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‘Lost art’ of gardening an alternative to pass time during pandemic

GROW YOUR OWN — Iannetti’s Garden Center in Burgettstown remains open to supply people with everything from flowers to vegetable plants. In wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, people are turning to gardening as an activity that can be done at home and a way to grow one’s own food. -- Andrew Grimm

BURGETTSTOWN — Those concerned about a food shortage, looking for a way to avoid crowded grocery stores or just simply looking for an activity to do at home during the COVID-19 pandemic have seemingly begun turning back to a not-so-new idea — gardening.

Iannetti’s Garden Center, located at 728 Steubenville Pike in Burgettstown, is still open and providing supplies for such folks.

“It’s a great thing to do. If they have kids at home, it’s a great opportunity for the kids to learn about gardening, and even the parents, too,” said Scott Weaver, owner and president of Iannetti’s Garden Center. “We’re in a place where not all the parents know a lot about gardening, aren’t gardeners. We’re here (to help).”

Weaver noted that recent generations have gotten away from the craft of growing their own food, but sales of vegetable plants have increased recently and more people are starting to explore the craft.

“I think it’s great to see people learning to garden,” he said. “Flower gardening is important, but vegetable gardening is very important. It’s a lost art. In the last couple generations, we’ve gotten away from gardening. Most of the people that garden now are older folks. The people that grew up in the Depression and the war era, they knew they had to grow their own if they wanted to eat well.

“Now, hopefully this will give us a resurgence of people getting out there and learning how to grow their own food. There are nothing better than fresh fruit and vegetables.”

United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service says farming peaked in 1935, with 6.8 million farms. That number has decreased to just over 2 million as of 2017, according to the USDA website.

In the uncertain times of a pandemic, concerns over the food supply are on the minds of people across the country. Experts have not said there will be a shortage, but people are still preparing for the possibility.

Another aspect that Weaver focused on was safety. Not only does growing one’s own food sources prevent trips to the grocery store and potential exposure, it also ensures one knows the food is safe.

“You know it’s safe, you know you’re not getting tainted lettuce from your garden,” Weaver said. “You’re not getting tainted anything from your garden like you might get at the grocery store.

“Think about the E. Coli situation with the lettuce last year, we get those kinds of situations even when we’re not in a global pandemic situation.”

Gardening is being turned to in other states, too.

Ray Burns, who owns and operates Zdrowy Farms in Posen, Mich., told The Alpena News preparing for a food shortage is smart, noting that the coronavirus and shutdowns have created uncertainty.

“We’re ramping it up this year,” Burns said. “The world can change. The world has changed a lot in a week, and it’s going to continue to change.”

Like Weaver, Burns also cited the mentality from during World War II as an example for today’s situation.

“We literally won that war because we fed troops all the way around the world from what we could harvest,” he said.

Mary Centala, who owns and operates Heritage Acres greenhouse outside of Alpena, Mich., also cited the Depression mindset.

“Our world has changed tremendously in just the last couple months,” Centala said. “My parents grew up during the Depression, and they used to talk about various things they had to do, because they had to do them.

“Even if the world changes and you don’t need that food, it doesn’t hurt to arm ourselves with the knowledge of how to do it.”

With the United States importing around 15 percent of its overall food supply, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Burns would like to see the country start to supply more of its own food again.

According to the Food and Drug Administration’s website, more than 200 countries or territories and about 125,000 food facilities plus farms supply approximately 32 percent of the fresh vegetables, 55 percent of the fresh fruit Americans consume.

“Reconnecting with our neighbors in our own local economy is really – and basing it on local food – I think it’s going to be one of the most precious commodities available,” Burns said. “Even if the world straightens out in a month.”

At Iannetti’s, precautions are being taken to keep those wishing to get supplies to garden safe.

“We’re outside mostly, we’re very spaced out here at the garden center,” Weaver said. “We are keeping everything wiped down with disinfectant. We’re keeping everything clean, everywhere people are touching.”

A gardener does not even have to come into the store if they do not want to, with a new service the store is providing for customers in light of the pandemic concerns.

“We’re doing a grab-and-go service,” Weaver said. “If people want to just come to the parking lot, they can call ahead with an order, come to the parking lot to pick it up, and we will bring it out to their car with no contact.”

Weaver, too, hopes the new found skills new gardeners are acquiring will continue after the pandemic has subsided.

“I think it is going to be a good learning experience for people and I hope they continue to use it going forward,” he said.

(Darby Hinkley of The Alpena News contributed to this report.)

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