food production is not a silver bullet, but it is a potential solution set that has been largely overlooked,” Niles said. “We need policies and programs that make producing your own food more accessible to the people who could stand to benefit the most from it.”

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