During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, victory gardens emerged as a popular way for people to grow their own food and explore a healthy hobby.
Now a new program from UF/IFAS aims to understand what home growers need to be successful. The citizen science program, called Citi-Sci: Growing Food for Science, is currently recruiting participants in Alachua, Orange and Broward counties.
Residents can sign up online and must pick up their plants in a designated two-day window at their participating UF/IFAS Extension county office.
The citizen science program is led by Daniela Perez, a master’s student in the UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.
“I’ve volunteered and worked on a few community food and sustainability initiatives over the years,” Perez said. “I’ve always felt very strongly that all people deserve access to fresh, healthy food as well as other necessities to live a fruitful life. The citizen science approach is one modest tool that can enable us to connect with people in pursuit of that objective.”
The program is open to anyone regardless of gardening experience or economic resources. Participants only need a small sunny place outside to grow their plants and will receive instructions on reporting their experience and results via email or through voluntary monthly Zoom meetings.
“The pandemic has highlighted food security challenges in many communities, so citizen scientists will provide valuable insights to help address these problems locally”, said Celina Gómez, an assistant professor in the UF/IFAS department of environmental horticulture and Perez’s advisor.
“We hope to learn more about the wants and needs of home growers by measuring self-efficacy, satisfaction and gardening success,” Perez said. “Learning which tools people need to feel confident in their growing abilities is simply one of many avenues in lessening the burden of food insecurity for vulnerable populations.”
Participants will be asked to grow tomato plants at different stages of maturity. Compared with herbs and salad greens, tomatoes are relatively hard for home gardeners to grow. The researchers hope to learn whether the plants’ maturity influences how successful the home gardeners will be.
“This could provide opportunities for the horticulture industry to sell a value-added product to consumers,” Gómez said.