Advocates call for community gardens to be added to Ontario essential services
SUDBURY -- Community gardens in Sudbury might look a bit different this year if the closures over COVID-19 continue.
Following the Ontario government's decision to extend the provincial state of emergency, community gardens are ordered to remain closed, as they are considered a recreational activity and not an essential food service.
Colleen Zilio, a spokesperson for Sudbury Shared Harvest, disagrees and says community gardens are needed in the city.
"Many people depend on community gardens for some of their produce and the need to grow local food could not be more urgent," said Zilio.
In Greater Sudbury, there are over 30 community gardens that officials say help feed hundreds of residents every growing season.
More than 6,000 people have already signed in support of the letter asking that community gardens be placed on the list of essential food services in Ontario.
Sudbury Shared Harvest Executive Director Carrie Regenstreif says in two other provinces, both B.C. and New Brunswick, have added community gardens to their essential lists already.
"The fact that other provinces are already doing this and that there are so many people behind it in Ontario makes me hopeful that it will change," said Regenstreif.
The food security advocate says right now things are up in the air, but the groups are trying to do as much as they can despite the restrictions.
"We're not allowed to go into the parks to be doing pruning or spraying, which would happen actually this week and next week. So, there are some things that are missed. Then, with regular community gardens that are growing vegetables a lot of the time, they're preparing to do, starting seedlings already - which they can start, but we don't know where they'll be planted," said Regenstreif.
However, she is hoping that a decision from the provincial government will be made quickly.
"We could still do a fair bit if it changes in the next couple of weeks, it wouldn't make a huge difference. But if it doesn't change within the next couple of weeks, it's going to change community gardens for sure," said Regenstreif.
Andrea Benoit is a volunteer and gardener who says she would love to see the gardens re-opened for the season, but only if it can be done safely.
"I mean, I'm a healthcare provider, so to me, if we're going to do this, if they're going to be opened and deemed essential, it has to be done in a way that keeps the community safety in mind as well. I would certainly love to see it reopen. I think that we could find some workarounds to make sure everyone is safe and healthy doing it, but there would need to be some serious discussion with how to go about doing that," said Benoit.
Officials with Sudbury Shared Harvest and the Sudbury Community Garden Network are trying to find other ways to grow food and give back to those in need if they can.
In the meantime, the groups are encouraging people of all ages to try growing at home, in their yards, on their balcony or even in a window box.
Officials are also encouraging more experienced gardeners to start seeds.
Benoit has a few plants started in her home. She is also challenging others to participate and even grow extra this year so that they have some to donate.
"I made a post yesterday [Thursday] about people showing us their seedlings and just the amount of people posting with these tiny, little, green plants, just looking at them makes me happy, gives me a little bit of hope that we can get through this. Even though we're growing our gardens apart, we're still kind of growing together in spirit and I think it's really beautiful," said Benoit.
Season's Pharmacy and Culinaria in Sudbury has a donation of seeds available at their location. However, gardeners need to request the seeds by phone ahead of time and follow all physical distancing and other safety measures upon pickup.
Sudbury Community Garden Network has created a YouTube page with gardening videos and tips, including seed saving and even waterless gardening.
"You can go on the internet and find all kinds of information, but it's great to have information that is suitable to our growing season and our climate," said Regenstreif.
The groups are also working with Sudbury Public Library on hosting live webinars to help growers be successful at home during this unprecedented time.
"It's terrifying and exciting," said Benoit. "I'm pretty excited to see how it will go."