By Emily Newton
The urgent need to halt the rapid spread of COVID-19 contagion required people worldwide to adapt to drastically new ways of life. As leaders issued shelter-in-place orders, citizens only left their homes for essential reasons. Others found themselves in isolation after testing positive for the virus or coming into contact with someone who did.
Together, these factors and others have led to an urban farming boom. Here’s a look at some of the primary reasons people are becoming more interested in growing produce during these challenging times.
1. Addressing food insecurity
As the pandemic increased in severity, people realized that it could cause months of disruptions. Many rushed to supermarkets and discovered empty shelves that once held grocery staples like rice, pasta, flour and dried beans. In other cases, people encountered steep price increases for fresh produce.
In Suva, Fiji, consumers saw a 75% rise in the costs of some fruits and vegetables during the pandemic. Government officials tackled the problem with a seed distribution program and advice on how people could grow gardens at home. They projected it would take nine months to give away the seeds. However, the interest was so overwhelming that they were gone in just one week.
Medical advocates also warn that 54 million Americans are at risk of food insecurity during COVID-19. Vulnerable populations are especially likely to face such issues, which could lead to health complications. Regardless of where you live, the chance to engage in city farming can help address food insecurity for yourself and others.
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2. Giving people valuable skills
It can be easy for some people to overlook the hard work that goes into getting produce from the fields to the shop floors. As the novel coronavirus canceled conferences, concerts, live theater and almost all other in-person gatherings, people found themselves wanting to use their spare time during lockdowns to learn useful skills. Many decided to take up gardening.
As they planted seeds and watched some transform into crops, people also educated themselves on the best ways to handle the produce before eating it. For example, after picking a large carrot, you’d probably cut it into manageable pieces in preparation for using it in a dinner salad. Storing it properly afterward is crucial, however. Researchers found that keeping atmospheric conditions between 3- 5% oxygen and 5-10% carbon dioxide to help prevent food from spoiling. In addition, storing fruits and vegetables at the right temperature protects against microbial growth.
People can buy precut produce at the grocery store, but of course, fruits and vegetables don’t grow that way. Workers diligently prepare and package them for sale first. As people gained gardening skills during the pandemic, many also enjoyed a renewed appreciation for all the workers involved throughout the supply chain.
3. Improving access to tailored resources
The food insecurity issues mentioned earlier also spurred decision-makers to act. Some of them recognized urban farming’s worth, while noticing residents were woefully unprepared to grow food in city gardens. They knew giving people relevant resources would encourage them to give urban farming a try.
For example, the city council of Des Moines, Iowa approved the formation of a seven-member task force to promote urban agriculture and create a guide that helps people learn where to source seeds, how to compost, how to care for laying hens and other gardening resources.
Kathy Byrnes, the founder of a nonprofit urban farm, was partially responsible for the idea. She explained, “It occurred to us that there’s a lot of work to be done in a lot of places around the city to help people to learn not just to grow food, but how to source it locally and even forage for it where it’s available.
“The city can be a leader in helping establish some systems that ease that process for people and just make it more possible for all of us to eat better.”
4. Providing a healthy activity
COVID-19 brought plenty of stress to people of all ages and backgrounds. They worried about themselves or loved ones getting sick, became anxious about possible job loss and household finances, and tried to stay level-headed without the benefit of in-person interactions.
The pandemic has affected people globally, but not all in the same ways. Some have coped with the extra pressure by falling into potentially unhealthy habits, such as drinking alcohol or overeating; choices that merely provide temporary distractions from the world’s chaos.
An advantage of city farming is that it takes an individual’s mind off distressing circumstances, helps people remain in the present moment, offers a chance to connect with natural elements and offers a sense of satisfaction when the crops grow to full maturity. It helps that gardening offers numerous health benefits, from reduced anxiety and depression to faster recovery from illnesses.
Urban farming opens new opportunities
When you think of farms, country fields spanning hundreds of acres might come to mind. You may conclude farming is out of reach if you live in a city apartment. However, one of the few positive aspects of COVID-19 quarantines is that it has encouraged people to learn basic gardening and self-reliance skills. Now, more folks worldwide know urban farming is open to them, and that it is not only a rewarding but also therapeutic activity.
Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized, an online magazine that discusses the latest innovations in science and technology. She enjoys learning about the new environmentally friendly technologies.
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