Urban farm connects with community and creates opportunity
Date: July 21, 2022
Author: Aisha Syed, Communication Assistant at ROI
It all began in 2013 with a modest desire to cultivate their own food and awareness of the path from seed to plate humbly. Today, Jacqueline Dwyer, MES and Noel Livingston are the Farm Managers and co-founders of the Toronto Black Farmers Collective, Afro-Indigenous Food Security Festival, and The Collective Group. Their mission is to promote and supply healthy and clean food for urban residents through spaces like the Welcome and Teaching Garden at the urban farm, with a focus on underserved populations. Using a holistic approach, the partners create spaces for individuals from all walks of life to get their hands in the soil, learn and exchange food knowledge and or share their cultural food anecdotes. Participants become empowered to tend to their own health and wellness, and to connect with their community and planet through food.
The Toronto urban farm, currently in its 9th season, is located at Downsview Park on Keele Street and Sheppard Avenue West with a partner site at the Country Heritage Park in Milton. Veteran and new volunteers including toddlers, preschoolers, young moms, seniors, and youth can be found busily preparing, tilling and harvesting and/or inquiring how to get involved.
“When we talk to young people about what we do, we don't talk to them about ‘farming’, we talk about ‘food’. And once we say ‘food’, their eyes perk up” Dwyer says with a laugh. Good food requires good practices, which is why the organization promotes clean farming. This involves understanding and documenting the farmer’s techniques and applications and ensuring pesticide-free consumables. Healthy for the consumer, healthy for the environment. We must be responsible custodians of our great planet.
Dwyer and the collaborators are creating spaces that empower people and foster independence. The Collective Group brings together community leaders and residents from across the GTA and even outside Ontario, in an effort to keep neighborhoods healthy and safe and to promote quality of life. The leaders started community distributing food hampers before the pandemic, and to date have distributed over 5000 to low-income Torontonians who would not traditionally be given hampers to feed their households with good culturally relevant and local foods. This initiative was done with partners like Country Heritage Park and other food service operators who felt it was their duty to give back to some of Toronto’s most vulnerable neighborhoods.
“It's been a real eye-opening and empowering experience to engage with nature's oldest gifts and the environment that actually feeds you with good food unconditionally” Dwyer shares.
The urban farming initiatives have not been without challenges, but no gain without pain. The opportunity to use city arable and fertile land for urban farming has decreased because of a lack of access in the urban space.
Dwyer’s suggestion is to rezone urban parks, converting a portion of those sites into space for food production - like fruit orchards and high intensive rotating organic food systems. “It would make a lot of sense and make life easier for many food insecure people because people spend a lot of time in parks now. They take their family and animals. The next step is to increase eco-sustainability in the parks, adding more fruit and nut trees and increasing perennial and permaculture ancient farming so people can go and get food and learn how to be better stewards of the land and the planet,” Dwyer explains.
Urban farms have been proven to provide a growing number of advantages for city dwellers. The activity of cultivating helps participants to destress, unplug from their gadgets, and reconnect with the environment, elements and other people.
“The rest of our journey now is to continue sharing, teaching, making space for others, and to continue using food in an empowering way forward. This gives people a different experience and awareness that we can feed ourselves sustainably because we are talking about a climate emergency,” she said. “We also realize that if we are not looking after each other, the climate will eat us up. So, we have to look at different ways to take better care of ourselves and also each other - we live in communities. It's been a positive experience for us being able to be ourselves and creating space for each other to be a part of something that is on a special path to change the way we live, work, play, and invest in the communities and neighborhoods that exist, being created now and in the future.”
Follow the Toronto Black Farmers’ Collective and get involved by visiting their website at www.torontoblackfarmers.ca and www.instagram.com/torontoblackfarmers.