Provincial reopening of Community Gardens

On the morning of April 25th, 2020, the Province of Ontario announced an amendment to the COVID-19 emergency order permitting the use of allotment and community gardens. 

Permit the use of allotment gardens and community gardens across the province. These gardens are an essential source of fresh food for some individuals and families, including those who face food insecurity. Local medical officers of health will provide advice, recommendation and instructions that the gardens must meet in order to operate, such as physical distancing, and cleaning and disinfecting commonly used equipment and surfaces. 

We are very pleased that the Province has recognized the importance of the community gardens for individual and community food security. Food insecurity is an ever-present challenge for Middlesex-London, which is increasing this year with the disruptions from the pandemic. We are looking forward to announcements from the City of London and other municipalities in the area regarding details of when they will be allowing public access to their garden plots and what guidelines they will be operating under. We will be sharing those details with you as they are made available. Congratulations and thank you to everyone who has been involved in advocating for this. Your support and letters to your MPPs have been heard and effective. 

The community gardens are only part of the solution for food insecurity. More is still needed. We at the Middlesex-London Food Policy Council are continuing to explore other ways that we as a community can increase food security now and bolstering our community’s resilience and food sovereignty for the future. We are pleased to hear from you concerns and ideas for continuing this work. Feel free to comment on this post or contact us at info@mlfpc.ca. 

Getting to Food Policy- Findings from recent research

Internationally, Food Policy Councils have increasingly become avenues for food democracy, providing a space for community members, professionals, and government to learn together, deliberate, and collectively come up with place-based strategies to address complex food system issues that matter to their own community. But how does a food policy council’s structure, or their membership affect which priorities they address? 

Research carried out in 2018 by food policy experts from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, looked at how a FPC’s organizational structure, relationship to government, and their membership influence their policy priorities.  From a survey of 222 U. S. Food Policy Councils, along with illustrative case studies, this research showed that FPC’s are quite heterogenous.  

Structure/Membership     

Most (70%) focus their work at the local level, while fewer (8%) work at the state level and 22% at the regional level. The majority are imbedded in an institution: 35% sponsored by a non-profit organization,  29% are embedded in government, and 6% are housed in a university. Another 18% are unincorporated (grassroots) groups and 12% are nonprofit organizations.  

FPC membership consists of professional stakeholders, public administrators, and elected officials from across the food supply chain and interrelated issue areas, e.g., environment, education, economic development, and health care. The membership of the majority of FPCs (92%) includes a community member.  

Funding     

It was clear that FPC’s are woefully underfunded. Sixty eight percent operate on an annual budget of $10,000 or less and 35% have no funding. The top three sources of financial support for FPCs are in-kind donations, non-federal government funding from grants or appropriations, and private foundations.  

Priorities   

For the past three years, healthy food access has been a priority for a majority of FPCs. In 2018, healthy food access, economic development, and anti-hunger were the most common policy priorities (Table 1). More recently, we have seen FPCs prioritizing food waste and food labor laws (Bassarab et al.2019; Morrill, Santo, & Bassarab, 2018). 

 Table 1. Policy Priorities by FPC (N = 222)                                   

Healthy food access 146
Economic development 96
Anti-hunger 81
Food production 69
Food procurement 63
Land use planning 58
Food waste/recovery 40
Local food processing 24
Transportation 18
Natural resources and environment 10
Food labour 4

This research demonstrates that membership and relationship to government, have more bearing on the policy priorities of a FPC than the organizational structure (although the relationship to government is related to the lack of some priorities rather than their presence). Further, by profiling the relationship between membership and policy priorities, and often policy development itself, the case studies highlighted in this underscore the role of FPCs as vehicles for food democracy.  

This study shows that members matter; membership of Food Policy Councils is related to a wide range of policy priorities. 

Central to food democracy is participation by citizens or organizations representing citizens who have traditionally been excluded from the political and economic process. As food policy councils, internationally and here in Middlesex London, tackle “wicked problems”, it is critical to have the voice of community members represented. 

 References 

  1. Bassarab, K., Clark J., Santo R. and Anne Palmer. Finding our Way to Food Democracy: Lessons from US Food Policy Governance. https://www.cogitatiopress.com/politicsandgovernance/article/view/2092/2092 
  2. Williams, P. (2002). The competent boundary spanner. Public Administration, 80(1), 103–124. 
  3. Bassarab, K., Santo, R., & Palmer, A. (2019). Food policy council report 2018. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. 
  4. Morrill, V., Santo, R., & Bassarab, K. (2018). Shining a light on labor: How food policy councils can support food chain workers. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. 

