More Aussies turn to home-grown food

18th April 2020 | Alison Turner

Forget panic buying at your local supermarket. Many Australians are now looking to their own backyards as a means of supplying their families with fresh food.

Decades ago, the vegie patch was once a regular fixture in the average Aussie backyard. But in more recent times – with the advent of mega supermarkets, mass-produced crops and busier lifestyles – the practice of growing your own produce became a thing of the past.

But as consumers have become increasingly interested in knowing about the provenance of their food and drink, backyard vegetable gardens and community gardens have started to crop up in cities and towns across the country. A recent study by the Australia Institute found that 52% of Australians were growing some of their own food.

Right now, that number looks set to rise even higher, as COVID-19 causes anxiety about food security and food safety. Consumer interest in home-based food gardening has exploded so much in recent weeks, many suppliers have been overwhelmed with orders.

Biofilta, which produces Foodcube – a modular wicking garden bed – has reported significant growth in customer interest.

“We’ve seen a very sharp interest spike,” says Marc Noyce, Biofilta’s CEO. “There have been two distinct types of customer contacting us – those who’ve been thinking about growing their own food for a while but have previously been too busy… and those who are panicking.

“Who would have thought that it would take a pandemic to make people realise that growing food at home is a good idea?”

Biofilta’s wicking garden beds.

The Diggers Club, which sells a variety of gardening supplies, has had to temporarily stop taking new product orders as they work to reduce delays on existing orders.

“In the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen unprecedented demand,” says Diggers’ spokesperson Donna Morabito. “There has been an across-the-board spike in demand for everything from seeds, plants and bulbs to memberships, but the strongest spike has been in our autumn growing edibles.”

Many other online retailers have also experienced significant increases in demand, as people seek to find safe, secure ways to access fresh food.

“Sales have increased significantly,” says Will Papakostas, General Manager of Greenlife Garden Products. “The most popular products would probably be our large garden beds, and also our drop over greenhouses. These were already good sellers, but we’ve had a lot of increased interest. People want to take control of growing their own produce.”

Part of this new demand is certainly due to the current environment of uncertainty surrounding the coronacrisis, but the impact that COVID-19 has had on many brick and mortar retailers also means that online stores are now many customers’ sole means of purchasing gardening products.

 “We’ve definitely seen an increase in our online orders, but this could be due to the fact that many of the retailers who stock our products are now closed,” says Tracey Swenson, Director of Urban Greens, which sells grow kits. “I also think this is part of a general trend, as more people are starting to show an interest in sustainable living. COVID-19 has perhaps just fast-tracked people’s thinking.”

While online stores are certainly seeing an uptick in their orders, retailers such as Bunnings Warehouse – which has remained open with adjustments to their trading hours – has also noticed increased customer interest in their gardening products.

“We’ve seen an increase in popularity of seedlings,” says Bunnings National Greenlife Buyer Alex Newman. “We are working with our suppliers to increase supply.”

Get the kids in on the act.

While the current environment of uncertainty is clearly driving this newfound consumer interest in growing food, it’s possible that once Australians get a taste of their own home-grown produce, they’ll start to see the many benefits that a backyard garden can offer.

“It’s not just about food security,” says Noyce. “It’s about sustainability, it’s about community resilience, it’s about doing something together with your family.”

Morabito agrees, saying that she hopes this trend continues as people start to connect more with their food supply.

“Even if it’s just something small, like growing your own herbs, or sourcing your food from local growers, it reaffirms the importance of backyard gardening.”