Growers notice renewed interest in veggie gardening

 In Business

It is safe to assume that people may be spending more time in their own yards this summer. With no travel plans, limited access to attractions and patios, we will have no choice but to enjoy the sights and sounds of own back yards.
There may be a lot of people trying their hand at gardening for the first time, or returning to it for the first time in a while.
All evidence indicates there is an uptick in home gardening: Seed companies are warning of a delay in shipments and local growers are fielding questions from newbie gardeners.
The motivation is twofold: A change in the way we shop for groceries, and the fact that we will be home to till and weed, and hopefully reap the benefits of our labour.
Because people can’t visit the farm and browse through the local commercial greenhouses, as they normally would, local nurseries are having to adapt, scrambling to create an online shopping platform, which means inputting all of their inventory into a digital format.
Heidi Sterrenburg, of Rural Roots Nursery and Market Garden, has been running a CSA for 11 years and was gardening long before that. She starts her day with a quick peek in the greenhouse, but with schools closed and their daughter at home, the Sterrenburgs are sharing parenting duties while adapting their operations.
Edwin tends to the dairy goat farm, Heidi manages the nursery, and five-year-old daughter Blythe is helping out where she can.
Sterrenburg said she is busy fielding inquiries, and is planning to be ready by the May long weekend, traditionally her opening day.
“I hate the denigrating of the Canadian food system, because it is one of the best in the world, but I think this has maybe made us feel more vulnerable than we are,” said Sterrenburg of the pandemic. At the same time, she said, it may have sparked a resourcefulness in us.
As for gardening advise, she says, “Just go for it. There may be some things that would be called a failure but it’s never a failure because if noting else, you will appreciate where your food comes from a little bit more.”
“I used to complain about the price of cauliflower until I tried to grow cauliflower,” said Sterrenburg. “If you love [gardening], it’s wonderful, and if you hate it and you never want to do it again, hopefully what remains, is that it actually is hard work. It’s never been easier or safer or cheaper for us to get good food so we are very lucky.”
She said the physical labour is probably really good for most people right now, saying you will sleep like a baby after a day of gardening.
“There are no downsides, for your physical health, mental health… It’s good to cultivate beauty.”
At Cut and Dried Flower Farm in Glencairn, Katie Dawson also launched an online sales platform, adjusting and tweaking as they went.
When the economic shutdown happened in March, the nursery had already been operating for a month. Dawson said they had to make a decision – shut down or keep going. As growers were an essential workplace, they chose to carry on and put in place measures to keep employees safe and distanced.
“When the going gets tough, the tough get growing, was one phrase that was thrown around,” said Dawson, laughing.
Cataloguing the inventory for online sales was a huge learning curve and a lot of work, she said. She has had to hire additional staff and bring in family to help, but all things considered, she said she has had a lot of help from her excellent team.
In the first week, vegetables made up probably 90 per cent of orders.
“That was the end of April and people were already wanting to make sure that they had their tomatoes and vegetables,” said Dawson.
She said she is getting orders from people who haven’t had a veggie garden in the past, some of whom have attempted to grow their own seedlings at home, with and without success.
“I think it’s been on the up anyways for the past five years but I think this year it’s going to become even more popular,” said Dawson.
She said, for the most part, people seem to be approaching it with confidence, maybe growing a little extra and trying new things. She expects the interest will translate to an increase in canning and preserving this fall.
“I think the virus has made people reconsider where there food does come from,” said Dawson, adding news of about labour challenges on farms has made people want to be more self-reliant.
She said from a business perspective, this year is about getting through the extra work and extra cost, and thinking long term.
“We have basically turned our whole system upside down,” said Dawson. “We have disassembled the traditional system of selling and rebuilt it so it can work for this year and obviously it has taken a lot of work, blood, sweat and tears but we are doing that so we can still be here next year, and the year after.”
She said they do have great customers who have expressed their appreciation and gratitude that they can still get their plants.
“One thing we are finding sad is that no one can see inside the greenhouses and it’s so lovely. And people love walking in amongst everything,” said Dawson.
This year, the greenhouse doors are open but people will have to look from their vehicles.
Sterrenburg said she will be missing that part too, the community aspect. She said the word community is part of a CSA – Community Supported Agriculture – but it will all have to be done differently this year.
Rural Roots is open for pick-up on the long weekend. The online order form is coming soon to www.ruralrootsnursery.ca.
Cut and Dried Flower Farm is only doing a drive in service, having had all of their pick-up slots booked up in the first two weeks of online ordering. For details, visit cutdriedflowerfarm.com.

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