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

City of London Multi-Year Budget

Your Voice Counts!

You have a chance right now to speak up for a healthy and stable local food system; one that is ecologically responsible and economically viable. Use your voice!

London has tabled its four-year budget, and City Council will be reviewing, debating, and inviting input on the budget until its final approval in March. There are opportunities for you to provide input at Ward meetings and Public Participation meetings. You can fill out the online feedback form and speak directly to your Councillor.

What does the budget have to do with food?

More than you might think!

This is the first budget London City Council will be approving since they acknowledged that we are facing a climate change emergency. It’s also a multi-year budget, setting the framework for the next four years of a decade that has authoritatively been identified as crucial in avoiding catastrophic climate changes.

The city’s proposed strategies to address the climate emergency include support for a robust local food system, including a strategy to “promote and invest in urban agriculture initiatives”. (You can find the November 2019 report here.) As a community food council, we think these kinds of strategies are crucial and we strongly support them. While they are not specifically included in the draft budget, they are expected to be part of the Climate Emergency Action Plan (CEAP) which the draft budget recommends be developed over the next year. That means this is a prime opportunity to strengthen the future of the local food system.

What can you do?

Show your support for a budget that prioritizes action on climate change and invests in urban agriculture, agro-forestry initiatives and a strong, healthy local food system.

Speak up

  • Provide your feedback to city council using the online feedback form
  • Sign the London Environmental Network’s petition calling on city council to prioritize climate action by funding as many climate action plans to reduce emissions as possible
  • Email, call or tweet your city Councillor with your feedback on the budget
  • Speak up at a Public Participation Meeting
  • Share this with your friends, family, and social networks

Council has already acknowledged we’re in a climate emergency. Your voice can convince them to make climate action the top budget priority, for the sake of providing a safe and sustainable local food system.