This year, the infamous 2020, has offered little to cheer about. If years were clouds, this one would be pretty dark. At times like this, it is important to regularly take stock of all things positive in our lives – the silver linings, as it were.
So it is with gratitude that we take this moment to recognize the good fortune that BUFCO has enjoyed in 2020.
The year opened with a never before experienced sense of fear and panic. In this, we were not at all alone. Fortunately, as members of the professional association Landscape Ontario and the LO Peer to Peer Network, we found great support and camaraderie. The LO Covid Response Committee provided consistent, professional, and extraordinary guidance through the ever-changing maze of new rules and regs that the pandemic forced upon us.
When the March lock-down was announced, we saw that exclusions included food producers, and were even told by provincial government representatives that, as a small-scale food producer, we could carry on working without restriction. In fact, we fell into a few different categories that defined us as an essential service. BUFCO was faced with a difficult decision.
After hours of deliberation, we decided to postpone the start of our installation and gardening season, until at least early May. Knowing this decision might significantly and negatively affect our end-of-year bottom line, and potentially even our ability to continue on post-lockdown, we decided that the physical and emotional health of our crew, clients, suppliers, and ourselves was paramount.
Still, inquiries continued to come in, and we continued to accept new clients into the fold with the understanding that our start dates were delayed. Much to our surprise, people didn’t seem to mind. More important than getting it now was getting it at all, so folks were, for the most part, more than willing to take their place in line, and have their garden installed as soon as was reasonable.
As people started realizing that they had nothing planned to occupy their home-from-school children, or themselves, for that matter, we started taking more and more calls. Adding to the mix was people’s increased awareness of self-sufficiency – or lack thereof – leading to even more inquiries. It was a challenge to keep up, but we never lost sight of the fact that we were, and are, one of the lucky ones, able to carry on business as (sort-of) usual.
We were disappointed to learn that all our school gardens would be unable to have us on their properties, a significant loss, but we soon discovered that many other community groups were gathering their resources and stepping in to provide the much-needed focus and leadership that schools were unable to provide at the time.
Ecosource, an Ontario based not-for-profit that is “Inspiring our community to be personally accountable for the environment through creative education” reached out and introduced us to the folks at Vaughan Mills Shopping Centre and the Centre’s property management company, Ivanhoé Cambridge. A few short weeks later, we were installing a new, 14 bed community garden just outside the Lego Land store. The new gardens are intended to involve and re-invigorate the community – visitors and workers alike – and to animate an underutilized area near one of the busier entrances to the mall.
Just two weeks ago, during those few days of unusually warm fall weather, and motivated by another Ecosource introduction, BUFCO installed 16 raised beds for the City of Mississauga in a new Malton-based community garden.
Currently we are in the midst of quoting on an extensive landscaping design build project, complete with fencing, benches, trellises, an herb spiral, and upwards of 55 raised garden beds that will become a major feature for a House of Worship, in and around which community members will surely find endless connection with food, nature, and each other.
To us, this is essential and visionary stuff. What an honour to work with people and organizations who recognize the value of community engagement, shared knowledge, opportunity, and of bringing folks together around one of the few things humans share universally – a need for, and love of food.
In the face of the Covid emergency, we’ve seen, and continue to witness small independent growers and suppliers who were able to react quickly and effectively where larger sellers couldn’t.
For example, when seedlings suddenly became unavailable at big box stores and large garden centres last spring, and when it was looking like small retailers like BUFCO were going to be stuck with thousands of seedlings because farmers markets were shut down, the Open Food Network stepped up and offered their online shopping portal with all fees waved.
Many small, independent farmers who rely heavily on local farmers markets to sell their harvests and make their modest living had to reinvent themselves in order to stay afloat. Small, community-based companies like Urban Harvest and Sundance Harvest, food advocacy organizations like FoodShare and AfriCan Food Basket, and many small independent farmers were able to step up, join forces and fill voids, proving once again that small, local businesses and Not for Profits are essential to a healthy, prosperous, and equitable future.
Simultaneously, racialized communities banded together and provided exemplary leadership by establishing healthy food delivery programs that were able to take care of those most vulnerable and marginalized.
So the Silver Lining Award goes to all of you who have stayed on, or have recently jumped on to the grow-your-own, local-community-supporting bandwagon, on which there is always room for more.
We know all too well of the many struggles 2020 has forced upon everyone. Yet, as we work our way into winter, and with another lockdown upon us, we realize that blessings must be counted, silver linings recognized, and good news prioritized. We hope our successes, and those of others who are defiant in the face of great challenges, provide some smiles, perhaps a bit of emotional relief, and maybe even a sense of excitement for what next year can bring to your garden and your community.