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

Processing Vegetable Growers lose critical bargaining power

On December 11, 2019 Ernie Hardeman, Ontario’s Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, released a statement describing the amendments to Regulation 440. The changes will no longer allow the Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers (OPVG) board the ability to negotiate on behalf of growers to ensure contracts are paid as negotiated. Growers are busy doing what they do best…producing food. Losing their collective bargaining power is removing a tool from their toolbox, leaving growers to take on more risk. This will result in growers feeling ignored and unsupported to make the best business decision.

In an ideal world, policies, subsidies and insurance programs would be made in the best interest of the growers. This contributes to a healthier, more sustainable food system as the growers are the closest to the land and have the knowledge about best practices. We all have an obligation to ensure that farm businesses are able to operate in a profitable and sustainable way.

There is tremendous value to organized, collective marketing for all Ontario growers, but only ifthe growers are supported in the process.  It takes work to come up with creative and innovative solutions and we need to have confidence and curiosity to pursue changes. Let’s get serious about our food system. Peggy is right we are dealing with real farmers, real families, real communities…without their success we have no food system.

New Mandate Letter for Agriculture and Agri-Food

On December 13 Justin Trudeau released the Mandate Letter for Marie-Claude Bibeau, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food. The letter underscores the aim of building a stronger, more inclusive and more resilient country. Trudeau also directs every Minister to accelerate and build on the progress previously made to support self-determination, improve service delivery, and advance reconciliation with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Peoples. And Trudeau emphasizes the need for open, effective, honest, and transparent government.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Priorities

Within Agriculture and Agri-Food, Trudeau underscores the goal that agriculture continues to be a leader in job creation and innovation as well as maximizing its export growth potential. The Letter spells out ten priorities for the Minister Bibeau:

  • Review risk management programs with a special focus on AgriStability to help manage environmental and business risks.
  • Work on tax measures to facilitate the intergenerational transfer of farms.
  • Create a new entity, Farm and Food Development Canada, that consolidates federal financial and advisory services for agriculture.
  • Protect Canada’s supply-managed agriculture sections and develop with them a vision of the future in a world of global free-trade agreements.
  • To identify additional tools that help Canada’s agriculture and agri-food businesses export and diversify into global markets.
  • Develop additional capacity to respond to trade disputes based on recent experiences.
  • Provide leadership for the implementation of the new Food Policy for Canada, which aims to:
    • Help Canadian communities access healthy food;
    • Make Canadian food the top choice at home and abroad;
    • Support food security in northern and Indigenous communities; and
    • Reduce food waste.
  • Support the Minister of Health to ensure that the Pest Management Regulatory Agency is making science-based decisions that lead to safe and suitable uses of crop protection products in Canada.
  • Create a new fund to help producers and processors close technological and infrastructure gaps inhibiting the development of domestic and international markets.
  • Create a new Canada Water Agency to work with other stakeholders to find the best ways to keep our water safe, clean, and well-managed.

Middlesex-London Food Policy Council

Many of these priorities will directly impact the communities and residents of Middlesex County and the City of London, though they do not exhaust the issues of concern to us. As a Council, we are looking forward to watching the Liberal government’s progress on these priorities and on other issues facing Canada’s food and agriculture sectors and are looking forward to being one (of many) local partners in support of a robust and resilient Canadian food system.

What do you think are the most pressing food-related concerns facing the Middlesex-London region and its residents? Please share your ideas with us in the comments.