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Inflation is wreaking havoc, and restaurants and home chefs are feeling the burn. The Commerce Department recently reported that the Personal Consumption Expenditures price index increased by 6.6% for the year ending in March. It was the highest rate since January 1982, far outpacing other recent figures.

The Current State of Things

Energy costs have skyrocketed in the first quarter of 2022 following the ongoing war in Ukraine, rising 33.9% for the year ended in March. Food prices rose 9.2% over the same period. Stripping out food and energy costs, the PCE inflation measure rose 5.2%, a slightly slower pace than the 5.3% recorded a few months ago. This index is the Federal Reserve’s preferred measure of inflation, but the slight tick lower is unlikely to change the Fed’s policy path. 

CNN also found that roughly 65% of the 200 food banks in the Feeding America network reported seeing a greater demand for food assistance in March, with an average increase of 15% more people. About 30% of food banks said they had served the same number of clients.

Additionally, according to the most recent federal data, the cost of food eaten at home jumped 10% over the year ending in March. Meat soared 14.8%, while milk increased 13.3%. Eggs rose 11.2%, while fresh fruits became 10.1% more expensive. Rice rose 8.6%, and bread cost 7.1% more. To put this in perspective, CNN notes that a case of canned corn now costs $26, doubled from $13 just two years ago. Emma Inman, chief impact officer at the Southeastern Virginia food bank, which works with 168 food pantries, soup kitchens, and other feeding programs, said that this had led her food bank to limit orders to up to 20 cases per pantry, down from 30 cases last year. However, the pantries may not receive the full order at times, if supplies are even more limited and if they don’t put in their requests promptly. This is just the tip of the iceberg. 

And we can’t ignore that gas prices have been at their peak over the last few months as well. 

Consumers are slowly beginning to spend more cautiously, cutting corners whenever possible. Coupled with the aftermath of new pandemic hobbies, and soaring food prices, many Americans have turned to home gardening to cut some costs. 

The New Wave of Home Gardening

During the pandemic, an estimated 200 million Americans began gardening, a trend bolstered by inflation. Additionally, a survey by Garden Pals, a community for gardeners, found that 42% of Americans have recently begun growing their own produce.

Many new gardeners are starting to replace grocery trips with a harvest in their own backyards. And according to the Garden Pals survey, two-thirds of Americans said they would have no problem growing their food, and over 60% said they could live off the land if they had to.

The 2021 National Garden Association report says that diligent home gardening can actually yield roughly $600 of produce a year. Not too shabby considering the affordable costs of most gardening supplies. The report also found that tomatoes, potatoes and cucumbers are the most popular products people are growing, and it’s no coincidence that those particular produce grow easily indoors or in small gardens. 

According to the 2021 Garden Media Garden Trends Report, American gardeners spent a record $47.8 billion in lawn & garden retail sales. Average household spent a record of $503 (up almost $100 over the previous year) on gardening goods. This included everything from bulbs to furniture. The study also found that the 35-44 year demographic had the highest mean spending of $608.54. This was highest among all the age groups in 2019.

A number of gardening statistics in the U.S. also show that the demand for seeds surged astronomically. The demand was so high that the 144-year-old Burpee Seeds company temporarily stopped taking orders for the first time in its history. 

Possible Solutions 

Congress and the USDA have already pumped more funds and food to address the national rise in hunger throughout the pandemic, but Feeding America says additional help is needed to contend with rising inflation and ongoing supply and logistics issues.

In response, the White House will host the first food insecurity conference in 50 years to address growing food supply concerns. The organization is asking lawmakers to provide $900 million in additional appropriations to support food banks and to extend the pandemic nutrition waivers that made it more accessible for children to get meals at school.

The USDA said it is investing $2 billion in the nation’s emergency food system this fiscal year. This includes around $490 million in base allocation from Congress, and  a $500 million temporary boost and $400 million for states to purchase local food for distribution through emergency food providers directly.

An interest in home gardening has been bolstered by the pandemic and prolonged by the skyrocketing inflation. Economic disarray, unfortunately, shows no signs of slowing any time soon. Still, the new interest in home gardening means high revenues for seed sellers and mom and pop gardening shops nationwide.

Photo by Crystal Joon Unsplash