The No. 1 reason people say they garden is "because it makes me happy."

That's one of the initial results from an ongoing survey being conducted by the LSU AgCenter to see how and why people are gardening during the coronavirus pandemic.

While you can still participate at bit.ly/lsuaggardensurvey, already the results from the more than 1,900 people who have filled out the survey are proving interesting.

In addition to the happiness factor, people reported they are gardening to help relieve stress and provide relaxation, along with physical activity.

So far, 60% of participants answered they had been gardening for more than 10 years, 11% for five to 10 years, 17% for one to five years and 10% said they are first-time gardeners.

Some 46% report spending five to seven days a week gardening, while 35% said they are gardening three to five days a week.

When it comes to gardening information, the Cooperative Extension Service is still the go-to source for information on gardening needs, along with the LSU AgCenter website, social media, news articles and local agents.

The Cooperative Extension Service dates to the Civil War, when, in 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act, setting up the land-grant college system. The mission was to educate people in agriculture, home economics, mechanical arts and other occupations through research and education. LSU obtained its status as a land-grant university in 1877.

In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Smith-Lever Act, which established the Cooperative Extension Service to “help people help themselves by taking the university to the people.”

This program was a cooperative plan between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and universities with funding from federal, state and local sources to help provide quality research-based science, education and problem-solving for farmers and citizens alike.

Back then, more than 50% of the population lived in rural areas, with 30% being farmers. The Cooperative Extension Service helped make the agricultural revolution possible by helping increase farm productivity.

During WWI, extension agents helped farmers plant more wheat, taking wheat acreage from 47 million in 1913 to 74 million acres in 1919. They also taught homemakers to can, dry and preserve food from their homesteads and gardens.

When the Great Depression hit, agents taught farming techniques and educated farmers on how to run their farms as businesses, teaching accounting, marketing and organizing buying and selling cooperatives. They promoted home gardening and poultry production to improve nutrition as well as sewing and canning and preserving food as a way to help families generate income.

During WW II, the focus again was on increasing food production, which went up 38% by 1944, despite labor shortages, as a result, in part, of the extension service’s advocacy for victory gardens.

Fewer than 2% of Americans farm today, and only 17% live in rural areas. Cooperative extension programs operate in all 50 states.

In the century since its inception, the extension service has and continues to adapt to meet the challenges of our times, from water scarcity and climate change to decreasing pollinator populations and increasing urban and suburban populations. Through new technologies and new approaches to research and education such as precision agriculture, the service continues to help farmers increase production.

Agents continue putting on community events; conducting lectures and field days; and working to meet the demands of farmers, homeowners and consumers. Many of these services have been moved to virtual platforms to meet the restrictions created by the pandemic.


Email questions to gardennews@agcenter.lsu.edu.