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Home food production helped combat hunger during the pandemic 

A new study has revealed the pivotal role of home and wild food production (HWFP) activities like gardening, hunting, fishing, foraging, and raising backyard poultry or livestock in combating food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic

The research was conducted by a collaborative team from the University of Vermont and the University of Maine. The results highlight the critical importance of home food production practices during extreme events, including pandemics and climate change-related incidents.

Focus of the study 

The team surveyed over 1,000 individuals residing in Vermont and Maine, regions known for their rural character, to assess food security levels and the sources of their food. 

The findings were eye-opening: both food insecurity and the engagement in home and wild food production activities saw a significant increase during the pandemic. 

Crucially, those who engaged in these activities were more likely to experience improved food security 9-12 months later, showcasing the tangible benefits of such practices.

Resilient food system 

The researchers hope that policymakers will consider how home and wild food production might lead to a more resilient food system. 

“Home and wild food production is not a silver bullet, but it is a potential solution set that has been largely overlooked,” said Professor Meredith Niles, who led the study.

Barriers to food access 

The research has also shed light on the various barriers to food access, especially for those experiencing poverty. According to Professor Rachel Schattman, the pandemic exacerbated these challenges through travel restrictions, stay-at-home orders, and supply chain disruptions. 

Despite the availability of food assistance programs, the contribution of self-provisioning practices to food security had not been thoroughly examined until now.

“Even during normal times, there are many barriers to food access especially for people experiencing poverty. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, there were additional barriers including travel restrictions, stay at home orders, and disruptions to the supply chain,” said Professor Schattman.

“While there were a variety of food assistance programs, no one had really looked at how self-provisioning things like hunting, gardening, canning, foraging and raising backyard animals contributed to food security.” 

Food security

The research not only confirms evidence about the rise of gardening and canning during the early days of the pandemic but also provides quantitative data to support these observations. 

“We were able to actually show, at a large scale with significant data, that people who did home and wild food production, especially gardening, in the early part of the pandemic, were more likely to be food secure 9 to 12 months later,” said Professor Niles. “It’s exciting because we haven’t really seen this scale of data before and over multiple time points to assess this issue.” 

“We’ve suspected that producing some of your own food through hunting, fishing, foraging, gardening helps people’s food security. This is the best evidence yet that we have that producing your own food makes a difference,” said study co-author Sam Bliss.

Broader implications 

The study’s findings suggest that individuals who became food insecure during the pandemic were more adept at recovering from food insecurity through HWFP, compared to those who were food insecure even before the pandemic.

This distinction raises questions about the challenges faced by chronically food insecure individuals in leveraging HWFP to improve their food security. 

“Our team is really interested to understand why chronically food insecure people in particular don’t seem to be able to use home and wild food production in the same way to improve food security as other people,” said Professor Niles. “We have some information on the barriers they face and are exploring other work to assess how to overcome these issues.” 

The study is published in the journal Scientific Reports

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