How the Pandemic Affected PNG

By: Nan Davey

The COVID-19 pandemic presented many challenges to PNG.  To begin with, the 2020 season got a late start.  The stable (our toolshed) was marked with a notice by the city that it was off-limits.  Since the garden is on city property, there were big posters attached to the fence, ordering people to keep out.  It took a petition by community and allotment gardens and lots of discussion for the province to realize that these gardens are an essential service, providing food for people who need it.  The province finally relented, and the gardening began in early May with many health and safety rules. 

Following Provincial guidelines

Through Zoom meetings, the garden leaders had to make the tough decision to restrict participants to members of the leadership team and a few highly experienced garden volunteers. According to provincial guidelines, only five volunteers were allowed in the garden at one time. Social distancing rules made training and volunteer guidance impossible. A core team did all of the garden work (planting, maintenance, harvesting, etc.), while the other leaders took care of the rest of the garden matters, such as marketing and social media.

Tracking and tracing

One leader designed a google document that allowed gardeners to choose time slots so that there were never too many people in the garden at one time.  This document also acted as a contact tracing method, and a way to keep track of what work had been completed, what still needed to be done, and what the priorities were. 

Tool-handling and disinfecting

Many members of this core group bought their own hand tools and labeled PNG tools with their names.  All shared tools were disinfected after use.  Spirit of York Distillery Co. kindly donated a large supply of sanitizer for tools and hands.  Gardeners wore gloves at all times (personal ones – all gloves and towels were removed from the stable). 

Maintaining social distance

Gardeners took turns in the stable.  Planting and garden work were a kind of dance, to maintain social distancing.  If two volunteers were working on the same garden bed, they were at opposite ends and not working side by side.  Planting took longer with fewer volunteers, but those who did commit to gardening spent many hours working in the garden.

Pivoting to providing for those in need

Sales of vegetables in the garden were prohibited by the Toronto Public Health safety protocols. All of the food grown (hundreds of pounds) was donated to organizations that helped to feed people in need.  The not-for-profit groups to which food was donated include:

Vegetables that would keep and hold up well were planted abundantly, while leafy greens (which wilt quickly) were downplayed.  It was a different model for the garden.  Instead of selling vegetables in the garden and donating to food-related charities after the fact, food was donated as it was harvested and when it was needed by so many.

Looking back

Despite all of the challenges, the garden actually had two successful seasons.  Comparisons of one season to another are typically based on sales revenue, which was not possible.  But lots of food was harvested and donated.  The successful seasons did not come without a lot of hard work by a small group of dedicated volunteers, who were determined to keep the garden going.

Looking ahead

The season ahead looks promising, and it will be great to welcome larger groups of volunteers.  But there are some changes that happened because of the pandemic that may be made permanent:

  1.  Keeping track of garden work by means of a google document, rather than a handwritten logbook in the stable
  2. Direct donation of food to charity as an aspect of the garden’s model
  3. Leadership meetings via Zoom – easier to plan and attend, especially during bad weather months