Lockdown Lettuces; New research to examine potential of home food growing in response to COVID-19

Can growing food at home help households to be more resilient to future lockdowns by ensuring access to healthy foods? How much can we grow at home and does this have benefits for our health and wellbeing?

A new study, involving researchers from Lancaster University, the University of Liverpool, and Cranfield University, has been launched to examine the potential of home food growing to confer health, wellbeing and sustainability benefits in the light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

This is part of the two-year Rurban Revolution project, which is funded by the UKRI programme Global Food Security.

Lockdown in the UK saw an unprecedented rise in engagement with home food growing, likely motivated by concerns over food shortages. Applications for allotments also soared during the pandemic, suggesting a growing appetite for self-sufficiency and growing-your-own.

The inter-disciplinary team of researchers will use methods spanning plant, environmental and behavioural sciences to understand the potential benefits of growing food at home. Using a “Citizen Science” approach, the research will address a number of important questions. Does home food growing make people feel more secure in times of crisis, and improve diet and wellbeing? Is home grown food nutritious and safe to consume? How does home food growing impact on the natural environment? And what support do people need to be successful home growers?

Study participants will grow lettuces in their gardens, complete online questionnaires about their diet, wellbeing and experiences and monitoring their plant growth. Participants will collect their own soil and plant samples for nutritional and contaminant analysis, and the researchers will help monitor the air quality in the growing environment.

Project lead, Professor Jess Davies of Lancaster Environment Centre, said: “The initial lockdown phase has shone a spotlight on the importance of food and getting outdoors into nature for our health and wellbeing. Our initial research in the project suggests that urban food growing has potential to contribute to our food system resilience in the UK, as well as personal sense of resilience, and dietary health.

“With social distancing measures and intermittent restrictions likely to continue in the short and medium term, the interest and importance of food growing in urban areas is set to continue. We’re hoping to work with people setting out on home-growing projects at this time to understand the value that this provides under a crisis.”

“Our mixed-methods approach, combining surveys and interviews with citizen-generated data on plant/soil quality will enable us to gather critical information on household level responses to COVID-19,” said Dr Lingxuan Liu, lecturer in sustainability at Lancaster University and project co-investigator. “The findings will guide recommendations on how to support household food access and mental wellbeing through urban food growing during times of crisis.”

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