Mr. George recalled a similar surge a decade ago, when the global economy cratered. “It also bred a lot of fear and uncertainty in people,” he said, “and I think it’s just the innate human reflex, that need to have more control over what you’re eating, what you’re growing, because who knows what tomorrow holds.”
Vendors have also noted a shift in their target audience. “Our core demographic in the past was retirees and semi-retirees,” Mr. Tingley said. “But with Covid, our demographic is getting younger and younger, with more people with young kids who want to teach them about gardening, or want to feed their kids fresh veggies.”
For Mark Wells, 52, and his wife, Magdalena Wells, 46, of West Milton, Ohio, building a greenhouse was a way to secure those fresh veggies. Like many Americans, they were alarmed in the spring when they saw the shelves at their grocery store picked clean — when they even wanted to go in the grocery store.
“At the time, if you were looking at produce, how many people touched it?” Mr. Wells said. “Did you want people touching all your produce and squeezing your melons and putting them back? We’re not germaphobes by any means. But you didn’t know anything back then.”
So, they decided to grow their own. The couple had the benefit of time: Before the pandemic, Mrs. Wells ran a cleaning service in Cleveland and Mr. Wells was working as a general contractor, two industries curtailed for months. The greenhouse gave Mr. Wells the chance to hire some of his staff to help him. “I didn’t lay people off,” he said. “I was able to keep everybody busy.”
While Mr. Wells was largely in charge of construction, which took about a month and a half, Mrs. Wells now runs it. Before he had finished installing the automatic vented windows and a fan, she planted several tomatoes that ended up dying in the heat. Since that first “overzealous” mistake, she has grown a new round of tomatoes, as well cucumbers, eggplants and onions, thanks to a curtain she installed on one side to further reduce heat. Now, with the change of season, she has started focusing on raising herbs like basil and dill.