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This is how community gardens grow post-COVID lockdown (8 photos)

Common Ground Emmanuel Community Garden had a late start, but things are now growing smoothly, says garden team member

Gardening is a very important activity in a lot of people's lives right now. One important lesson we are learning, especially now during the COVID-19 pandemic, is that there is an inherent need to produce more food locally. We are presently at the mercy of larger food companies whose supply and or delivery could be affected by outbreaks.

According to Harvest Algoma, it's estimated that approximately 90 per cent of our city's food comes from locations elsewhere.

Common Ground Emmanuel Community Garden, located on the site of Emmanuel United Church in Sault Ste. Marie, is into its third growing season.

In an email interview, garden team member Abby Obenchain explained, "The garden started because in 2016, the congregation at Emmanuel United Church conducted a 'dream exercise' through which they decided that one of the dreams they wished to pursue was to establish a community garden to help those who may not have a yard or space for a garden to grow their own food and gain the many benefits of gardening . . . having your hands in soil and growing things is enriching in so many ways . . . physically, nutritionally, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. The gardens are located on-site at Emmanuel. We are blessed with a relatively large piece of property, and we are so pleased to be able to put a big piece of it to such a noble use."

Their mandate is, "To help people in our congregation and others in our community to grow their own food and to foster the many benefits of gardening, recognizing that it nourishes mind, body, and spirit," said Obenchain.

These garden beds are open to anyone in Sault Ste. Marie with no restrictions. However, they are currently all rented for this season. There can be any number of reasons or groups involved in planting them, such as single people, families, residents of Community Living Algoma homes, Girl Guides and 4-H youth or people whose goal is to grow food for Harvest Algoma to distribute to those experiencing food security issues.

"We encourage all gardeners to consider pledging a portion of their produce to the Grow-A-Row program. We made a special effort to get CLA residents engaged in the garden and were very pleased to have them participate in the first two growing seasons. This season they are taking a break due to the pandemic, but we hope to have them participate again in the future. New for us this season is a large family of recent immigrants to Canada. We are excited to be giving them the opportunity to grow their own food at our garden," said Obenchain.

The garden has 21 beds with six of them being 'accessible', meaning they are double the height to make it easier for those with physical disabilities to tend. In addition, there is ample room between each to allow for wheelchair access. The gardening team is there to help anyone who might find gardening challenging. They can provide gardening mentors and suggestions when needed, such as advice on companion planting, square-foot gardening, and can even offer up some veggie bedding plants and seeds at no cost.

In the wake of reopening, Obenchain explains, "Our garden team worked closely with Algoma Public Health to develop special guidelines for operating during the pandemic. Because of the uncertainty, we did have a bit of a delayed start, and we did not have our usual in-person orientation at the church. We instead held a virtual orientation via Zoom."

"This year we do have a gardening schedule to help spread gardeners out over the course of the day, and we have social distancing guidelines in effect, such as no more than five people in the garden at a time, asking people who are not from the same household to stay at least two metres apart and asking people to consider wearing masks when working in the garden while people from other households are present," she continued. "We also ask them to wear gloves in the garden and clean their hands well after they leave and to bring their own garden tools and watering cans and take them home each day."

"All the beds are planted up now, and things seem to be operating very smoothly so far."

"Many of us are really suffering from social isolation so getting out to a community garden is a wonderful break in the day," Obenchain said. "Outdoor activities are safer than indoor ones, as long as we stay socially distanced. Plus, growing things is just so rewarding! I have been a gardener for 50 years, since I was 10 years old. It's my hobby and my passion . . . growing things is the ultimate creative activity. You are literally creating life and sustaining life by growing things."

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