Food and Dining Health

Concerns about food shortages and the dangers of grocery shopping during the pandemic drove more Kentuckians to try their hand at home gardening in 2020, according to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. 

In a Kentucky Department of Agriculture survey of 230 garden growers, 45% gardened for  the first time in 2020, up from 34 percent in 2019. Department spokesman Sean Southard said many people tried gardening for the first time because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture got a lot of questions from constituents about food supply and the safety and stability of our food supply, especially with some of the pressures we saw on our supply chain,” Southard said.

Southard said the department believes Kentucky’s food supply chain remains “strong,” but low inventories at grocery stores around the state and country last year have prompted some to grow their own food. To accommodate the increased interest, the Department of Agriculture, along with the University of Kentucky and Kentucky State University made home gardening “toolkits” available through agriculture extension offices in each of the state’s 120 counties.

The contents of the toolkits varied by county, according to Marisa Aull, with UK. But they all included packets of information on planting, canning, harvesting and in some counties seeds and gardening tools.

Aull said the pandemic seemed to drive a lot more traffic to the Kentucky Nutrition Education Program’s gardening resources, which are normally aimed at serving low-income people and families. Aull said more people were referred to the program as more Kentuckians became unemployed and enrolled in SNAP, or food stamps.

“In addition to food insecurity, there was just fear for a lot of individuals on going to the grocery store physically, and this provided that opportunity to try something different,” she said.

Aull said the extension office in Ohio County gave out gardening toolkits to around 1,100, mostly Latinx, families. Work at the Perdue Farms food processing plant in Ohio County draws a large Latinx immigrant population. 

Southard said families who were not facing food insecurity were also drawn to gardening as a learning opportunity for children during remote learning.

The toolkits also were meant to dispel “a lot of misinformation” that began circulating, especially about canning methods. 

“You can’t can in your dishwasher,” Aull said. “That’s not safe.”

Both Southard and Aull are hopeful the increased interest in gardening and canning will continue after the pandemic comes to a close.

“We’re optimistic this will be a trend that sticks around,” Southard said.

You can find more information and tools to start your own backyard or container garden here: https://www.planeatmove.com/get-moving/growing-your-own-garden/

Jess Clark is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.