LONDON, ONT. -- The Ontario government announced Saturday morning it is lifting the restrictions on gardens and community gardens.

“These gardens are an essential source of fresh food for some individuals and families, including those who face food insecurity,” the province said in a statement.

It’s welcome news to Ben Hill, chairperson of the Middlesex London Food Policy Council.

He says he is pleased to see the premier recognize that food security is challenging at the best of times, and believes that security would only become even more scarce as the summer goes on.

“It’s a big win for the community and for a lot of families,” Hill says. "Just the act of getting out in the sunshine and getting your fingers in the ground - it’s important for people’s mentality and state of mind.”

There are over 450 community garden plots in London and about 1,000 users. Hill says according to his last conversation with the City of London, it will take about seven to 10 days to get them ready for use.

A number of the community gardens also give back to local food banks.

"They have a program called ‘Plant a row, donate a row,’ which raises fresh produce for the food bank,” Hill says.

The statement released by the office of the premier Saturday says local medical officers of health will provide advice, recommendations and instructions that the gardens must follow to operate.

They will include items such as physical distancing, and cleaning and disinfecting commonly used equipment and surfaces.

Linda Sloan is ready to get back to her garden plot in London's Berkshire Park.

"I'm absolutely chomping at the bit to get out and start turning soil over,” says Sloan, who grows a number of vegetables from carrots to lettuce.

Sloan calls herself an 'ambassador' for the Berkshire gardens. She says she's been emailing a number of the others who garden there.

"I told them it's good news, but do not go out and start digging up the soil quite yet," says Sloan.

The City of London will consult with the Middlesex-London Health Unit and decide how to apply COVID-19 regulations to community gardens.

The gardens never open before May 1, but that’s now likely the earliest date they could. open.

"We need to make sure we have all the proper policy guidelines in place to make sure people are gardening safely," says Vanessa Kinsley, supervisor of Community Gardens and Neighbourhood Support for the City of London.

"We also have to make sure we get site preparation done and do inspections because we haven't been able to do that in the last little while."

Green advocates claim victory

Earlier this month Ontario Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner petitioned the provincial government to keep community gardens open.

Recently he pushed again with a letter to the Solicitor General, Sylvia Jones, asking her to grant an exemption to community gardens and re-classify them as an essential food service, similar to moves taken in British Columbia, New Brunswick and P.E.I.

A petition on the Ontario Green Party website registered over 10,000 signatures.

It emphasized, “We can find a way to keep growing food locally, but with distancing guidelines to keep people safe.”

Environmental consultant Carol Dyck, who ran for the Green Party in London North Centre, agrees that gardening is safe.

"People will be able to do social distancing while still doing something positive for health," says Dyck. "They can bring in fresh fruit and vegetables when people are feeling food insecure. Hopefully this will be a win for the city and Ontario as a whole."

Dyck also adds Schreiner did a great job of getting the message out on a non-partisan level.

"He recognized the needs of the people of Ontario, and looking at what we can do to improve things," says Dyck.

"Hearing his voice of reason, is a great win for us, and hopefully people will remember that he's working hard to make good policy changes."