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COVID-19 could see growing number of Cape Bretoners cultivating own crops

A new empty raised bed in a kitchen garden is filled with soil ready to plant. CONTRIBUTED
A new empty raised bed in a kitchen garden is filled with soil ready to plant. CONTRIBUTED
SYDNEY, N.S. —

Growing your own food is as simple as getting some seeds, soil and something to grow in, says a local farmer.

With long lineups and empty shelves at local grocery stores, Pauline Singer, the manager of the Cape Breton Farmers' Market and owner-operator of Mountain View Farm in Coxheath, believes the COVID-19 pandemic could result in more people starting their own gardens.

Pauline Singer
Pauline Singer

“Us as an island, we have lots of farmland around here — it’s just not utilized right now because the truck brings everything in for us now. This has taught us if the truckers stop moving, there goes our food supply,” Singer said of the current state of food access.

“I think this has kind of opened people’s eyes to the benefits of growing food.”

While Cape Breton has a short growing season, Singer said many plants such as tomatoes, beans and peas that don’t require pollination at this time benefit from being sown indoors. And now is the perfect time to start.

“One thing I would recommend for first-time gardeners is you can grow quite a bit just in pots. There’s tomatoes you can grow in pots, there’s beans and peas — as long as you have a step, a pot and some dirt, you don’t even really have to have a yard to grow certain foods. Chives, they can start chives inside,” she said, adding she’s even shown students at area schools how to grow potatoes in laundry baskets by lining them with burlap and soil, then layering in seed potatoes.

After the last full moon in June is a good time to transplant your indoor crops outside and plant other vegetables that tend to do well locally, such as beets and carrots.

She said a raised garden bed is easy and inexpensive to make by nailing together some boards — just don’t use treated wood — and filling with a good, rich soil. Singer recommended the United Farmer’s Co-op on Keltic Drive as a good place to buy supplies and said while the store is closed to the public, people can phone-in their orders then pick them up at the loading bay.

“They have soil, they have pots, they have seeds and they probably have the biggest selection of non-GMO seeds, which is what people want to buy — the non-genetically modified ones. Those are the ones you can actually save the seeds from and grow yourself the following year and they don’t harm bees either — there are no chemicals in them.”

Some tomatoes are shown growing in a bucket. Pauline Singer, the manager of the Cape Breton Farmers' Market and owner-operator of Mountain View Farm in Coxheath says the COVID-19 pandemic could result in more people starting their own gardens. STOCK IMAGE
Some tomatoes are shown growing in a bucket. Pauline Singer, the manager of the Cape Breton Farmers' Market and owner-operator of Mountain View Farm in Coxheath says the COVID-19 pandemic could result in more people starting their own gardens. STOCK IMAGE

Singer said she’s considering hosting online tutorials for children “so that they know at a young age that they can grow their own food and where it comes from. It doesn’t come from a box or a can,” as well as first-time gardeners. She is also going to talk to local farmers about putting together smaller starter kits.

“Maybe people can pick them up outside of the farmers market, maybe we’ll provide them with soil and a couple of seeds,” she said.

“And one of the things I’m going to recommend that our vendors do — our primary producers — is to really ramp up the amounts of seedlings that they could have for offer to the public so that people can have their own gardens. We have strawberry plants, we have different varieties of tomatoes, cucumbers, peas, beans, and any kinds of different herbs you want.”

Singer said she wouldn’t be surprised if some local farmers plant more crops this year “because of everything that’s going on and the anticipated demand for local food.”

The farmers market also recently teamed up with the Pan Cape Breton Food Hub so local vendors can still sell their goods online while the market is closed.

Singer said the response has been good and the first order, which was scheduled to go out Thursday, was one of the largest ever for the food hub.

She said the partnership not only keeps the supply lines open for people to purchase local food, it also supports the smaller farmers who rely on the market as their main source of income.

"We want these people around at the end of this pandemic when we all come out the other side because this is our local food supply. If anything, this has taught us that we need a stronger local economy. Obviously there’s some stuff that we can’t grow here that we have to import but there’s a lot of stuff that we can produce here on the island. So I think there will be a greater appreciation for that.”

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