Home grown food on the rise as families deal with pandemic food insecurity

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Home grown food on the rise as families deal with pandemic food insecurity

Thu, 11/25/2021 - 7:47am -- tim

New survey data from Vermont and Maine show food insecurity remains significantly above pre-pandemic levels with families producing more food at home.

Vermont Business Magazine Pandemic food insecurity remains elevated in the Northeast – affecting over 27% of households in Vermont and Maine – and in response, many families have increased the amount of food they grow, fish, raise, forage or hunt themselves. New research from the University of Vermont and University of Maine shows nearly 60% of households in both states engaged in some form of home food production since the COVID-19 pandemic, half of whom did so with increased intensity or for the first time.

While the prevalence of food insecurity in Vermont and Maine has decreased since the height of the pandemic, when nearly 1 in 3 households were experiencing food insecurity, it remains significantly higher than pre-pandemic levels, according to new survey data from spring and summer of 2021.

The findings were reported in a new policy brief, the latest from a series of surveys conducted by Meredith Niles and colleagues in the Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences and Gund Institute for Environment at UVM along with collaborators at University of Maine. It is the first to demonstrate persistent, elevated rates of food insecurity in multiple New England states.

“Our research suggests the impact of COVID-19 on food security in the U.S. is far from over and additional support will be needed to alleviate the long-term impacts of the pandemic,” said Niles. “We are also seeing the pandemic has changed how both food secure and food insecure individuals engage with the food system, a trend that could contribute to a stronger and more resilient local food system.”

In addition to more people engaging in home food production such as through gardening, fishing and hunting, approximately 82% of all survey respondents indicated plans to continue these activities in 2021. Across Maine and Vermont, nearly 48% reported gardening during the 2020 growing season of the COVID-19 pandemic, but 72% indicated they planned to do so in 2021. Of households who reported raising animals for eggs, meat or dairy, more than half had increased their production or did so for the first time.

Overall, food insecure households in Vermont and Maine were more likely to increase their home food production, or rely on nontraditional food sources such as salvaging, sharing and bartering, compared to food secure households. They were also significantly more likely to purchase food from local farm sources including farmers markets, farm stands and Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“Home food production and local food sourcing can be important strategies for dealing with food insecurity, especially in rural states with strong local food traditions,” said co-author Rachel Schattman, assistant professor of sustainable agriculture at the University of Maine. “Our study shows there is a thriving interest among Vermonters and Mainers in growing their own food and purchasing from local producers. We should think carefully about how supporting our local food systems can help alleviate the negative consequences of disruptive national events like the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The research is part of a series of surveys being conducted by the National Food Access and COVID Research Team (NFACT). Led by Niles, NFACT is a collaborative, national effort to track the impacts of COVID-19 on food access, food security and food systems across local, state, regional and national levels. The project involves several researchers at UVM and the University of Maine, with collaborators at 18 study sites across 15 states.

Source: UVM 11.19.2021