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Demand surges for chickens, garden veggies as shoppers look beyond grocery store shelves

A Sacramento feed store will buy nearly 2,000 chicks only to have them snatched up in a couple hours, and some nurseries can't keep keep their veggies in stock.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — When panic buying wiped out the shelves of supermarkets, it seemed to push people off the grid as they tried relying less on the supply chain and more on what they can do with their own two hands.

“Usually, I order about 1,500 to 1,800 chicks a week, and that will get me through the weekend up to… Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, I’ll still have some female chicks,” said Connie Skufca, owner of Bradshaw Feed and Supply in Sacramento. “Now, they’re gone in two hours.”

She saw the sudden surge in customers start the same day the coronavirus shutdowns happened, and, weeks later, they still haven't stopped coming in.

Skufca said many of them were first-time customers, and she gave buyers all the information they’d need. She just hopes they know what they’re getting themselves into.

“People aren’t getting eggs in the store, so they want to get their own eggs and produce their own,” said Skufca. “But they have to realize, its going to take five to six months to do that.”

Over at Big Oak Nursery in Elk Grove, Julia Daehling-Oldfield saw a similar trend, a sudden surge of people wanted to grow their own food.

“We always have sold vegetables in the past,” said Daehling-Oldfield, owner of the nursery. “But we’ve probably sold three times over the amount as the normal year. We’ve always sold blueberries and raspberries and citrus but, this year, we’ve sold out.”

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Daehling-Oldfield thinks she understands the behavior.

“People feel that they can control it by planting their own garden, their own vegetables,” she said.

The sudden surge in interest for gardening is reminiscent of the World War I Victory Garden, where - in a mirror image of the times - people were concerned about food security and a virus pandemic, says Dr. Rose Hayden Smith, an expert in victory gardens.

"It does give people a sense of control," said Hayden Smith. "It’s something positive they can do in a time where it really feels like things are out of our control.” 

The coronavirus pandemic has made many aspects of life feel uncertain for many people. To compensate, some resorted to controlling what they can. Experts say this is why so many people hoarded toilet paper at the beginning of the pandemic.

At the very least, she says supply chain concerns brought about by the panic buying waves had a role to play, even if that role might be a difficult one to quantify.

“It was a nudge when they went to grocery stores and went ‘huh, there aren’t products on the shelves,' so I think it was definitely a factor for some people,’” said Hayden Smith.

Even for a gardening expert like herself, Hayden Smith says she was caught off guard by the sudden surge in demand. She has had to find other places to buy seed from because many places in Ventura County were sold out or not selling it.

In Elk Grove, Big Oaks Nursery is enjoying the surge in sales, but Daehling-Oldfield still hopes people would use common sense while shopping.

“I don’t think you’re going to eat a whole entire flat of cucumbers or beans," Daehling-Oldfield said. "Let’s leave some on the shelf for the guy that’s behind you and let them have a chance to grow something too.”

She says just being at the nursery is the medicine a lot of people need.

“They do come in, walk in and they look panicked and a little worried,” said Daehling-Oldfield. “But then being here for a little while, I think it calms them down.”

Skufka said shoppers have been very considerate and respectful overall, and she sees a silver lining through it all.

“People are planting more gardens, now they’re getting chickens. I think we’ve come back to family again, and I hope it stays that way somewhat,” said Skufca.

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