Gardening and COVID-19

Updated July 21, 2020

With Stage 2 and Stage 3 re-opening, what will happen to community gardens?

Community gardens are among the very first outside of farms and grocery stores to be regarded as essential services on April 25th. Thanks to all volunteer coordinators, close to 90 community gardens completed garden public health required COVID measures and have been opened! Many gardens reported operating smoothly. See this beautifully made video by one of the gardens – very informative on safety!

Starting July 17, Ottawa had entered Stage 3 reopening. 

How will the Stage 3 reopening impact the community gardens?

What is staying the same?

Physical distancing remains a requirement for all people of Ontario, this means to continue keeping two metres apart from people outside your immediate household or social circle.

This means that while the limit on outdoor gatherings has increased to 100 people, physical distancing still remains a requirement for everyone that is not from the same household or part of the same 10-person bubble.  So gardens still need to maintain rules about physical distancing to ensure that gardeners can garden while maintaining 6 ft or 2m from their garden neighbours.

All gardens must keep the signs up.

Sanitation and hygiene requirements remain the same.  

Each community garden coordination team or garden committee will manage the garden based on both the COVID operation plan and the specific considerations of a particular garden.  If there are items in your operational plan that you think could be relaxed during Phase 3 that go beyond OPH’s guidelines, then please contact Sun Shan at communitygardening@justfood.ca to discuss.

What has changed?

Stage 3 re-opening does not influence how community gardens work during COVID.


Frequently asked questions and common issues

1. Using benches, picnic tables and gazebos in community gardens.

As of Stage 2 re-opening in the province (June 12), City parks have allowed their benches, picnic tables and some other publicly owned structures.  Community gardens are permitted to use these structures in City parks.   However, many assets in gardens are owned by gardens themselves and they are not City Park assets.   In this case, it is fully the garden’s decision (based on your current decision-making processes, which in some cases are garden coordinators, and in other cases are a garden committee.  

Please evaluate the situation to determine if these assets are something you want to open up to your gardeners, knowing that the public will also most likely be using them.  You can also contact Sun Shan if you have questions and/or wish to discuss.  Several gardens have chosen not to open up these assets at this time.  Some have.   

If your garden does make changes. Please update your Operation Plans accordingly and share with Sun Shan at Just Food at communitygardening@justfood.ca. 

2. Wearing masks indoors now mandatory for public buildings

Ottawa Public Health has started to mandate the use of masks in all indoor public spaces effective July 7, 2020. For community gardens, this means gardeners will need to put on masks or face coverings inside of sheds and other indoors public spaces (maybe where your tools are stored or how you access water). Garden members and volunteers who need to access garden tools from these spaces will need to wear masks or face covering. 

Wearing masks while outdoors: If your garden has small, close plots/boxes or if people are likely to garden in small quarters, and especially if you cannot maintain distance, then please encourage gardeners to wear masks, noting the following:

Ottawa Public Health emphasizes that “Wearing a mask is not an alternative to physical distancing. Every effort should be made to keep a 2-metre distance even when wearing a mask.” For more information on masks, please visit OPH’s section on masks

3. Odd/even gardening schedule

Several gardens have decided to dis-continue odd/even garden scheduling, as after the first busy weeks of planting and getting the garden set up, these gardens have seen not many gardeners working at the garden simultaneously, and therefore feel safe to lift the scheduling, as an agreed-upon approach by the coordinators or garden committee. If this is an approach your garden will take, please email Just Food at comms@justfood.ca so we can document this change to your operation plan.

4. Follow-up from Coordinators’ Check-In Calls

It was very nice and encouraging to connect with you during our coordinator check-in group calls.  Thank you so much for the extraordinary work and garden stories, which are being celebrated by abundant produce, despite several episodes of draught-like weather conditions we experienced.  We will sending another coordinators’ email soon with some follow-up items from those meetings.

5. Signs in your Garden

Should you need further signs in your garden to help direct public about the garden, or to assist with people remembering to sanitize the tap, or that the food is for garen members only, or to help people remember how the compost works, etc., we would like to know what wording you are looking for, as we are working to support new signage in gardens that need it, using the same style of more affordable signs that we distributed about COVID19 in May/June.

Please contact comms@justfood.ca with your requests for signs and what wording you are looking for.

