THE mental health and wellbeing of community gardeners on the Mornington Peninsula is being tested by the continuous COVID-19 lockdowns.
Members of the 17 shire-run community gardens, who may also be socially isolated, like nothing better than to potter around picking vegetables, weeding, composting and pruning – all joys put on hold by the restrictions.
Shire officers told members at the start of lockdown that, under state government COVID-19 restrictions, their gardens would be closed until further notice. Some even had their locks changed to stop entry.
Several members, who asked not to be named, told The News it was heartbreaking to watch their hard work going to waste. Rats and weeds have become problems, with vegetables eaten before they can be picked, dying of thirst, or succumbing to a weed with purple flowers that is running rampant.
“All this food is going to waste,” one said. “The shire goes on about food for change and then they shut the gardens. They say one thing and do the other.”
Another demanded “an explanation of the shire’s reasoning”.
Last year the shire reportedly denied a request for one member to go in and pick as much produce as possible to donate to a food bank.
Mornington Community Garden has been in Pine Avenue Reserve, Mitchell Street, for 20 years and produce is shared with disability groups, Focus Support Services, and Chisholm TAFE.
Members said they were not allowed to pick vegetables but saw the alternative of shopping in air-conditioned supermarkets as being less safe. “My chances of picking up COVID are much higher in a crowded supermarket than on my own in the community garden,” one said.
The member said they had found no mention of community gardens in the government’s list of restricted activities.
“Adjacent to the garden is a dog park. It has no restrictions – thankfully – and this morning there were at least 20 people using it at the one time,” she said.
“[At the time] there was no restriction on numbers in playgrounds, yet a single member is not allowed to use the community garden.”
The avid gardener said it would be easy to regulate times so there was never more than one person in the garden. This, combined with QR codes, sign-in book, sanitiser, members wearing their own equipment and masks, would ensure COVID safety.
“A short time in the garden provides physical activity and greatly adds to mental wellbeing, especially for our many members who have limited outdoor space at home,” she said.
“Let’s hope the shire is able to work towards a way that people can enjoy the community garden again during lockdowns.”
Blairgowrie Community Garden president Anne van Veen said the garden committee “takes COVID-19 restrictions seriously and requests our members follow the rules”.
“Of course, we would like the garden to be open, however, [we] understand this is not possible.”
Ms van Veen said committee would maintain the garden with watering of fruit trees and compost collection.
“The garden has done it hard this year: apart from being shut for long periods, our seedlings have become dinner for rodents.
“Our community is right behind us and we all can’t wait to enjoy revisiting the garden when possible.”