In Montreal, the center of the coronavirus outbreak in Canada, the reopening of highly popular community vegetable gardens after a two-month lockdown has come as a breath of fresh air, despite rigid new rules.
“Just to touch the earth, it’s like reconnecting with something deep inside of us, it does our souls good, it lessens the chaos and I think we really need that,” Manon Labelle said, a mask covering her mouth.
At 62 — and having lost her father to COVID-19 just a week ago — Labelle was relieved to return to her small plot in the De Lorimier garden.
In the 5,000m2 community garden in the Plateau Mont-Royal, Montreal’s most densely crowded neighborhood, urban gardeners cultivate about 180 small plots every summer on city-owned property.
On the highly anticipated day, brilliant sunshine and summer-like warmth combined to make people forget that only two weeks ago it was still snowing there.
Several of the garden’s regulars were concerned that its reopening, already put off by a month, might again be delayed.
“We were afraid there might be no garden,” and at a time when food self-sufficiency has become an ever more important topic, said Christine Lamothe, a 50-something local who arrived with a bundle of seeds.
“The city closed the gardens two months ago, and it caused an uproar,” said Stephane Espinosa, who chairs the garden’s oversight committee. “In fact, they were closed all over Canada.”
As the pandemic spread in the middle of March, gardens “were not considered as an essential service,” despite their “nutritional and psychological value,” said Espinosa, a native of Marseille, France.
However, after garden enthusiasts bombarded officials with complaints and petitions, they finally earned “essential” status, added Espinosa, a Quebecer for 15 years.
“For many people, community gardens are more than just for leisure. They allow them to better fill their needs and gain access to fresh products at low cost,” Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante said.
However, officials quickly issued “safety and sanitary rules” for the 97 gardens created in Montreal 45 years ago. Most restrictive is a new rule limiting to 35 the number of people allowed in a garden at any given time — whereas in past years one might find as many as 400 people at work, including garden members and their families.
Further, everyone must respect social distancing, and gardeners are encouraged to wear masks and gloves. People must wash their hands when entering the garden, while also disinfecting garden gates and water spigots.
To limit crowds, gardeners would be allowed to come only every other day until Monday next week, Lamothe said.
“The biggest change is not having access to our own tools, which we normally share with each other. You have to bring your own things from home,” Yan Poudrier said.
“Usually we would come as a family, me and my three children. Unfortunately, with the restrictions this year on the number of individuals, it’s hard to come with all three,” the 39-year-old said.
However, everyone was eager to sow their seeds or to plant the sprouts they have started at home over the winter — even if the garden has become “more a place for growing and less for socializing,” Lamothe said.
“For my part, I’m ready to start planting as quickly as possible,” Espinosa said.
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