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 to produce home-grown food to feed their families.

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 percent 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-grown food gardening has exploded so much in recent weeks, many suppliers have been overwhelmed with orders.

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

“We’ve seen a very sharp spike,” says Biofilta CEO Marc Noyce. “There’ve been two distinct types of customer. 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’d have thought it would take a pandemic to make people realise that home-grown food is a good idea?”

More Aussies turn to home-grown food
Biofilta’s wicking garden beds.

Online orders soar

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.”

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 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 uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, but the impact COVID has had on many brick and mortar retailers also means online stores are now many customers’ sole means of buying gardening products.

“We’ve definitely seen an increase in online orders, but this could be because many retailers who stock our products are closed,” says Tracey Swenson, Director of Urban Greens. “I also think this is part of a general trend. More people are starting to show an interest in sustainable living. COVID has just fast-tracked people’s thinking.”

More Aussies turn to home-grown food
Get the kids in on the act.

Benefits abound

While online stores are seeing an uptick in orders, retailers such as Bunnings – which has remained open – 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’re working with our suppliers to increase supply.”

The current environment of uncertainty is clearly driving this newfound consumer interest in growing fresh produce. But it’s also possible that once Australians get a taste of their own home-grown food, 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 and community resilience. And it’s about doing something together with your family.”

Morabito agrees. 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 food from local growers, it reaffirms the importance of backyard gardening.”