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Could pandemic-era boost in gardening lead to better health?

 Cornell University researchers found an uptick in gardening, fishing, and hunting during the pandemic.
Cornell University researchers found an uptick in gardening, fishing, and hunting during the pandemic.

It’s not hard to remember the period of the pandemic when everything from tomato cages to seeds were hard to find. And now Cornell researchers are supporting that anecdotal evidence with data.

Katie Fiorella, an assistant professor in the Department of Public and Ecosystem Health, said they asked 505 upstate New Yorkers about their levels of gardening, backyard poultry production, foraging, fishing, and hunting during the pandemic.

"We found that a good chunk of people, maybe about a third to more, were doing these activities about the same as they had done them before, but the big bumps were really coming from people who said they were spending a little more time or much more time doing these activities," she said.

While the study did not evaluate trade-offs in people’s diets, it did find almost everyone who was producing food was also consuming that food. Fiorella said, that in many cases, the consumption was substantial, especially produce from gardens and eggs.

"Eggs and poultry, and hunted meat and fished fish are really great sources of micronutrients. They're really important foods. And likewise fruits and vegetables (are) really nutrient-rich foods as well," she said.

Fiorella also points to the social-emotional benefits of these activities, including becoming part of new networks, having the ability to share food with loved ones, and just being outside.

"For a lot of people, and certainly for a lot of people doing these activities for a long time, it's an amazing way to connect with the environment, to connect with the land, to be out in nature."

Fiorella said she hopes the study highlights the importance of agencies like Cornell Cooperative Extension and the Department of Environmental Conservation. She also hopes it can encourage others to try activities like gardening, fishing, and hunting to help ward off feelings of food insecurity in the future.

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