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Ontario issued an emergency order early Saturday that immediately opens allotment and community gardens, declaring the gardens essential.

A statement posted on the government’s website says gardening will be permitted under a subsection of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act.

“The government is amending a [previous] emergency order to help ensure food security for some individuals and families during the pandemic,” a statement posted in conjunction with the announcement states.

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The order embraces allotment gardens and community gardens throughout the province.

Read more: Why it’s more important than ever to support community gardens

“These gardens are an essential source of fresh food for some individuals and families, including those who face food insecurity,” the order reads. “Local medical officers of health will provide advice, recommendation and instructions that the gardens must meet in order to operate, such as physical distancing, and cleaning and disinfecting commonly used equipment and surfaces.”

The gardening tracts that so many rely on for fresh produce and fresh air were closed by Premier Doug Ford on March 31 along with other recreational amenities as a means to help control the spread of COVID-19.

The announcement does not include a date for when gardens will open. That will be left up to individual jurisdictions depending on how well they fare in controlling the novel coronavirus.

Typically, the season for community and allotment gardens begins in early May.

“City staff are working on plans in consultation with the city’s medical officer of health on safe operations,” Jasmine Patrick, communications advisor for the City of Toronto said Saturday. “We look forward to sharing more information soon.”

Rhonda Teitel-Payne, the co-ordinator of the Toronto Urban Growers and co-chair of the Ontario Community Growing Network, hailed the announcement as good news.

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“The long-term thing is getting these gardens recognized for the importance they have and to get them declared essential services,” Ms. Teitel-Payne says. “We have been fighting for this for a long time.”

Earlier Saturday, Ajax Mayor Shaun Collier took to Twitter to alert constituents about the new order.

“Our community gardens are a critical resource,” he said. "In addition to proving space to grow seasonal vegetables for those without space at home, they also support our most vulnerable through partnerships with local food banks.

“With proper physical distancing guidelines enforced, allowing our community gardens to reopen for the 2020 growing season will provide a unique net benefit to communities across Ontario.”

Allotment gardens and community gardens provide access to land (on city-owned or private property) for people who wish to grow plants and food. The gardens have specific needs unique to their communities and to cultivate them, often resources, such as hoses, gardening tools and watering cans, are shared.

In an email, Hayley Chazan, the senior manager of media relations for Ontario health minister Christine Elliott, called them an essential source of food for some individuals and families.

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“That’s why Ontario is amending the emergency order to allow allotment gardens and community gardens to reopen,” Ms. Chazan wrote.

In order to reopen, they will be required to meet and adhere to public health and safety measures set by the local medical officer of health. Other outdoor recreational amenities under a current emergency order, including playgrounds, sports fields, off-leash dog parks and picnic areas, remain closed.

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