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Mayor Kirk Caldwell agrees to open Honolulu’s community gardens

Mayor Kirk Caldwell on Thursday agreed to open up the city’s 10 community gardens, reversing an earlier decision to not exempt them from the “Stay at Home/Work from Home” order he issued last week as a means of ensuring social distancing during the coronavirus outbreak.

City parks, however, remain closed with the exception of restrooms, which will be open during typical park hours.

“I think of a park as somewhere you go and do recreation of some sort, and community gardens are more than recreation, it’s about work — getting dirty and getting sweaty and growing things,” Caldwell said. “They’re places where people can grow things to eat, and that’s even more important today.”

All 10 community gardens will be open by 10 a.m. today, a parks official said. After today, they will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily with the exception of the Foster Community Garden location, which will be open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays, 9 a.m. to noon on weekends.

Monthly meetings of the gardens’ members will remain canceled at least until the end of April.

The closure of the gardens was met with consternation by some who rent the garden plots on a monthly basis, some of whom emailed their sentiments to the mayor’s office this week.

Jane Aquino, who has a plot in Manoa Community Garden, said her garden allows her to be physically active “with purpose and pleasure.” Among the plants she’s been growing: Swiss chard, radishes, cucumbers, sugar snap peas and flowers.

A month’s closure would have been devastating to all the gardens, said Aquino, who lives in a nearby senior housing complex in the area. Garden neighbors typically show up in sparse numbers making it relatively easy to abide by the six-foot social distancing guideline. “I rarely see more than five or six gardeners working in their plots at the same time.”

Aquino said it makes sense to leave the gardens open now. “If we anticipate food shortages, it is important to keep existing resources growing.”

Dore Minatodani and her husband, Tom Dye, have a plot at Foster Community Garden. Lately, Dye has been planting more edible vegetables, fruits and herbs. Green beans, tomatoes, basil, chili peppers and mint are among the items in the couple’s garden.

“He’s taking a stab at artichokes this year,” Minatodani said, noting that they weren’t entirely confident they would be successful.

The couple rent the 100-square-foot plot both for sustenance and the physical and mental health benefits. Minatodani said she used to live in a house in Kaneohe and now live in an apartment near the garden.

“When I used to have a yard, I never really fully took advantage of it, appreciated it,” she said. Now that doesn’t have a yard, she’s more appreciative of having a garden, she said.

Community gardens first began in 1975 under late Mayor Frank Fasi. Nearly all of the gardens have waiting lists and attendance at monthly community garden meetings is expected of those who want to become or remain members. User fees and dues vary among the various gardens. Some even require a deposit.

Caldwell stressed that his decision isn’t intended to allow people to congregate or linger at the gardens. “We want them to tend to their garden and practice good social distance.”

The city is acting as quickly as it can for the sake of public health and safety so there may be other changes as the self-isolation order continues, Caldwell said. “We adjust as we go.”

For instance, sit-in dining is prohibited but an exception is now being made for cafeterias in medical centers, where health workers have nowhere else to go for food in the middle of a long shift, he said.

If people have concerns, Caldwell said, they should inform the city “and we’ll try to address them and calibrate appropriately so they can do the thing that are critical to get through this.”

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