Vegetable growing and backyard chickens: Gardening, farming booms during coronavirus pandemic

Vegetable growing and backyard chickens: Gardening, farming booms during coronavirus pandemic

As people pick up new hobbies while they remain in self-quarantine due to the COVID-19 pandemic, interest in gardening and farming is experiencing a boom among Americans.

Developing a green thumb is a way to pass the time for some people, but others are using it as a way to attempt to make sure they have access to fresh food after panic buying led to shortages in grocery stores. In addition to emptying shelves of seeds and gardening tools, Americans are also buying animals, particularly chickens, to produce a steady influx of eggs.

It's no coincidence that the interest in chickens comes at a time when supermarkets in the country, particularly in the northeast, are experiencing a shortage of eggs. Regionwide, egg retailers' orders from wholesalers have increased by anywhere from double to 600%, and supply can't immediately be increased, Brian Moscogiuri, marketing director for the commodity market monitoring firm Urner Barry, told USA TODAY.

Across social media, plant lovers are sharing the works in progress and landscape projects taking place at their homes.

Nicole Burke owns a garden installment business in Houston, where she’s seen a surge in customers ready to put their green thumb to the test.

“We’ve doubled our install orders for this month,” said Burke, owner of Rooted Garden. In 2017, Burke started Gardenary, a website that coaches users on beginning their own gardens.

“Our hits have almost doubled in the last week,” Burke told USA TODAY. “I can tell a lot of people are searching for help gardening.”

A gardener setting a plant.

Gardening for beginners

Rebecca Broom from Madison, Mississippi, decided to take one of Burke's online tutorials to get started with her garden.

"I feel that our personal gardens can help fill in should we have shortages for things like fresh lettuces, tomatoes and other vegetables that can help sustain us," said Broom.

Farms such as Soul Fire Farm, have also seen an increase in members interested in installing their own home gardens. The farm, located in Grafton, New York, helps people in the community build their own gardens, installing an average of 10 gardens per year. The farm already has 50 people signed up for garden installation services for 2020, according to the farm's manager Leah Penniman.

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Interest in gardening has increased as people look to pass the time with new hobbies and to be more self-reliant after recent panic buying that led to short-term food shortages.

"This climate of uncertainty is leading people to want to take their food security into their own hands," Penniman said.

Chickens for backyards

Todd Larsen, executive co-director for the nonprofit organization Green America, said that he's seen an increase in people interested in buying chickens for their backyards.

"There has been a run on chickens because people would like to have their own access to eggs," Larsen said.

Larsen recommended that, before deciding to buy chickens, homeowners should confirm if their municipality allows residents to own backyard chickens.

"The further you get from an urban environment, the more lenient it gets," Larsen explained. He added that, if someone finds themselves in a suburban area that restricts the ownership of chickens, residents can reach out to members of their city or town council to revisit the code.

Farm supply store Agway is selling out of chicks as residents in the area take up farming. Debbie Milling, manager at Agway in Liberty, New York, said the hatcheries where the store usually obtains its chicks are having trouble keeping up with demand.

"Sales have been extremely heavy," said Milling. "As we go to reorder, we find out some breeds are sold out already."

With growing concerns about food shortages, Jazmine Peoples from Stafford, Virginia, decided to buy six chickens during the first week of March.

"We wanted to get enough production that we can supply ourselves with eggs because that’s something we noticed a lack of the last time we went to the grocery store," Peoples said. "Right now we're just sticking with chickens, but eventually down the road we might be getting something else."

Lowe’s home improvement stores also has seen a jump in sales when it comes to gardening products, Lowe's president and CEO Marvin Ellison told USA TODAY in a recent interview.

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Ellison sees the increased interest in gardening as a positive way to combat the COVID-19 virus.

“If we can keep a customer busy in their yard,” Ellison told USA TODAY. “It keeps them at home and not somewhere else.”

After Angela Elliston, 22, a student at the University of Puerto Rico began taking her classes online, she has more time on her hands and is focusing on her home garden, which includes herbs like basil and cilantro.

“Being in quarantine makes you sit down and practice simple living,” says Elliston. “You realize that these little tasks are fulfilling.”

Follow Coral Murphy on Twitter @CoralMerfi.

Contributing: Michelle Maltais and Kelly Tyko.


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