Gardeners would do well to share their bounty

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The long-standing joke that zucchini season is the only time of year in a small town when you need to lock your vehicle may have lost its lustre due to modern crime waves. But one thing hasn’t changed.

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The long-standing joke that zucchini season is the only time of year in a small town when you need to lock your vehicle may have lost its lustre due to modern crime waves. But one thing hasn’t changed.

As the sun sets on summer, home gardeners are still desperately trying to find homes for their bumper crops of veggies and apples.

The angst over this temporary over-abundance is even more pronounced this year as inflation pushes purchased food prices into the double digits. Statistics Canada reported recently that retail food prices have risen 10.8 per cent this year while food service costs are up 7.4 per cent.

Dalhousie University’s Food Analytics Lab partnered with Caddle, a mobile market insights platform, to explore how Canadians are changing their food habits in response.

The trend towards home gardening that started during the pandemic lockdowns has continued to grow. This most recent survey of 5,000 Canadians found that 15.5 per cent started growing their own food in the past year. The survey found at 4.5 per cent have expanded into livestock as well as vegetables.

It may seem counterintuitive, but this is actually good news for farmers.

There’s nothing better than the experience of doing it yourself to underscore how much work goes into producing, harvesting, storing and processing food well. There is no better way to teach children where their food comes from or to foster their appreciation for the taste of fresh vegetables than to give them a first-hand experience.

This was a good year to try home gardening, at least here in Manitoba, with ample rains and a growing season that has extended through September.

The return to bounty after last year’s drought was welcomed. But by now people have canned, pickled, frozen and processed as much as they possibly can. Yet the produce just keeps coming.

Some communities have even set up veggie exchange stands, where people can drop off their surpluses and pick up what they need.

That brings to the fore another of the survey’s findings: just under 41 per cent of respondents said they are making an effort to waste food less often. This is a huge cultural shift in a society where consumers were quite relaxed about wasting between a third and half of the food that came into their homes just a few short years ago.

Rising prices and the pandemic-induced supply shortages are accomplishing what years of coaching and awareness-raising could not. Consumers have finally stopped treating food as cheap and plentiful and have started showing more care about how they use it.

The survey found 23.6 per cent of consumers were buying less food than before because of the higher prices, 8.2 per cent have changed their diet and just over seven per cent are skipping meals or snacks.

In households where food insecurity exists, it highlights the challenges families face. Women were more apt to cut back on food consumption than men. As well, about six per cent of respondents said they are paying for their food with a credit card without knowing when they will be able to pay it back.

Thirty-three per cent are using loyalty programs points to help pay for groceries, 32 per cent watching for sales in weekly flyers and 24 per cent are using more coupons. More consumers are shopping online for food, sometimes from multiple stores. But meal-kit usage has dropped from 12.8 per cent in 2020 to 8.4 per cent.

There has also been a rise in people accepting donated food from family, churches or charitable organizations. Food banks, by the way, are usually happy to accept donated vegetables.

As winter approaches, it’s incumbent on all of us to share what bounty we have with those feeling the effects of rising food costs — short of stuffing a neighbour’s unlocked car with vegetables, of course.

Laura Rance is vice-president of content for Glacier FarmMedia. She can be reached at lrance@farmmedia.com

Laura Rance

Laura Rance
Columnist

Laura Rance is editorial director at Farm Business Communications.

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