girl holding potted plant

Sow What: Millennials and Gardening

By Gabrielle Sanderson

Gardening has been a favorite activity for millenniums, dating all the way back to the Neolithic period in 9,000 B.C., where the science of agriculture was developed to produce plants instead of foraging for a complete diet (Driscoll, 2018). Trends in the past, especially surrounding economic downturns, show that people often turn to community gardens, fruit and vegetable production, and container gardening in order to save space, while also producing a substantial amount of food (Driscoll, 2018). Since the recession of 2007 to 2009, Millennials (born between 1981-2003) have started a trend among younger households by participating in gardening activities (Cohen and Baldwin, 2018). Currently, they occupy 29 percent of all gardening households and that number is expected to continue increasing at the same rate (Cohen and Baldwin, 2018).

According to the 2018 National Gardening Survey, Millennial households reached an all-time high in 2017 with their participation in gardening activities. Specifically, an interest in horticulture can be seen sweeping the Millennial Generation with their curiosity focused on fruit and vegetables, flower production, and indoor gardening; this data has been backed up by an EMG State Office survey, conducted by Gabrielle Sanderson, which analyzed Virginia Tech (VT) Millennial’s attitudes towards horticulture. The survey, which assessed the students’ awareness of and interest in different types of horticulture (e.g. indoor gardening, vegetable gardening, and sustainable horticulture), was conducted through a VT survey system and presented at the 2019 Food Dining Fair for Virginia Tech. There were 101 individuals that provided usable data for the analysis and out of the total, 79 responded that they might or would be interested in learning more about gardening.

The 2018 National Gardening survey states that “households spending the most on fruit trees in 2017 included those of age 18-34,” which accounts for 43% of the sales recorded in that year. Expanding off that data, the Virginia Tech students that participated in our survey were given the option to pick from a variety of horticulture categories and select those that most appealed to them. We expected that the students would show significant interest in indoor gardening and sustainable horticulture, yet the most popular categories chosen were Fruits/Vegetables (72), Flowers (62), and Indoor Gardening (51). The interest in fruits and vegetables, represented in the data collected, shows that Millennials are intrigued by the idea of growing their own food. Michelle Sakesena and AnneMarie Kuhns, from Produce Business, state that “the ERS (Economic Research Service) report suggest Millennials are devoting a larger percentage of their grocery bill to fruits and vegetables than Generation X and Baby Bomber shoppers” (Saksena and Kuhns, 2019). This might be because Millennials responded to the recession by “allocating more of their food budget to fruit and vegetable grocery store purchases as a means of cost saving” rather than buying food from second party providers (Saksena and Kuhns, 2019).

man in garden

Millennials occupy 29% of gardening households.

In addition to an increased interest in growing food from home, Millennials in our srvey also demonstrated an interest in Indoor Gardening. The interest in Indoor Gardening, which was represented by 50 percent of those surveyed, includes topics in indoor plants and succulents. Taylor Bryant, a commenter on the 2016 National Gardening Report stated that Millennials are even “out-greening their parents in some departments, with 37 percent of millennials growing plants and herbs indoors compared to 28 percent of Boomers” (Bryant, 2017). This may be because fewer Millennials are buying homes, but rather they are renting or living in apartments; thus, the need for indoor gardens has become increasingly more substantial and that popularity is predicted to grow in strength. Judith de Graff, co-author of Urban Jungle: Living and Styling with Plants, does not believe that the popularity of gardening will fade from Millennials, yet does state that “it will probably change over time, along with the kinds of plants that are trendy…I think in 10 years, it will be different, but there will still be lots of plants in people’s homes” (Bryant, 2017).

The reason that Millennials’ interest in gardening is so significant is that “millennials are now the largest living generation in the United States, surpassing even the Baby Boomers, according to the U.S Census Bureau” (Saksena and Kuhns, 2019). They help to influence buying power, consumer product production, and can even help to influence the Extension Master Gardener Program. Based on this research and our own survey data, the EMG State office hopes to be able to provide more directed guidance on landscapes to Millennials, develop improved teaching and demonstration gardens, and be able to appeal to more diverse age groups for educational seminars in the community. The Extension Master Gardener Program will better be able to provide resources for younger generations to get the information they want on various gardening topics and be able to reach a different demographic based on how Millennials prefer to receive information.

According to our survey, over half of the participants stated that they learn the most information through a physical style, which involves performing physical activities to learn, rather than listening or watching a lecture. This shows that hands-on activities and workshops on vegetable gardening or growing indoor plants would a good way to educate younger demographic generations because of their demonstrated interest in the topics and their favored learning style. Additionally, the VT students who responded to our survey stated that they preferred to receive notifications or information through social media, which includes Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. This is helpful, because it allows the EMG State Office to see how we can specially design our outreach and marketing efforts for younger demographics and appeal to Millennials specifically.  Just as the Millennials have emerged as an influential buying power in the gardening community, the Extension Master Gardeners can provide horticultural education to this the growing demographic and help to better inform, educate, and inspire future generations with best gardening practices. Not only will our survey help improve the direction of our state program over the coming years, but we hope it will also inspire Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners throughout the commonwealth to branch out and to reach a different age demographic.

References

Bryant, T. (2017). So, You’re A Millennial Obsessed With Houseplants? Join The Club. [online] NYLON. Available at: https://nylon.com/articles/millennial-house-plants-obsession [Accessed 26 Feb. 2019].

Cohen, P. and Baldwin, I. (2018). 2018 National Gardening Survey. GardenResearch.com, (]), pp.36-0315-36-0315.

Driscoll, S. (2018). Gardening. Research Starters.

Saksena, M. and Kuhns, A. (2019). Millennials Paving The Way For Produce Consumption Uptick – Produce Business. [online] Produce Business. Available at: https://www.producebusiness.com/millennials-paving-way-produce-consumption-uptick/ [Accessed 26 Feb. 2019].

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