'Almost therapeutic': COVID-19 pandemic has many people turning to their gardens

While so much of the province has shut down due to COVID-19, businesses like the Ontario Seed Company and garden centres are busier than ever as the pandemic has many people turning to growing their own food. Some say it's a trend reminiscent of the "victory gardens" that sprang up during the world wars.

Trend is reminiscent of the 'victory gardens' from the world wars, experts say

During the two world wars, people grew 'victory gardens' anywhere they could to supplement food rations for themselves and their neighbours. Some, as pictured here, turned front lawns into vegetable gardens. (City of Toronto Archives)

COVID-19 has shuttered thousands of businesses both big and small throughout the Toronto area, but with the pandemic forcing almost everyone to stay at home and the warmer weather approaching, firms like the Ontario Seed Company and garden centres are busier than ever.

Teenager Remmell Farrell is just one of many people turning to their gardens in the wake of all the social distancing and stay-at-home orders. He considers himself lucky to have beaten the rush on seeds, having ordered some online before the March break.

"After COVID-19, everyone wanted seeds," Farrell told CBC Toronto during a Skype interview from his home in Ajax.

Farrell, 16, has been providing his mother with fresh fruits and vegetables, including tomatoes, herbs and salad greens from a greenhouse he built in their apartment. 

"It's very satisfying when you can grow something from scratch and pick it. It gets you into a spot where our ancestors would have been and I think that's almost therapeutic," he said.

Remmell Farrell, 16, spoke with CBC Toronto via Skype about growing his own fruits and vegetables. (CBC Toronto )

Outdoor education

Phil Pothen is growing kale seedlings, which he plans to share with his neighbours, who don't have yards they can cultivate. 

"The kale grows very easily and people can put them on their balconies or on a windowsill and it keeps producing," Pothen told CBC Toronto.

He is also growing a variety of herbs and vegetables in his backyard garden, which he says has provided some wholesome home-schooling.

"One of our math lessons was calculating our planting schedule for these plants," he said. 

"We've calculated how many days until we can eat the kale and then the tomatoes and soon we'll be able to start digging in the ground for some exercise turning the soil."

A modern-day 'victory garden' at the home of Danforth Village resident Phil Pothen. (Submitted by Phil Pothen)

In the First and Second World Wars, people in neighbourhoods across the world cultivated what would eventually be called "victory gardens."

While food was rationed, some planted large-scale gardens, which became a way to provide food security, not just for the gardeners but for the community, as well.

"People used their front lawns, wherever they could, to grow food," said Paul Zammit, the director of horticulture at Toronto Botanical Gardens and a CBC Radio contributor. 

He said he's not surprised that while the COVID-19 crisis still looms, people are busying themselves in the garden. 

"This is not something that's totally new for us," said Zammit. 

"I think there is a great deal of opportunity. The circumstances are, of course, unfortunate but I think in the end we will see some positive results on the other side of it." 


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