Digging for Victory… once more!
By Rich Hamilton
Gardening is one trend that is emerging as a rare “positive” from the current coronavirus pandemic. People across the world are turning to gardening as a soothing, family friendly, all inclusive hobby that is just as good for the mind and soul as it is for the practicalities of the current lockdown situation.
It is proven from times gone by that seed demand typically rises when the economy struggles, partly because when money becomes an issue, the fear of running out of food or not being able to afford food is one of the biggest fears for most people.
During World War 2 for example the British government of the day launched the well-known ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign to encourage the population to dig up their lawns and village greens and turn them over to fruit and vegetable growing. This was largely to try and increase the amount of available food, to compensate for a shortage in other types of food that were subject to rationing and shortages such as butter, eggs and meat and more tropical imported crops such as bananas and oranges.
“Dig for Victory” proved to be a hugely successful propaganda campaign and by 1942 half the civilian population was part of the nation's “Garden Front”, and ten thousand square miles of land had been "brought under the plough” including parks, golf clubs and even the moat at the Tower of London.
The ability to ‘grow your own’ food was a basic skill back then and who knew that one day it would be needed again, and that time is now. Currently all varieties of Fruit and Veg seeds are experiencing a massive boom in sales across Europe and the rest of the world, as people once again look to self sufficiency to ease worries over food security and the slow down of the harvesting, distribution and supply chain of some crops as a result of lockdown.
How could Coronavirus affect exportation you may ask? well, the virus could have a negative effect t on the labour force which could affect sowing, harvesting/picking and transportation in all countries. This means that we have to consider possible problems such as how will countries grow enough to feed their own populations AND still export it to others? Also their is the possibility that fresh food may not even be allowed across borders given that the virus can live on surfaces for up to three days.
U.S. seed company W. Atlee Burpee & Amp Co for example saw higher seed sales during March 2020 than any other time in its 144-year history, which was in large part was due to the panic setting in over Coronavirus.
Whilst home grown product will probably not be able to solely sustain the food needs of a whole family, the idea is that it could help to supplement and build up stores of produce if the current pandemic was to stretch out for months to come.
This effort would help ease the pressure on supermarkets in the near future as although supplies will not run out, there its no doubt that the overall demand for fresh produce has/will increase as people are eating all their meals at home and are unable to eat out at restaurants.
There is also the social, educational and community aspect of gardening that has contributed to the current surge of interest. People who have been laid off from work are keen to fill their spare time with something productive, especially after many are now unable to indulge their existing passions such as sport or socialising. Elder or more vulnerable sections of the population who may be looking at extended periods of social isolation are also looking for more long term, practical hobbies and skills which they can enjoy in the safety of their own homes and gardens. Parents too, are seeing gardening as a rewarding, outdoor, educational and practical activity to do with their children and an opportunity to truly show them where their food comes from.
People are generally asking more questions and are keen to learn how to grow plants of all kinds including edible crops. Britain's Royal Horticultural Society, (RHS) for example, has seen a five-fold increase in advice queries on its website during the lockdown. Questions that vary from alternative ways of growing plants for those without access to a conventional garden, to how you can extract seeds from fresh produce like tomatoes and chillies that have been purchased in supermarkets. In the USA there has been a similar effect with The Philadelphia-based "Experimental Farm Network”, seeing more than 2,000 people sign up to get involved in weekly calls that discuss gardening best practices.
With so many people getting involved in gardening for the first time, there has also been a push to share and combine collective resources, knowledge and results of home food production and improve community spirit and the idea of being “alone together” through this pandemic.
Growers in the community are doing this by attempting to make home growing more accessible and efficient for everyone, in order to expand the reliance on local food as much as possible. This is possible by gardeners reaching out and forming a network to avoid overlap in production. For example one grower will concentrate on tomatoes and carrots whilst another may focus on potatoes and squash.
80 years since the start of the 2nd world war and the convenience of supermarkets has wiped out a large proportion of growing skills, passion and knowledge and the idea of “seasonality”. Gardens and fields have lay largely empty as people have turned their back on the idea of “grow your own” because they can, until now that is.
Now we are starting to see a bit of that “Dig for victory” mentality creeping back in to the general population, where people are up-skilling themselves, sharing knowledge and forming communities to grow their own produce and plants again, something that can be nothing but a positive thing, for both the planet and for humanity. Hopefully it will also be one trend that will remain long-term when we finally emerge from this worldwide health crisis, where we will see people eating better, gardening more and being more self-reliant. Not because they have to but because they want to.
By Rich Hamilton
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