My Abuelita, Nelly

aerial illustration of a family gathering eating and sharing food.

By Aemilius Milo

“Bini’s Momo Party” Illustration by Jennifer Bloome

Stepping into my Abuelita Nelly’s home was always a special kind of aromatic experience. One I never realized I’d have to go without one day, or at least couldn’t fathom that day would come so soon. It’s been a few years now since she stopped cooking for our big family occasions, mostly because it’s a big job y ya’stá cansada, so the adult kids and grandkids have taken up the duties. But also because bit by bit, she started forgetting her recipes and began missing ingredients here and there.

Helping my Abuelita in the kitchen at 8 years old is one of my earliest memories of cooking; witnessing how raw ingredients became nourishing and delicious meals for 10 or more of us at a time. People often ask me how I gauge the amount of ingredients I need to cook large meals. Of course, cooking requires plenty of calculating and measurements, but – for me – a special part of preparing food, is harnessing my intuition and the knowledge  I learned from my Abuelita (as well as my father, and my ancestors too). I remember one of my main jobs, as her little kitchen helper, was taking the sweet green peas out of their pods; my tiny hands carefully picking them out one by one. As a kid, this wasn’t a task I was excited about but it’s remained a special memory I cherish now and certainly don’t take for granted. A fun fact my Abuelita recently shared, is that it wasn’t until she emigrated here from Peru in her early 20’s, that she taught herself how to cook—for survival. I have no doubt the ancestors were flowing through her as she created what came to be her menú. She made sopas, y caldos, y guisos, y tallarines, the best garlic rice ever, and my absolute favorite dish she would cook for me on my birthday: escabeche de pollo. I’ll also never forget her desserts, on the rare occasions she made them, mazamorra morada and budín, goodness in your mouth like nothing else. She would make so much more than just this shortlist.

I miss her cooking. When I eat or smell something that reminds me of her food, my eyes well up, and when I make something and hit those flavor notes she was so good at creating, I can’t help but feel like she’ll always be with me here, in every kitchen I step into. 

One dish she was especially good at was Papa a la Huancaína. Recently it hit me that I no longer follow her recipe, and I can’t even describe the sadness that came over me with this realization. I’ve had to develop my own take on it, either for meeting specific dietary requirements, or achieving a higher-yielding recipe, yet, hers will always be my starting point and foundation for flavor and taste. My abuelita’s Papa a la Huancaína was perfect and I now want to share it with the world, so it lives on forever.

(yields 6-8 appetizer-size servings)

equipment necessary
blender, stove top, medium/large boiling pot

sauce ingredients
1 cup of oil (vegetable, or another light tasting oil of your preference)
1 egg (raw)
1 clove of garlic
1 tbsp of ají amariilo, paste or fresh/frozen
(Peruvian hot pepper, can be measured to taste/spice level)
Salt and Black Pepper, pinch of each or measured to taste
½ - 1 lime, squeezed fresh
1 tub/500g light ricotta cheese, fresh and water drained

complete dish and garnish ingredients
6-8 yukon gold potatoes, boiled, peeled, cooled and sliced
3-4 hard boiled eggs
*iceberg lettuce and Kalamata olives optional

In blender, pour in the cup of oil and cracked raw egg, blend to a mayonnaise consistency.
Next, in the same blender with the now whipped base, add the garlic, half of the cheese,
and the ají amarillo – blend to smooth/creamy consistency.
Squeeze half of the lime in the blender into sauce, add the remainder of cheese, with salt and black pepper-
blend again to the same smooth/creamy consistency.
If sauce requires more liquid to reach smooth and creamy, squeeze in remaining half of lime and/or add a small splash of either
milk/cream/evaporated milk/nut milks of your preference – continue to add as needed to reach that final consistency.
If sauce gets too thin, blend with small chunks of a boiled potato at a time. 

Once sauce is complete, line dish/plate/bowl with lettuce if desired,
place potatoes (boiled, peeled, cooled and sliced) and pour sauce over top. Garnish with half
a hardboiled egg, and 1-2 Kalamata olives, and enjoy my abuelita Nelly’s specialty – Papa a la Huancaína.  

