Gananoque Community Gardens still growing in spite of COVID-19

Gananoque Community Gardens organizer Jo Merkley is very pleased with this year’s results. In spite of COVID-19, a bumper crop of vegetables is coming in, much of it destined for the Food Bank. Supplied by Gwen Hundrieser

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The community gardens in Gananoque are absolute proof that COVID-19 can hurt a lot of things, but not the generous hearts and souls of local residents.

“All of the gardens were used, with one specifically for the food bank and one done by Rotary for the Food Bank,” Joanne Lancaster, Food Bank volunteer, said. “The produce is wonderfully abundant with a wide variety of items.”

Even with a worldwide pandemic people were not going to give up the opportunity to grow food in their own garden beds. Due to COVID-19, the standard rental fees were not enforced, but many still found a way to contribute the $20 per bed to help keep it all going.

“The Gananoque Community Garden is a committee of the Gananoque and Area Food Access Network with Rotarian Jo Merkley overseeing the Community Gardens,” Rotarian and Food Bank volunteer Gwen Hundrieser said.

“Jo coordinates the maintenance of the gardens, the topsoil, manure and mulch, as well as the Facebook page and registration. There is no fee for low-income families, and they are provided with seeds and plants as well as the help of an expert gardener if they wish.”

There were fears about people getting out and ignoring the rules in place, but these have proven to be unfounded.

“People are generally very conscious of social distancing,” Lancaster said. “A few wear masks, and people are respectful of each other. Seldom do more than two or three come at the same time. The food bank has so much produce coming in this year, and not just from the garden.  There’s been an incredible amount of generosity.”

The Gananoque Rotary Club has supported the community gardens – both on Arthur Street and Oak Street – since they began. This year in particular they are major supporters, supplying whatever may be needed to keep the gardens in good condition as well as maintain a specific Rotary garden plot to help supply vegetables to the food bank.

Gardeners are supplied with necessary tools by the community garden. These may include shovels, trowels, rakes, hoes, watering cans, and wheelbarrows, and lower income families also benefit from seeds and plants. Ordinarily local youth would be coming out to participate and learn more, but COVID-19 has kept them away for this season.

“The gardens are spacious enough to allow gardeners to social distance comfortably and safely,” Hundrieser said. “We look forward to seeing the youth groups become involved again next year.”

“The community gardens are a great way for people to enjoy growing fresh vegetables as well as getting out to meet other gardeners and enjoy some social time while sharing food literacy,” Merkley said. “It is amazing to see all the different items people grow – there’s an amazing variety. Everyone has their own ideas and preferences.

“At this time of year vegetables are being harvested – lovely ripe tomatoes, cauliflower,  cabbages, onions, beans, lettuce, kale, carrots, beans, peas, cucumbers, and even corn. Soon the squash and potatoes will be ready as well as lots of herbs.”

Merkley said that the gardens “are wonderful.”

“I really enjoy talking to the gardeners and seeing the pride they take in their gardens and the pleasure and satisfaction they get from growing their vegetables,” she said.

Merkley is originally from Saskatoon, and was involved in the Child Hunger Education program as well as coordinating Community Gardens. Having these skills, she was more than happy to continue this work in Gananoque.

“It’s certainly a benefit having the garden and it provides an outing for some who don’t want to go anywhere – it gives them a safe haven,” Lancaster said.

For more information, go to or find them on Facebook through the Gananoque and Area Food Bank.