The coronavirus pandemic has left many people with nowhere to go but back to the earth, and Sooke farmers are harvesting success from the changes in lifestyle.
Mary Alice Johnson, a farmer on Otter Point Road for more than 30 years, is selling 10 times the amount of seeds she normally would at this time of year.
Her seeds are wiped clean from store shelves, Johnson said, and she and other farmers can barely keep up with the orders coming in.
“In late March to April sales start to taper down, but since the pandemic broke out, people have been starting gardens,” said Johnson, owner of Full Circle Seeds and ALM Organic Farm.
“The demand has been so strong we haven’t even needed to go to Victoria markets to sell seeds and produce like we usually do.”
When the pandemic started, Johnson was concerned about selling enough produce and seeds to support her livelihood, as Seedy Saturday was also cancelled to adhere to physical distancing measures. Seedy Saturday is a local food growing event in Sooke in February and March that showcases local plant and seed vendors.
Much to Johnson’s surprise, she has not had to go anywhere to keep her business thriving, as it began pouring into her farm.
“So many people are coming by the farm, lined up down the road to pick up seeds or seedlings for their gardens, or to buy fresh produce. It’s a wonderful thing to have happened,” Johnson said.
“We have found it lovely to open the farm up twice a week for a couple of hours. We are selling more than we would at markets or Seedy Saturday lately.”
Teresa Willman, owner of Silver Cloud Farm in Sooke, shared a similar experience, saying plant sales have gone up, along with an interest in plants and gardening.
“About 40 per cent of the customers I see lately have never gardened before,” Willman said.
Normally Willman would sell her produce at markets, but since the pandemic began she has switched to an online ordering, delivery, and pick up style of business.
“Throughout this, we are realizing how that we don’t need to rely so much on things to come from somewhere else. It is good to know who you are buying food from, and growing your own food is an important skill. Sometimes we forget some of the basics,” Willman said.
“It’s funny, a lot of people are coming back to gardening, and this situation has pushed me the opposite way – from gardening to learning how to use Facebook.”
The circumstances of the coronavirus forced Willman to “think outside the box,” and build more of an online presence, helping her to connect with more than just her usual customers.
“Though the situation wasn’t great, it has shown people what is possible. A lot of people saw gardening as unattainable, or were scared to make that leap, but this hopefully has opened some minds,” Willman said.
Johnson agreed, noticing a lot more first-time gardeners have been stopping by her farm to buy seeds and plants.
“I love seeing people interested, I’m not sure what will come of this,” said Johnson, adding many of the new gardeners have tended to gravitate towards vegetable seeds, such as carrots and potatoes.
“Either big industry will come out on top, or people will say ‘no, let’s grow our own food,’ and decide to live more simply.”
Johnson said the pandemic has shined a light on how fragile the current system is, and how things can change.
“This situation has shown people the value of local food and growing food at home. The pandemic has reminded us of the importance of food security, and a way to achieve that security is through backyard gardens,” Johnson said.
“The pressure the virus has put on our system is a huge wake up call to what has already been happening with climate change.”
Johnson said during the spread of the coronavirus, people have been panicked about food, are spending time at home instead of working, and have a lot more time on their hands, which contributes to why so many people are starting gardens.
“When people aren’t so busy working they have time to think about what is important in life – food and family. Often we learn skills like gardening or cooking from our parents or grandparents. It’s all interconnected – spending time with loved ones and caring for the Earth,” she said.
“I hope people will see we can’t continue doing what we have done as a civilization. Instead of taking advantage, it’s time to take care of the Earth. I think that’s what is happening right now. People are waking up.”