After much discussion about the reopening of community gardens during the current pandemic, those who oversee such gardens here in Kingston are eagerly readying to open for their season of production.
After Kingston City Council discussed the matter of the reopening of community gardens, which had been deemed non-essential by the provincial government in the first stages of government orders during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ontario Government announced that community gardens had been added to the list of essential services on Saturday, Apr. 25, 2020.
It was a decision that those who work in Kingston’s community gardens whole-heartedly endorsed. Ayla Fenton, GROW Garden Coordinator for Loving Spoonful, expressed that, when the provincial government included community gardens on their list of recreational spaces that were to close in March, the matter became an important issue for those who know the impact community gardens have on local food security. Loving Spoonful has been advocating to have the decision reassessed and the gardens properly classified.
“I think the right to be self-sufficient and grow one’s own food to sustain health and well-being is an essential human right,” Fenton said, noting that community gardens also play an essential role for those who do not have yards or spaces big enough to grow their own food.
Fenton said that, in reopening the community gardens, procedures and protocols are already being put in place. The guidelines mirror those enacted at other places and workspaces that are currently functioning under the provincial orders in response to the pandemic.
Garden organizers will each decide how many people their gardens can accommodate within the limits of social distancing, and issues regarding the cleanliness of surfaces is not of a serious concern due to the nature of the gardens being outdoors. Despite that, the topics of handwashing and sanitizing surfaces or items that are often touched will be included in the new procedures at community gardens, Fenton explained.
Because the community gardens within Kingston and the area vary in size – some are small and limited to two growing bins, and others are much larger, containing several combined growing plots – the number of members that can tend to and use the gardens differ greatly. For this reason, the guidelines for community gardens at this time will not be the same across all gardens.
And residents can expect to see community garden members out and working as early as this week, Fenton said. Crediting their hard work, Fenton explained that many community garden coordinators had been designing plans for reopening prior to the new governmental decision. Because of this, she believes some of the gardens were able to begin to work on physically reopening as soon as the decision was announced.
“In 2019, Kingston’s community gardens donated over 6,000 lbs of fresh produce, which got distributed to vulnerable populations through meal programs, Loving Spoonful’s Fresh Food Market Stands, and other partner agencies,” Fenton said. “The re-opening of the community gardens is extremely important, especially now during the current pandemic. Stores are having increasing troubles with stock levels, and that is exacerbated by the fact that some members of the community couldn’t afford the price of fresh produce even before the pandemic.”
According to the City of Kingston, the City is working the Kingston Community Gardens Network, Loving Spoonful and KFL&A Public Health to coordinate guidelines and signage for the re-opening of community garden sites in Kingston, including putting in place safety guidelines. Community garden members should contact their coordinator for information specific to their local garden.
With files from Dominic Owens.