Aemilius Milo is an accomplished performance artist, organizer, and social entrepreneur. Following a decade involved in Queer/Trans performance theatre spaces in tkaronto, in the fall of 2018 Milo officially launched Comiditas; a small food business/catering company specializing in Peruvian food creations, with a focus on community engagement. They hope to continue expanding Comiditas sustainably and mindfully, in a variety of ways and directions, remaining active in communities for many years to come. IG:@foodbycomiditas

ReMatriating the Land with Matriarch Camp

A detailed illustration of a women raising her hand in protest and talking into a mic. the cursive text boarders the right side of the picture and reads " Matriating the land since time immemorial"

By Bitty & Salmon Defenders 

“Tsas’ Dream”Illustration By Bitty Q

Matriarch Camp (MC) mainly travels Kwa’kwaka’wakw, Nuu’chah’nulth and Coast Salish territories. Led by Ma’amtagila grandmother Tsastilqualus Ambers Umbas, MC has members recognized as Warrior Women, Salmon Defenders and supportive allies. MC also has kin camps Swanson and Midsummer Island that are led by Namgis Hereditary Chief Ernest Alfred and his niece Karissa Glendale.

MC’s initial occupation began on October 13, 2017 and was acknowledged by the event: “State of Emergency, Matriarch Camp Anniversary/Call to Action” (October 15, 2018). MC was able to camp outside Premier John Horgan’s office and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) for about 6 months while surviving the harsh raincoast weather, multiple arrests, and minimal support. 

Matriarch Camp is known for fierce direct actions such as one member chain locking her neck to an entrance to the DFO, boarding “The Orca Thief” boat (fills farms with fish) in dry dock and one member duct-taping themselves to the mast and a X-Mass Extinction Die-In mall tour.

MC is culturally committed to protecting our wild salmon relatives from Mowi (formerly Marine Harvest) open net fish farms that infect our coastal territories with PRV-virus and lice. These diseases and parasites have already contributed to a dangerous, unprecedented decline in wild Pacific salmon, with many vital populations and salmon runs predicted to be obsolete within a decade. This, in turn, has led to a rapid and potentially irreversible decline in the survival rates of our southern resident orca whale relatives, of which only around 6 dozen now remain. There is a gauntlet of over 30 concentrated fish farms polluting the migration route of wild salmon and whales in the Broughton Archipelago, Kwa’kwaka’wakw territory.

Tsastilqualus’ dream has been to bring Matriarch Camp to her traditional and unceded Etsekin (I’tsikan) homelands of the Ma’amtagila people where the resistance will continue. This October 2019, a gukdzi bedo (Little Big House) was built in partnership with the University of Victoria and fundraising is underway to move it to Halidi, a 20-minute boat ride to Etsekin, where there are currently three fish farms and threat of a fourth. 

Ma’amtagila Matriarch and grandmother Tsastilqualus is continuing her Indigenous right to resist fish farms in Indigenous waters and support is always welcomed and needed.

Matriarch Camp is fully grassroots and runs on their own out of pocket funds, fundraising and community support.

Donations can be e-transferred to

For ease of transaction, use password: Wildsalmon 

Follow on FB: The Matriarch Camp.

Also on FB: Fish Farms Out Now, Swanson Occupation

Black and White portrait of Bitty close mouth smiling with arms raised in a black shirt. They have on glasses and dark lipstick

Bitty Q – my name is bitty. I’m a two-spirit, art creating, youth centering, forest wandering, sea misting, garden growing, care loving crip. I have maternal Coast Salish roots of Lkwungen, Quw’utsun’ and Lummi descent and paternal roots of Irish, French and Euro ancestry. To see more art that I make and learn more about me, check out

Manoomin, The Good Seed and The Great Need

Black duck wild rice field

Anishinaabe Food Security with Black Duck Wild Rice

By Xico Maher

Thirty-eight years ago, James Whetung of Curve Lake First Nation found himself in the middle of a blockade in Ardoch Algonquin First Nation, preventing non-natives from engaging in commercial harvesting of manoomin, or wild rice. “They [people from Ardoch] took us out into the canoes and showed us how to gather wild rice, showed us how to bring the seeds back to shore, and turn them into food … The great need that my body remembered for that food came alive with that experience. I could see the great value of going out to gather seeds that could be turned into food, and it could be so resilient and last years if you could keep it dry — and when you went to cook it, it could still be as good as the day you processed it.” 

