COVID19 is already disrupting global food supply chains

I am both a vegetable gardener and a writer, and I’ve been thinking of writing a how-to book about growing your own food at home for years. What has spurred me to do it now is the COVID19 pandemic:

  • I do not have confidence in global food security.
  • I don’t trust that the food supply chains will continue to work
  • I believe that everyone needs to know how to be more self-sufficient, and be able to grow at least some of your own food.

Because we may not always be able to buy it.

In most of the developed world, a huge portion of our food is shipped in from elsewhere. Here in Canada, much of our fresh produce (like lettuce, tomatoes, strawberries, corn, and more) comes from California, especially in winter. And of course many of the foods that cannot be grown easily here, like citrus and rice, and spices like ginger and turmeric, come from farther abroad, especially India and Asia.

Well, here are graphs of daily new COVID19 cases in California (top) and India (lower) as of today. (Graphs from Johns Hopkins University).

Case growth is still exponential.

This pandemic is nowhere near over.

Many of the regions with rapid growth of COVID19 cases are major food exporters. We are not yet even seeing what their maximum case rates, or peak hospitalization numbers, or amount of deaths will be.

And we have no idea what the effects will be on their labour forces, or what that will mean for food production or transport.

Do you believe that places with exponential growth of COVID19 cases will be able to continue to supply you with food?

I am not saying that we will run out of food all together. (Although it is possible – especially in densely populated cities). More probably we will just be stuck with fewer options: more canned and frozen foods, minimal fresh produce, and few or no imported items.

In fact, this is actually already happening.

Last week, Dave and I had to travel to our nearest city (Victoria, British Columbia), for a medical appointment. I use our city trips to buy specialty supplies, like specialty Asian ingredients that we cannot get in our small town: for example, Indian spices and kaffir limes and fresh turmeric root and lemon grass and fresh Indian curry leaves.

But I could barely find anything!

Each place I went to told me the same thing: For months, since COVID19 became a thing, we have not been able to get those fresh items. They did not have kaffir lime leaves or curry leaves – nor were they expecting them.

And none of the small specialty Asian groceries I usually go to had any fresh turmeric. Same thing, they had run out and weren’t expecting any more in. Only after extensive driving around and searching was I eventually able to find some at two “big-box” grocery stores.

I’ve been growing my own food – as in the “staple veggies” – for decades. In the last couple of years, I have been branching out to learn how to grow the more exotic foods and spices, too: plants that are not usually grown commercially in Canada. (That’s my curry leaf tree, at the top of this post, and my nigella flowering, below).

I think I am probably one of the first people to grow rice in Canada (not harvesting amounts that are worth trying to cook, but what I call a “technical success” – all part of the learning curve!).

I have become really good at growing quinoa, and corn and beans for drying and storing. Now I’m working on a lot of the exotic foods and flavours: Indian spices like cumin and fenugreek and nigella/kalonji, citrus and coffee trees (indoors), curry leaf and lemon grass, and now ginger and turmeric too.

To me, experimenting with different fruits and vegetables and spices, whether in your garden or just in pots, is a big part of the fun of growing your own food at home.

With all of the insecurity about whether our national and global food supply chains will continue to work, it gives me some calm knowing that not only can I provide our household with the staples from my little backyard garden patch – but that if the you-know-what hits the fan, we’ll be eating a good variety of spicy and flavourful foods here too!

Stay tuned for the Part 2 of this post, coming up tomorrow, documenting my efforts to grow ginger and turmeric (both heat-loving tropical plants) in containers here in definitely-not-tropical Canada!

Happy gardening! If you want to learn how to be more self-sufficient by growing your own fruit, vegetables and spices in your backyard garden (or even just in a few containers on your patio) please contact me to sign up for updates!

Published by Jacqueline Windh

I'm a writer, photographer, and radio broadcaster who is concerned about our planet and how we live our lives - hoping my work helps people to find new ways of thinking about issues such as personal health, wilderness, the environment, food security, thinking about the future. These things are all connected, you know...

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