A new survey found that COVID-19 dramatically altered how people in Oregon’s Linn, Benton and Lincoln counties eat and think about food.
Among respondents in the three counties:
• 75% said they prepared more meals at home.
• 59% said the pandemic changed how they think about food.
• 44% said they changed how they shop.
• 43% said they’ve become interested in gardening.
• 35% said they eat more local food.
These findings were not surprising, because farmers and supermarkets reported many of these trends anecdotally, but this is the first time the region has substantial data to back up stories.
The survey was done by Ten Rivers Food Web, an Oregon group dedicated to fighting food insecurity and supporting local food systems. The surveyors, according to Heidi Noordjik, a small farms coordinator at Oregon State University, received 624 responses.
“What we found encouraging was the shift in how people think about their food because of COVID-19, their deeper understanding of the difference between a global and local food system and their commitment to supporting our local food economy,” the survey’s leaders said in a statement.
Local food was big in 2020, and experts say they anticipate that trend will continue.
During the year, residents of Linn, Benton and Lincoln counties bought more food from CSAs, shopped more at farmers markets and sought out local food co-ops.
A CSA, the acronym for community supported agriculture, involves customers pre-paying for crops that will be available in weekly installments through the harvest season.
This was reflected anecdotally. Throughout the year, numerous small-scale farmers told the Capital Press they were experiencing record CSA and other direct-to-consumer sales, and many organizers of farmers markets that pivoted their models saw huge sales growth.
Forty-three percent of respondents reported an increased interest in gardening and home food production. This was demonstrated by the “pandemic victory gardens” that swept the nation through the spring and summer.
Several Oregon nursery leaders in December told the Capital Press they had a strong year in sales of edibles, and many are planning to expand their fruit, vegetable and herb garden offerings in 2021 because customers seem to have a sustained interest.
Shopping habits changed, too. Of those who reported changes in their shopping behavior, 28% avoided big or crowded stores, 12% shopped by delivery or curbside pickup only and 8% limited their weekly shopping to one or a few stores.
The pandemic also changed the way nearly 60% of respondents think about food. Many said they thought more about where their food comes from and considered supporting local producers. Others became more aware of food insecurity because they or their friends had to use food pantries for the first time. Another 14% said the pandemic highlighted to them “the fragility and complexity of global food supply chains” in ways they hadn’t thought about before.
Oregon State University food experts say this is a key moment for farmers to tell their stories and reach out to consumers who had otherwise been somewhat oblivious about their food sources and are now more aware and interested.