News Release

Pandemic boosted gardening, hunting in NYS

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Cornell University

A survey of New York state residents found that nearly half of respondents increased the amount of time they spent on wild and backyard food in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, confirming anecdotes about increases in activities such as sourdough baking, fishing and gardening. People also tended to eat the food they produced, researchers found, possibly buffering the generally less healthful eating that was common at the time.

“This was the period of 2020 when you couldn't find tomato cages, seeds were out of stock, and there were reports about record numbers of people hunting and fishing,” said Kathryn Fiorella, assistant professor in the Department of Public and Ecosystem Health at Cornell University and senior author of “Wild and Backyard Food Use During COVID-19 in Upstate New York, United States,” published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition.

The researchers conducted a survey of more than 500 people across Broome, Cortland, Onondaga, Oswego, Cayuga and Seneca counties. Participants reported on their production and consumption of wild and backyard foods – from gardening, poultry rearing, foraging and hunting and/or fishing – during the pandemic compared with the previous year. Because respondents were recruited in a convenience sample, they likely overrepresented interest in these activities. They also tended to be whiter, more educated and wealthier than average New Yorkers.

Results showed that only a small number of participants were new to wild and backyard food-related pursuits, and across different activities, 40% to 46% of people increased the amount of time they invested. Conversely, a notable minority of respondents reduced their activities.

The researchers were especially interested to see whether people also consumed the food they produced. Indeed, they did. While diets generally worsened during the pandemic, gardening and poultry rearing for meat and eggs may have contributed to buffering those effects in the study region.

“People were actually consuming really meaningful quantities,” Fiorella said, including home-produced eggs and meat, and backyard-grown fruits and vegetables.

“People reported harvesting and eating wild and backyard foods to have more control over food availability, a key dimension of food insecurity, compared to before the pandemic,” said doctoral student Jeanne Coffin-Schmitt. “This was true even though the people we surveyed were almost entirely considered food secure based on their responses. We think this could show how much anxiety about conventional food systems the pandemic inspired.”


For additional information, read this Cornell Chronicle story. 

Cornell University has dedicated television and audio studios available for media interviews.


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