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Movement grows to have province reopen community gardens

Community gardens in Newmarket and across the province are caught between their 'recreational' designation and the reality of being an essential food producer for many residents

A growing number of food security organizations are urging the province to allow community gardens to reopen as essential services in Ontario.

Community gardens, including both an allotment and collective garden in Newmarket, have been closed since the province issued the emergency order that closed recreational spaces and parks to help  “flatten the curve” with physical distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Without a specific designation as essential, community gardens across the province have been caught between their “recreational” designation and the reality of being an essential food producer for many in the community.

British Columbia, Quebec, New Brunswick and PEI have all deemed community gardens as essential services and the cities of Ottawa, Perth and Kitchener-Waterloo are also pushing for the province to reassess the essential nature of community gardens.

With closures being managed under both provincial and municipal enforcement models, both levels of government would need to be in agreement to reopen the gardens.

“Many people rely on community gardens for fresh food, so a great deal of advocacy has been happening at the provincial level about this issue,” said Kate Greavette, executive director of the York Region Food Network, which operates five of the nine community gardens in York Region.

“Even if the province of Ontario deems outdoor community gardens as essential, we still need to work with our local municipalities to gain permission to open this year,” said Greavette.

For the time being, the town has no plans to reopen the community gardens.

“Under the Province of Ontario’s emergency order, community gardens are deemed communal recreational spaces and are required to be closed. The Town will take direction from the Province of Ontario should this change,” said Peter Noehammer, commissioner of development and infrastructure services for the Town of Newmarket.

The town website states “failure to comply with an Emergency Order carries a starting fine of $750,” including, “Trespassing outdoor recreational areas that are closed to the public.”

Prior to the advent of COVID-19, researchers at the University of Toronto found that approximately one in eight Canadian households are struggling to put adequate nutritious food on the table.

“Community garden organizers recognize the grave, unprecedented challenge that the COVID-19 virus presents. Within this, food production is an essential service for all, including many low-income people and people from equity-seeking groups. 

“Community gardens must continue to grow produce to supplement household food security, in particular for those who struggle to access food, including fresh food,” said Sustain Ontario, The Alliance for Healthy Food and Farming, in a news release.

For those who wish to grow their own fresh produce in the meantime, Toronto Urban Growers offers a number of resources on their website.  

For tips, tricks and general information on how to grow your own food in a limited space, check out their page about container, balcony and rooftop gardening here.

Editor's Note, April 25: This story and its headline have been altered to clarify that the York Region Food Network was not advocating for the reopening of community gardens.