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More Canadians are growing their own food. What does that mean for grocers?

Dalhousie survey finds that almost one in five Canadians took up pandemic gardening

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Canadians are getting closer to their roots during COVID-19.

A new study by the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University, in partnership with Angus Reid, found that 51% of respondents grow at least one variety of fruit or vegetable in a garden. Of those, 17.4%—or nearly one in five Canadians—started growing food at home during the pandemic. A total of 67% of those who took up gardening in 2020 say the pandemic influenced their decision.

Pandemic gardeners were driven by “an acute sense of food insecurity, food affordability and food safety,” says Sylvain Charlebois, director of the Lab at Dalhousie University and co-author of the report, titled “Home Food Gardening in Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic.”

Many Canadians remain concerned about food supplies, with 52.6% of total respondents at least somewhat worried about food shortages. This is reasonably consistent for both home food gardeners (55%) and non-gardeners (50.1%).

Of total respondents, 85% are concerned that food prices will rise because of the pandemic. This is consistent for both long-time and new home food growers and non-home food growers.

Just over half (51.8%) of long-time home gardeners agree they grow food at home because it’s safer than what they can buy in store. For those who started growing food during the pandemic, 42.9% agree food safety was a factor in their decision to garden.

While more Canadians are discovering their green thumbs, the fruits of their labour aren’t a big threat to retailers. The study found that 96% of respondents purchase at least some of their fruit and vegetables from a grocery store. “[The study found] 1.7% of Canadians actually grow everything they eat, so I wouldn’t lose sleep if I were a grocer,” says Charlebois. “To complete their food basket, people will continue to need grocers.”

The fact that gardening is a lot of work could be in grocers’ favour. “I actually think gardening is a good thing for grocers because when [gardeners] go into a grocery store, they’ll appreciate the work behind a carrot or an onion,” says Charlebois. “A lot of people have taken that for granted over the years.”

Dalhousie plans to conduct a follow-up survey a year from now to find out how many Canadians are still growing food at home and if more have joined the movement.

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