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Coastal communities are turning to gardening to protect their vulnerable supply chain, and to stay occupied under social distancing

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Thomas Trauttmansdorff, a canoe guide from Ucluelet, B.C., who grew up on a farm in Ontario, stocks up on seeds and soil at a garden centre in Tofino.Photography by Melissa Renwick/The Globe and Mail/The Globe and Mail

After growing up on a farm in Jerseyville, Ont., Thomas Trauttmansdorff still has vague memories of running around the cow barns as a child.

As soon as he was old enough to push hay bails around, Mr. Trauttmansdorff’s father, Fritz, put him to work ­– the way his own father had done.

“Working with family always has its ups and downs,” said Mr. Trauttmansdorff, who later wandered in a different direction to pursue his passion for snowboarding. The 35-year-old moved to the West Coast in 2010, eventually landing in Ucluelet, B.C., after finding his niche as a kayak-turned-canoe guide.

But as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases surpassed 970 in British Columbia this week, his life has come full circle. Self-sufficiency has been brought back to the forefront of his mind.

“We’re out here at the end of the road where our supply chain is a little more vulnerable than a lot of big cities,” he said from his Vancouver Island community. “We are very dependent on these supply chains, and just taking a few little steps toward self-reliance is never a bad idea.”

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At OCN Garden Centre in Tofino, seed packets are flying off the shelves. Mr. Trauttmansdorff gets some advice from Trina Mattson, the owner, on how to plant them.

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At home, Mr. Trauttmansdorff writes labels to make sure he gives each vegetable seed the proper care. 'Taking a few little steps toward self-reliance is never a bad idea,' he says of his community.

With his newfound motivation and the extra time off work to put those steps into action, Mr. Trauttmansdorff got the ball rolling by planting kale, tomatoes, carrots and a variety of other vegetables that he nurses from his dining room.

Needing somewhere to keep the seeds growing, “it puts a little pressure on myself to follow through on building a greenhouse,” he said.

Leah Austin, co-ordinator for the Tofino Community Food Initiative, also on B.C.'s Vancouver Island, said that with widespread pandemics such as COVID-19, people are starting to think differently about where their food comes from.

“We’ve grown within this society where we don’t have the space and time to have a garden,” she said.

Recently, Ms. Austin introduced a tower garden to her living room, which has 52 holes for plants to grow from.

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Leah Austin, co-ordinator for the The Tofino Community Food Initiative, and her nine-year-old daughter, Gemma, water the tower garden inside their home in Tofino.

While businesses within Ucluelet and Tofino are shutting down, Trina Mattson has kept the OCN Garden Centre in Tofino open. She said that it was a difficult decision, but community members asked her to stay open. People are able to call in their orders, which are later passed through the gate so there is no person-to-person contact involved.

Many people retreat to their gardens to reduce stress, she said, and as anxiety around COVID-19 rises, “the last thing we wanted to do was take away any type of normalcy,” she said.

While Mr. Trauttmansdorff may not yield a harvest like the ones he used to grow on his father’s farm, it’s a minor step toward being able to provide for yourself if worst comes to worst, he said.

“I’ve always felt that kind of gap of not farming in my life since I moved off the family farm,” he said. “There’s something very satisfying about seeing your year’s worth of work come off the field as a nice big crop and know that [it’s] going to feed people."

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Mr. Trauttmansdorff organizes some seeds for planting.

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