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Best Practices for Community Gardening during COVID-19

(updated 4/15/2020)

The World Health Organization has declared the COVID-19 disease, known as the coronavirus, a pandemic. Due to this, GreenThumb is making important service changes, to ensure the health and safety of our partners and the public. Please read about these changes and additional safety precautions in this announcement.

These best practices for community gardening have been collected from greening partners and other community gardening programs across the country who are working quickly to comply with public health official’s guidance and requirements.

Garden Group Meetings
New York City has begun Phase 1 of reopening. Community gardens remain closed to the general public and open to garden members only for absolutely necessary maintenance and gardening season activities. Garden groups may now host in-person meetings at the garden, but social distancing and face covering protocols must still be followed. These garden meetings must be critcal to discuss the management of the group and space. All other gatherings, including workshops, social gatherings, volunteer projects, and events are still not permitted due to COVID-19. Gardens serving as pick-up locations for Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs, may continue to serve as pick-up locations for members of the general public. Prepared meals and processed foods may not be distributed at gardens. 

Personal Hygiene
Protect yourself and others from COVID-19. Remember to cover coughs and sneezes with tissues or inside your elbow. Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands. Regular hand washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds should be done: before and after eating; after sneezing, coughing, or nose blowing; after touching face, hair, cellphone and/or clothing; after using the restroom or portable toilet; before handling food; after touching or cleaning surfaces that may be contaminated; and after using shared equipment and supplies. Use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol if soap, water and paper towels are not available. It is not recommended to use homemade hand sanitizer, vodka, vinegar, tea tree oil and other natural products as they are not effective and may give false sense of security.  DOHMH recommends that all New Yorkers wear a face covering when outside of their home to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

Cleaning and Sanitizing Tools and Surfaces
Your best protection is to use your own gloves and tools. Wash and disinfect used tools and high-touch surfaces when finished. High-touch surfaces include garden gates, locks, shared tools, water spigots, hoses, compost bins, garden carts, latches and knobs on sheds, and work spaces, among others. To make your own disinfectant, get a spray bottle and fill with a 1-part bleach, 10-parts water mix. To sanitize you can also use diluted bleach-, peroxide- or alcohol-based products, or other products approved by the EPA or New York State DEC as effective against COVID-19. Lightly spray tools after use. Keep in mind that porous and pitted surfaces such as wood, will not be totally sanitized by this process. To sanitize the handles of the tools soaking them is most effective, not spritzing or wiping. For more information, please review DOHMH guidance on cleaning and disinfecting.

Portable Toilet (port-a-potty)
Make sure to provide access to the rental company in order to have portable toilets clean and well maintained. Post signs and remind gardeners to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds or to use hand sanitizer after use. Garden groups should provide hand sanitizer inside or near portable toilets. Please remember to frequently clean and disinfect port-a-potty inside and out with a household cleaning spray or disinfecting wipe in between regular rental company servicing.

Social Distancing
Observe physical distancing by staying at least 6 feet apart between all people at all times. It is critical to identify and protect gardeners at high risk, including people over 60, people with compromised immune systems, and people with underlying, ongoing, health conditions. If you are a gardener at high risk, please contact your fellow gardeners to help plant and cultivate the plots for you during this crisis. If any gardener is feeling sick, this gardener should not be visiting the garden.

Food safety
Currently there is a very low risk of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19. Unlike foodborne gastrointestinal (GI) viruses like norovirus and hepatitis A that often make people ill through contaminated food, SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, is a virus that causes respiratory illness. Foodborne exposure to this virus is not known to be a route of transmission. Like other viruses, it is possible that the virus that causes COVID-19 can survive on surfaces or objects. For that reason, it is critical to follow the 4 key steps of food safety to prevent foodborne illness: clean, separate, cook, and chill. Do not eat, chew gum, smoke, use tobacco, spit, while in the growing, processing, and/or food handling area.

Post signage
Place signs visible to everyone to stay home if they are sick. Place Cover Your Cough and Wash your Hands posters in visible locations around the community garden. Signs and posters can be found in multiple languages on the DOHMH website.

Keeping the spirit of community gardening going
There are several online resources where you continue to experience, learn, and share about community gardening. In addition, GreenThumb Outreach Coordinators have written a toolkit, Resources for Remote Information Sharing & Group Work (link below) detailing easy and free ways that gardeners can communicate with each other remotely during these difficult times.

In addition, GreenThumb has created internal garden signage in multiple languages for you to utilize inside your gardens to ensure members follow health and safety protocols (links below).


Tags: Gardens, Resources, Updates

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