As the longtime host of Nebraska’s “Backyard Farmer” gardening show, Kim Todd is used to having a packed schedule and overflowing email inbox.
The past six months, however, have been unlike anything she’s seen before.
“I have 102 emails in my inbox right now, and I think the high in a single week was something like 240 emails during the peak of summer,” said Todd, who also serves as associate professor of agronomy and horticulture at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. “What we’ve seen this year — and we haven’t actually finalized the August numbers yet — is an increase of over 50% from 2019 in terms of questions being submitted to the show.”
As the COVID-19 pandemic pushes more people outside, “Backyard Farmer” has seen a surge of new viewers searching for gardening and landscaping advice. The show recently reached 9 million views on its YouTube channel, marking a new milestone in its 68-year history.
“The overwhelming response from our viewers has been, ‘We’re so glad you’re on the air. We’re so glad that you’re still available to us.’ It’s really great that we have such loyal viewers, and now it’s pretty obvious that we’re getting new ones, as well, whether that’s through Facebook, YouTube, on NET or our website,” Todd said.
“Backyard Farmer” is the nation’s longest-running locally produced television series. Airing weekly on NET, Nebraska’s PBS and NPR stations, the show draws from a panel of experts to answer viewer questions on insect pests, disease, turf, fruits and vegetables, as well as landscape design and general horticulture topics.
“The majority of our viewers are in Nebraska, but we also have some in Iowa, South Dakota, Wyoming and Missouri,” Todd said. “Usually, the ones that are really out of state are more Facebook and email questions. We will get an occasional one from the East Coast that discovered us.”
Typically, “Backyard Farmer” begins in April and ends in early September to make room for NET’s Husker football show “Big Red Wrap-Up.” However, with the Big Ten season delayed this year, the show has been extended through Oct. 8.
“Our viewers have been saying for years, ‘Gosh, why do you end so early when fall is still landscape season?’ Now we’ve gotten an opportunity to keep going a little bit longer, which is nice,” Todd said.
Another change to the show is the cancellation of its annual traveling exhibitions.
“The one thing that all of us miss, and that includes our NET producers, our crew and everybody, is we haven’t been able to go on the road. Typically, we do at least three shows across the state during the summer,” Todd said. “I know that whatever community we land in each season is pretty excited to have us come, so hopefully next year we’ll be back visiting our viewers face-to-face.”
Todd said the hard work of NET staff, who have incorporated social distancing measures and stayed flexible to keep the show on the air, has made all the difference over the past six months.
“It’s so excellent that NET figured out how to let us actually have a show this year, with the university shutting down essentially right before our season started,” Todd said.
Helping people from across the country dig into gardening and find a respite from the pandemic, she said, has been an incredibly rewarding experience.
“To see the exponential growth in people who have either never gardened or never landscaped, or who may have been interested in it before and are now stuck at home and don’t have anything else to do, is really neat,” Todd said. “It’s really great to be their resource that they turn to.”