As Montreal’s community gardens reopen, fans feel relieved

In Montreal, the center of Canada’s coronavirus pandemic, the reopening of popular community vegetable gardens after a two-month lockdown has come like a breath of fresh air – despite rigid new rules. “Just touching the earth is like reconnecting with something deep inside us, it feels good to our souls, it alleviates the chaos and I think we really need that”, said Manon Labelle, a protective mask covering his mouth. At 62 – and having lost her father to COVID-19 barely a week ago – Labelle is relieved to return to her small plot in De Lorimier garden. In this 5,000 square meter (1.2 acre) community garden in Plateau Mont-Royal, Montreal’s most densely populated neighborhood, urban gardeners cultivate some 180 small plots on municipal property each summer. On this long-awaited day, a radiant sun and a summer heat combined to make you forget that only two weeks ago, it was still snowing here. – “Essential service” – Several regulars of the garden feared that its reopening, already postponed by a month, would be delayed again. “We were afraid that there would be no garden,” and at a time when food self-sufficiency has become an increasingly important subject, said Christine Lamothe, a fifty-something who arrived with a packet of seeds. “The city closed the gardens two months ago, and that caused an uproar,” said Stéphane Espinosa, who chairs the garden oversight committee. “In fact, they were closed across Canada. As the pandemic spread in mid-March, the gardens “were not considered an essential service” despite their “nutritional and psychological value,” said Espinosa, from the French city of Marseille. But after garden enthusiasts bombarded officials with complaints and petitions, they were finally granted “essential” status, added Espinosa, a Quebecer for 15 years. – Safety and hygiene rules – “For many,” declared Montreal mayor Valérie Plante, community gardens are more than just a hobby. They allow them to better meet their needs and to have access to fresh products at low cost. But the authorities quickly issued “safety and hygiene rules” for the 97 gardens created in Montreal 45 years ago. Most restrictive is a new rule limiting the number of people allowed in a garden to 35 at any given time – whereas in recent years up to 400 people could be found at work, including garden members and their families. Additionally, everyone should respect social distancing, and gardeners are encouraged to wear masks and gloves. People should wash their hands when entering the garden, while disinfecting garden doors and water taps. And to limit the crowds, gardeners will only be allowed to come one day out of two until June 1, said Mr. Lamothe. “The biggest change is not having access to our own tools, which we normally share with each other. You have to bring your own things from home,” said fellow gardener Yan Poudrier. “Usually we would come as a family, me and my three children. Unfortunately, with the restrictions this year on the number of individuals, it’s difficult to come with all three,” said the 39-year-old. – “Less socialization” – But everyone is eager to sow their seeds or plant the shoots they started at home during the winter – even if the garden has become “a place of culture and less socialization “said Lamothe. “For my part,” Espinosa said, “I’m ready to start planting as quickly as possible.” He said he planned his plot “down to the centimeter so that I could put as many as possible”. “Gardening,” he added, “has become something really important to people this year, in this time of COVID, as they have come to rediscover their roots, relearn old techniques and reconnect with their grandparents “.

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