Introducing Jacob, our new summer student supporting community gardening network.

He is working from comms@justfood.ca (Morgan had previously written many of you from this address earlier this season).


Stage 2 Reopening and Community Gardens in June 2020 

1. Important notice on COVID-related garden safety requirements in Stage 2 re-opening.

Given that community gardens are opened as essential services producing food to feed families and communities, garden coordinators/committees have been asked to evaluate the following and make decisions based on each garden’s situation:

  • how to maintain physical distancing of at least 2 metres is possible;
  • how to handle shared tools, faucets etc. with view to inform all gardeners to wash/sanitize hands after using tools, faucets, etc and before touching face, as they will not be cleaned often;
  • post signs to inform garden members on physical distancing and sanitation (provided by Just Food’s Community Gardening Network program, in collaboration with the City of Ottawa, including Ottawa Public Health).

On May 29, following stage one of the Province’s Stage 1 reopening strategies, Just Food shared with coordinators that community gardens are now permitted under provincial and City regulations to use their benches, picnic tables and gazebos, maintaining continued physical distancing requirements and education about need to keep hands sanitized when using shared spaces.  

Some coordinators decided to not open tables or gazebos out of concern that they wouldn’t be able to maintain the physical distancing and sanitation requirements.

As Ontario is gradually reopening services and public spaces as progress are made in the work to eradicate COVID-19, many gardens have been asking what happens to gardens given Stage 2 opened in Ottawa on June 12.

What is staying the same?

All policies in your current garden agreements, including:

  • that garden coordinators and committees continue to examine their existing measures to ensure they are adequate to maintain the physical distancing and education requirements re. shared tools, faucets, benches, tables to keep gardeners safe.  
  • the need to have public signs up at all times. We have more signs. If you are needing more signs in the garden, or want to make up for any damaged/lost signs, please contact Sun Shan at communitygardening@justfood.ca.
  • gardeners are NOT allowed to hang out at the garden.  It is a requirement that people stay to garden only (plan, water, weed, compost, harvest) and then leave.

What has changed?

People are allowed to have an expanded bubble of their own to 10, HOWEVER the need to keep physical distancing between family bubbles REMAINS.  This may mean that coordinators ask that only 2 people continue to come to the plot (recognizing single parents with kids may need accommodation for this as long as kids can follow safety rules).  This may mean that garden coordinators/committees continue to use even/odd plot numbers and other means to maintain physical distancing, especially given that while many people are concerned about following the rules, some people have not been, and we know that makes it difficult on everyone.

The KEY is that you continue to communicate to ALL gardeners, and adjust the minimum requirements for safety only as possible to your particular garden space and the climate of the season.  For example, during drought days/weeks, many gardeners have needed to water new plants twice a day due to extreme heat to ensure plants survive.  This has been accommodated by coordinators allowing two visits while still requiring gardeners to maintain physical distancing.

Also, knowledge about the virus has changed, and now it is being encouraged that everyone wear a mask in closer quarters, so if your garden has small, close plots/boxes or if there are a lot of plots meaning lots of people, then please encourage gardeners to wear masks, given the new information.


Opening Your Community Garden

Updated May 20, 2020

Just Food encourages all community gardens in Ottawa (including those on lands owned by the City of Ottawa, NCC, Ottawa Community Housing, Schools, Faith Groups, Businesses, etc.) to contact comms@justfood.ca to get approval to open.

To get approval, each community garden will need to read, fill out, and submit the following:

  1. Please read Ottawa Public Health’s Recommendation for Community Gardens.
  2. Operational Plan: click here to download the Word document
  3. Coordinators Agreement: click here to download the Word document
  4. Gardeners Agreement: click here to download the Word document. The garderner agreement is also available in English, French, Arabic, Mandarin, Spanish, Somali (click each link to view document).

Just Food is printing these signs for all gardens and will plan out installation with City of Ottawa and other partners.

  • Garden plot sign: click here to view PDF
  • Community garden COVID-19 etiquette sign: click here to view PDF

Other Links

BREAKING NEWS – Community Gardens are Open in Ontario – April 25, 2020

Update on Community Gardens Opening in Ontario – April 16, 2020

Update on Community Gardens as Essential Food Services – April 7, 2020

Gardening and COVID-19 Info – March 27, 2020