Community gardening during a pandemic: tips for making your gardens safe
As Ontario continues to adapt to the changing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, municipalities and organizations are finding ways to offer activities and amenities that provide community members with a sense of normality. On April 25, 2020 the Province lifted some COVID-19 restrictions, allowing community gardens to open.
Many community housing providers provide space for community gardens, a perennially popular activity. Whether a tenant or provider-led initiative, these gardens provide the community with access to fresh produce and/or green space. In urban environments, these oases also function as teaching opportunities for people who may be new to gardening and as a way for newcomers to Canada to remain connected with their cultures. Whatever the reason for participating, many community gardeners find the activity to be very important for maintaining mental health.
Are you opening up your community gardening space or considering implementing a garden for the first time? Read on to learn about ways you can do so safely and in line with public health restrictions.
Reinforce “stop the spread” messaging
Post signage listing the most common symptoms of COVID-19, advising gardeners to stay home if they’re not feeling well, and reminding them of the need to self-isolate for 14 days if they’ve had contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 or if they’ve recently returned from international travel. You can recommend that participants use the Province’s self-assessment tool before they enter the garden.
In our current circumstances, this could mean that one must be an ongoing volunteer or member of the gardening group in order to enter the community garden. It may make sense for you to formalize who is allowed access by initiating an official list of participants if you haven’t already done so. This can extend to restricting access for children who are not old enough to participate in the program themselves, pets (service animals should be permitted), and friends or loved ones of community garden members. If the garden doesn’t have a gate that can be locked, post a sign making it clear that only verified community gardeners are permitted to enter the garden.
Enforce a capacity limit
Place signage at the entrance indicating how many people can be in the garden at once. Remember that a distance of two meters must be maintained between gardeners at all times. Consider creating a schedule for access, particularly if participants maintain particular plots, to ensure physical distancing requirements are met. Maintain a sign-in/sign-out sheet to track when people are in the garden.
Ensure proper sanitation
If possible, provide a handwashing station for participants to use as they enter and exit the garden. Access to a bathroom is ideal, but portable handwashing units are a good option. Ensure any handwashing stations are cleaned at least twice per day and offer water pressure, soap, and paper towels. If it’s not possible to provide a handwashing facility with soap and water, consider keeping a large bottle of hand sanitizer with a pump dispenser available for use. Post signage asking gardeners to wash their hands thoroughly before gardening and when they are finished.
Ideally participants would provide and use their own gardening tools, but we understand that this isn’t necessarily feasible. If your community garden provides shared tools, ensure that they are sanitized properly between uses. Enlist a staff member or recruit gardeners to ensure this task is carried out during hours of operation. Water spigots and watering cans or hose handles used by multiple people must be sanitized at least twice per day.
Opening community gardens is a good way for housing providers to engage tenants and help decrease feelings of social isolation that have been widely reported since the start of the pandemic. If you’re considering starting a community garden for your residents, check out Park People’s article about how they can improve the well-being of communities overall.
As regions of Ontario move into Phase 2 of the Province’s reopening strategy, any events taking place in community gardens must adhere to physical distancing guidelines in the space and where participants wait to enter. Marked standing spots for lineups and directions for one-way traffic flow should be established as well as timed entries and restrictions on the length of visit. Such events are only permissible for providers whose public health units have moved into Phase 2 of reopening.
If you would like more guidance on running your community garden safely, visit Sustain Ontario for in-depth information. Many municipalities have issued their own guidelines for community garden health and safety practices. Check out the City of Hamilton’s Safe Operating Recommendations for Community Gardens to see an example.
Have a question about social distancing protocols for housing providers or other related topics? Want to share your best practices for community gardening safely during COVID-19? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re always happy to hear from you, and to help!