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What are you growing in your garden? Dalhousie researchers want to know

The Agri-Food Analytics Lab hopes to use the information to explore the relationship between food security and home food production
060420 - food harvest farm garden organic vegetables produceAdobeStock_218038929
(stock photo)

Researchers want to know what you're growing in your garden.

Dalhousie University's Agri-Food Analytics Lab has launched Nova Scotia's Home Food Gardening Project, trying to track the rates of gardening in the province, along with the underlying causes.

The lab hopes to use the information to explore the relationship between food security and home food production.

"We actually don't know the scale and scope of home food gardening in this province, I don't think any province could tell you that," stated Janet Music, a Ph.D. student with Dal's Faculty of Agriculture.

"How can we discover what people are growing, how much they're growing and where they're located?"

That led to the launch on an online map, where gardeners can type in their address.

"Once it zooms in, you can go to the drop down menus and let us know what you're growing," Music told CityNews 95.7's The Weekend Gardener, Niki Jabbour. "Are you growing fruits and veg, are you growing cannabis, are you growing flowers, or are you growing a combination?"

You can even upload photos of your garden, but you won't be asked for any personal information.

Once they've been able to collect more data on how prevalent gardening is in the province, the hope is they'll be able to share that information with municipal and provincial governments.

"To say, 'Listen, loads of people are doing this, thousands and thousands of people are growing food. How can we better support them so they can continue to grow food, and maybe how can we support them so we can use that food to impact food security in Nova Scotia," Music said.

She said overall in Canada, most municipalities aren't doing much to support or encourage home food growing, but a few have launched some interesting programs that could be implemented elsewhere.

"Brantford, Ontario really ran with this idea and had a great pilot project in which they gave seeds and tools to citizens who wanted them and helped them grow food," she said.

"And in North Battleford, Saskatchewan, municipal staff actually started growing food on municipal land, and then they gave all that harvest to local food banks."

She said donations to organizations like Feed Nova Scotia can often be processed foods and not the healthiest option.

"But I think in terms of sharing food grown at home that was grown out of love and not out of profit, that's really meaningful," Music stated. "There's so much to gardening that is community minded."

And those gardening communities have blossomed in recent years. The pastime saw a big boost in popularity during the pandemic, with more people having free time on their hands.

"We did see during the COVID-19 pandemic, people become reacquainted with their kitchens in a way that they hadn't been before. They were basically forced to because nothing else was open but their own kitchen," laughed Music.

"But this is where we were seeing people say, 'I'm baking sourdough bread, can I grow my own tomatoes, can I pickle these tomatoes?'"

And with ongoing supply chain issues and increased inflation affecting prices at the grocery store, the gardening boom continues.

In fact, a study earlier this year by Dal's Agri-Food Analytics Lab found 10 per cent of Atlantic Canadians planned to grow food for the first time this summer.

Music hopes their map will be able to give a more accurate breakdown of the prevalence of gardening in Nova Scotia, with the aim of expanding the project Canada-wide in the years to come.

"We're really hoping by the end of this we'll be able to go to the local government or the provincial government and say 'Here's how many people are growing food at home, and here's how we think you could help them help their community," she explained.

"It would be great if we could have really targeted and well run programs that prioritize food and help the community overall."

Meghan Groff

About the Author: Meghan Groff

Born in Michigan, raised in Ontario, schooled in Indiana and lives in Nova Scotia; Meghan is the editor for CityNews Halifax.
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