Annalena Small planted a huge garden this year.
It’s more than a hobby for the Grande Prairie, Alta., area mother — it’s a way to cut down on her growing grocery bill.
“What’s going on with these prices?” exclaimed Small. “You have three bags, maybe, and it’s $150, right?”
Small is on maternity leave and said the family is watching the food bill closely. She knows her daughter Lida will also start eating more, only driving up the cost of groceries.
Produce has spiked and Small said because of the soaring price of meat, the family has cut back and sometimes will go without.
“With COVID and increasing food prices, we thought it might be a good idea to grow your own food. And why not? It just tastes so much better and it’s a good way to save money on produce,” added Small.
More and more Canadian families have opted to plant gardens, said food researcher Sylvain Charlebois. At first, he said growing fruit and vegetables was a way to have more control over food security, but for many, gardening has now come down to dollars and cents.
“Pandemic gardening is a thing, absolutely, across the country. Over 20 per cent of Canadians have gardened for the first time ever over the last couple of years,” said Charlebois.
Charlebois is the director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University, and said six months ago researchers predicted the food inflation rate across the country would be around five per cent.
That’s roughly a $700 increase in grocery costs for a family of four.
“In dollars, that [inflation] is the highest amount we’ve ever predicted in 11 years,” said Charlebois.
Increasing demand from China has driven up prices, along with COVID-19 and the expense to ship food overseas.
Virtually all aisles of the grocery store have been hit with prices hikes.
Meat and produce volatility is always an issue, said Charlebois, but he added, “the bakery is another place where we’re seeing some increases for the first time in a decade. Prices are going up there by about five to seven per cent.”
Coffee, said Charlebois, is already up about 17 per cent since the beginning of the year and a pantry staple has also had a price spike.
“Peanut butter has been the same price for 20 years in Canada… this year it’s up six per cent so far.”
Charlebois has a few tips for shoppers trying to save money.
“Don’t buy anything from the end of the aisles, don’t show up hungry at the grocery store and make frozen food aisles your new best friend. Prices are quite stable there and you’d be surprised by the quality.”
If possible, added Charlebois, leave your children at home.
“Statistically, if you bring your kids under the age of 10, you end up buying things you wouldn’t have bought otherwise.”
Small said bulk buying has also helped her save money and she is excited to harvest her carrots, potatoes, beans and rhubarb.
This year she also planted haskap berries.
For the items she can’t grow on her own, Small is hoping the cost of those groceries stabilizes.
“The prices, it’s just a little crazy.”