 

Community Gardens: Food, not Recreation

When the Government of Ontario closed parks, playing fields, and other “recreational amenities,” community gardens were included in the list.  On behalf of the thousands of Ontarians who rely on these gardens for food, we urgently call on the government to classify community gardens as essential food services, allowing the gardens to open in time for spring preparations and planting.

The COVID-19 pandemic is dire and forceful governmental action is certainly warranted; at the same time, the gardens, like other essential food services, could easily operate in a way that does not add to the health risks. Even though community gardens are not commercial food operations, they provide proven benefits for individuals and communities: for us, one role that stands out as crucial is the community’s food security.

Closing community gardens now effectively means that thousands of people will lose access to tonnes of fresh, local fruit and produce from their own community gardens and from the shelves of our food banks and other hunger relief organizations who benefit from those gardens. It won’t matter whether the restrictions are lifted later in the summer because without garden preparation and planting this spring, the entire growing season will be lost. We need to be in the gardens on the dry, warm days now for there to be fresh produce in August. The loss of an entire season’s worth of fresh, local fruit and produce would be a devastating blow even in a normal year, but we all know that there is nothing normal about the current situation. The loss of this season’s harvest will be much worse for our communities.

The unprecedented economic collapse we are living through is already driving up the need for emergency food services, and that need is expected to keep rising, putting additional pressure on organizations providing hunger relief. Food costs are also projected to keep rising, pushing the need for emergency food services even higher. COVID-19 is expected to result in agricultural labor shortages this summer and fall, further impacting food costs and possibly affecting production, resulting in sporadic food shortages, further destabilizing our communities’ food security. Even if there is significant funding put into emergency hunger relief later this year, without community gardens there will not be the tonnes of fresh, local fruit and produce readily available to fill that need. Food insecurity also has a curve that needs to be flattened; because community gardens are one measure for flattening it, keeping them closed steepens the curve.

Given the importance of community gardens in supporting  families, communities, and  local food banks and charitable hunger relief organizations, the closure of these gardens this spring constitutes a threat to communities’ food security at an especially vulnerable and treacherous time. They don’t have to be closed as part of the fight against COVID-19. The same physical distancing practices and protocols recommended for other essential agriculture and food services can be applied to community garden spaces (see our website for a set of recommendations). Many other locales across Canada and the US, including the province of BC, have recognized community gardens as essential food services permitted to operate under physical distancing protocols. We urge the government of Ontario to do the same, and we call on all Ontarians to support this critical action.

Benjamin Hill, chairperson
Middlesex-London Food Policy Council

Skylar Franke, executive director
London Environmental Network

Becky Ellis, chair
London Urban Beekeepers Collective
Permaculture for the People

Stephen Harrott,
Friends of Urban Agriculture London (FUAL)

Community Gardens are Essential Food Services

The Middlesex London Food Policy Council is joining Sustain Ontario and other organizations provincewide to call on the government of Ontario to identify community gardens as essential food services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The provincial government’s statement on Monday includes community gardens in the list of outdoor recreational amenities to remain closed until at least April 13, which places the season for those gardens at risk. More importantly, identifying community gardens as recreational rather than as part of the food production and distribution system understates the important role the gardens fill.

The City of London’s urban agriculture strategy emphasizes the importance of urban agriculture to provide access to nutritious and affordable food, improve physical and mental health and quality of life, and contribute to a sustainable, resilient food system. Research additionally supports these claims about the benefits of community gardens in urban spaces. There are 17 active community gardens within the city. Across the province, tens of thousands of families rely on community gardens for food.

According to Sustain Ontario, “This model of community food production is seen as integral to the COVID-19 response in countries throughout the world, particularly as food prices increase and global food supplies are increasingly uncertain. Food banks also receive literally tonnes of much needed fresh food from local community gardening efforts in communities all around Ontario.” The province of BC includes in its list of essential services: “food cultivation, including farming, livestock, aquaculture and fishing, and businesses that support the food supply chain, as well as community gardens and subsistence agriculture”.

For more information please contact:
Benjamin Hill, MLFPC Chair
info@MLFPC.ca