Coronavirus: Food shortage fears prompt shoppers to target seeds and country stores

A nursery manager says sales of lettuce, cauliflower and other vegetable seeds have skyrocketed.

A nursery manager says sales of lettuce, cauliflower and other vegetable seeds have skyrocketed. Photo: Greening Australia

While panicked shoppers have so far targeted supermarket shelves amid coronavirus fears, it seems they have now expanded their nets to include other sources of food.

An Adelaide nursery is reporting a significant increase in vegetable seed sales in the past fortnight.

There are also reports of city shoppers descending on country shops because of shelves being stripped bare in metropolitan areas.

In recent weeks, major supermarkets around the country have been running low on items including rice, pasta and toilet paper because of widespread stockpiling of goods in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Golden Grove nursery manager Steve Neale said people had shown an interest in growing their own fruit and vegetables as a precautionary measure.

“We’ve been selling a lot more seeds than normal … it’s intensified over the last few weeks, there’s no doubt about that,” he said.

“Certainly things like lettuces — and things like that that are quite quick growing, [such as] radishes — there’s quite a lot of things you can grow that you can harvest in a few weeks, and herbs that may not be readily available.

“Broccoli, cauliflowers, cabbages and silverbeet, things like that. Baby spinach as well … we’ve been selling quite a lot of mint and parsley and thyme.”

Other garden centres have reported the same trend.

“We’re ridiculously busy … veggie seedlings and seeds have been one of the big, big increases,” said Barossa nursery owner Erica Bartsch.

Ms Bartsch said some of the interest was also being driven by people looking for something to do should they be required to self-isolate.

“To stay at home for two weeks or longer, you really would want to do a few things,” she said.

The phenomenon is not confined to Australia, with reports of similar purchasing patterns in the United Kingdom.

Vegetable patches are being spruiked as a way of becoming more self-reliant. Photo: Oliver Brown

In a recent article for The Guardian, celebrity chef Adam Liaw recommended vegetable patches as a way of becoming more self-sufficient, suggesting that home gardeners could be “knee deep in homegrown fresh produce within a month or two”.

“If things really get bad, the garden growers will be better prepared for the future than the bunker-stockers,” Liaw wrote.

“Even if you don’t have a green thumb — or any actual space for a garden — it’s absurd that we are right now walking straight past overflowing baskets of fresh produce so that if the shops close we can live off cans of tuna.”

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Mr Neale said a backyard was not necessarily essential to growing food at home.

“There’s a huge selection of raised garden beds these days,” he said.

“You can get different sizes of them, they come with a winter cover that keeps them warm in the winter, so we’ve found those little portable veg gardens are quite popular.”

Despite the trend, the food industry has offered repeated reassurances to customers that the nation is not running low on supplies.

“We’re going through unprecedented times right now,” AusVeg SA chief executive officer Jordan Brooke-Barnett said.

“We don’t project any major food shortages moving forward, especially fresh produce.”

City shoppers swoop on country stores in buying frenzy

The shift towards seeds is happening as city shoppers swoop on country towns — in some cases chartering buses — to stock up in rural supermarkets.

“I live in a small town of 1,500 people 100 kilometres from Melbourne,” one person wrote on Twitter.

“Yesterday four tour buses arrived from Melbourne and 200 people descended on our supermarket and stripped the shelves of everything. Not one foodstuff left.”

Another said such behaviour was also occurring in areas of South Australia.

“I live 115 kilometres from the Adelaide CBD,” the user wrote.

“Three buses Tuesday, same over the weekend. We can’t even get bread and milk.”

Police enforce self-isolation

The SA Government has announced fines of up to $20,000 for people who fly into Adelaide Airport but flout self-isolation orders.

Police now have the power to check in on people at their listed homes.

“Orders like this are fundamentally reliant on people complying, and the vast majority do,” Health Minister Stephen Wade said.

“But there will be people who ignore, and spot checks are there for people who ignoring their obligations.”


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