Community gardens set to open in Waterloo region, but with new rules

Community gardens are set to open this week, but there will be rules people need to follow when they're working in their plots.

Gardeners who don't follow rules could be asked to leave, face fines

Community gardens in Waterloo region are set to open in the coming days, but gardeners will have to follow certain rules. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

The Region of Waterloo says community gardens will open in the coming days, but gardeners will need to follow specific rules as they dig in.

There are more than 80 community gardens throughout the region run by volunteer groups. The province announced earlier this month that community gardens would be allowed — so long as they followed rules laid out by local public health officials.

Waterloo region released rules the gardeners will need to follow on Monday. They include:

  • People should use the COVID-19 self-assessment tool before going to their garden plot. The tool is found on the region's website.
  • People should only go to the garden for planting and maintenance. There shouldn't be any social activities or gatherings.
  • People working in the garden must maintain a physical distance of at least two metres between each other.
  • The gardens must provide hand washing stations or hand sanitizer.
  • All shared tools or hard services, including latches to garden gates and compost bins, must be disinfected before and after each use.

Signs will be posted at all gardens with the new rules. The exact opening date will vary from location to location, once members have figured out how to implement the guidelines.

"Gardeners who do not follow the recommendations may be asked to leave the garden, or may face fines for non-compliance under the Ontario Emergency Measures Orders and Regulations," the region said in a release on Monday.

Installing sinks difficult

Alisa McClurg, co-ordinator of the K-W Urban Harvesters, says she has some concerns about the new rules.

"Maybe I'm a more cautious person. I sat down over this weekend … and reviewed the guidelines and a lot of questions rose up for me. I was unclear on a lot of things," she told CBC Kitchener-Waterloo.

In particular, McClurg is concerned about the requirement to install handwashing stations or put out hand sanitizer for gardeners.

"Installing sinks at gardens at such late notice is difficult. And on top of that, a lot of things walk at gardens, things are taken. So it's difficult to keep hand sanitizer there," McClurg said.

The recommendations on the region's website also say community gardens should set up schedules for gardeners. McClurg said the gardens she helps run are rarely busy and as a volunteer, setting up a schedule for others is time consuming.

"It's been a really difficult process," she said. "I just want to get on with helping people grow food."

Some leeway within new rules

Sharlene Sedgwick-Walsh, director of healthy living for Region of Waterloo Public Health, says she understands each of the gardens throughout the cities and townships are run differently because they're different sizes and have different numbers of volunteers.

That's why, she says, the guidelines are largely recommendations so gardens can come up with solutions that work for them.

For example, she said, garden co-ordinators can request people bring warm, soapy water in a thermos or their own hand sanitizer if the garden can't provide a handwashing station or a central hand sanitizer station.

Sedgwick-Walsh also said scheduling doesn't have to be a strict list of specific times for individuals, but some gardens may need to organize people.

"They are guidelines, so they're not necessarily everyone must do everything exactly the same. But it is important, depending on the size of your garden, that you know who's in there and when so you can avoid situations where people aren't able to maintain the physical distancing," she said.

Guidelines may still change, Sedgwick-Walsh says, and the region will disseminate more information through the community garden council and the municipalities if that happens.

But she acknowledges people may have questions as they open gardens — and that's understandable.

"It's part of that unusual situation that we're working through, it's not normally how we would have done our work," she said. "But I think we were trying to be responsive and get things up and running as quickly as we could."