WESTERN MANITOULIN – The news was good for gardeners everywhere in Ontario last week.
“We had some very good news,” stated Linda Willson of the Western Manitoulin Community Garden to news on April 25 that the province would permit the use of allotment gardens and community gardens across the province. “Sustain Ontario put together a proposal, collaborating with the NDP, Green Party and National Farmers Union, presenting it to the province and advocating that this is an essential service.”
Ms. Willson and her husband Chuc, “are registered as operating a farm business, so even if the community garden wasn’t opened by the province we would have operated it as part of our farm because of the significant amount of food we have for the Good Food Box Program, supported by the Child Poverty Task Force.”
Mr. Willson said all raised beds are sold at the community garden, and “in fact we have a waiting list for room. We are in the process of building two more raised beds. We have a lot of space in the raised garden and there is a big demand for this.”
She acknowledged the McLaughlin family for providing a water line for the garden in August 2019. “It will be even more important this year when people working at the garden, due to the COVID-19 requirements, will have everyone washing their hands many times a day.”
Through the Child Poverty Task Force, the garden supports the food diversion program and instead of food going to schools (which are currently closed due to the pandemic) “this food is going to families at risk in the area.”
The individual garden spots at the community garden are half sold which will allow everyone to be at least two metres apart. “We will be able to accommodate anyone who wants a space,” explained Ms. Willson. “For those who are interested they should get their orders in to Sarah Earley.”
While the Kids Can Grow program won’t take place this year with the pandemic, the Willsons will be planting flowers, herbs, plants, tomatoes, peppers, zucchini in the kids’ garden and if school returns in the fall, the kids from C.C. McLean (with teacher April Patterson) will be able to harvest and tend to the garden.
“Several people are growing garlic, and there should be an asparagus harvest this year,” said Ms. Willson. “We will have several fruit, Haskap and raspberries, depending on how the funding goes this year.”
While it doesn’t appear the garden will host a kite festival this spring or early summer, “everything is set up to go. If we get the go ahead from the province it could even be held in the fall.”
Ms. Willson also pointed out, “we will be expanding the Good Food Box program from three to 10 beds. And we are hoping to have a little area set up for a pumpkin patch this year.”
On the food diversion program, the Child Task Force had requested that the food that normally goes to the schools be provided to families at risk, as the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers have a lot of extra products. They had asked us to help out, and Barb Barfoot and Joel Lock pick up the fruits, vegetables and other items in Little Current and deliver them to families at risk in the Gore Bay-Western Manitoulin Island area. This program started three to four weeks ago and will continue until school is back in, so we are probably looking at the entire summer. A really big shout out has to go to Barb and Joel for helping to make this happen,” she said, noting the program is co-ordinated through Cody Leeson at Noojmowin Teg.
“Barney’s (Bargain Barn) would like to provide food here and we are working with Maxine McVey try to divert some of the food to Western Manitoulin, maybe through the Food Cupboard at the United Church in Gore Bay,” continued Ms. Willson. She pointed out the program is still in the development stage.
Ms. Willson pointed out local egg and chicken farmer Trevor Wright is providing the community garden with needed manure this summer, and Ken McCartney will be tilling the garden again this year.
Each community garden in the province must meet many regulations to operate, such as physical distancing and cleaning and disinfecting commonly used equipment and surfaces. In order to reopen, each community garden will need approval locally from their public health unit. The gardens are expected to open May 12.