Manoomin, meaning the good seed or the gift of Creator, is a grain called wild rice due to its similar appearance to rice. Manoomin grows in shallow water in lakes across northern Turtle Island. It has been grown, curated and used by Anishinaabe people for thousands of years. Manoomin pollen can be dated back ten thousand years, and archeological evidence on an island nearby shows that Anishinaabe people had been using manoomin since at least four thousand years ago. Manoomin is rich in protein, and if processed properly can last years and remain edible. 

James Whetung is the man behind Black Duck Wild Rice, a rehabilitation project and business that, for 38 years, has been dedicated to restoring manoomin beds in the lakes surrounding Curve Lake First Nation. The operation is run out of James’ home which overlooks one of the many lakes that make up Curve Lake, and from the window the rice beds are visible. The beds are almost swamp-like in appearance, seeming as if one could walk on them as the plants are bunched thickly together. As James explains, the ancient relationship that Anishinaabe people had with manoomin has rapidly declined and diminished within the past 80 years. James himself witnessed this great decline. “My uncle brought home some wild rice seeds,” Whetung says, speaking of an experience from when he was three years old. “I remember dancing and playing on that rice on the wooden floor of the mission house.”  The mission house was the home his family lived in when James was young and is described as the most imposing structure in the village of Curve Lake, run by Christian missionaries. “As I was growing up, wild rice wasn’t a big thing in my life. Most of our culture was wiped out from social memory by the genocidal acts of the Canadian government. They removed us from the land, declared Terra Nullius and gave away the land to the colonizers.”

“Food security is an idea that is pretty hard to get your mind around until a hurricane comes, and you go down to the store — there’s no food left in it, there’s no water left, there’s nothing, the shelves are empty. It does not take long for that to happen, three or four days. There’s no food.”

As James grew, he continued to witness the diminishment of wild rice beds in his community. “The rice beds were declining so rapidly. The whole ecosystem that’s built around the manoomin was also disappearing … there are so many things that want to eat it [manoomin]. Geese with their long necks come along by the hundreds and thousands into the rice beds and they wanna eat wild rice. Other animals such as ducks, moose, or the hundreds of thousands of blackbirds that go into the rice beds every fall, and live right in the plants and eat the rice — and they eat a lot.” Millions of bugs, little fish, and the muskrat have “had a longer relationship with manoomin than people have, and they’re manoomin culture. They build their houses out of the plants, and they eat the house itself over the winter.” Therefore, the local wildlife would have been severely impacted by the decline of manoomin. This also leads to more impacts on the community of Curve Lake, as hunters would target rice beds for the animals that would go there to feed.

One of the greatest challenges, described by James, is the cottage and boating industries. Cottages in and around the reserve, that are owned and rented out to non-natives, have given way to a grand industry that grows every year. The destructive ways in which the land for these cottages were developed to be built on have severely harmed the rice beds as well and changed the entire face of the lakes and river systems. With the rise of cottaging came boating, and the houseboat industry. The boats would vent the exhaust through the water, which filtered it through itself. Sewage from houseboats would be dumped into the lakes and rivers. The waterways grew filthy, choking out the rice beds. The boat traffic would cut right through young and vulnerable rice beds just as they began to grow, and traffic on the “lakes continues to grow every year.”

“It wasn’t just the dirty water,” James continued explaining. “Trent Severn waterway had a mandate to eradicate the weeds. Weed eradication program — they used Agent Orange to eradicate the weeds along the lakes to make way for the boats.” Yes, the Agent Orange, used as chemical warfare on the Vietnamese by the American imperialist military. “And I have proof for that … There was a man out here in our village who had worked for Trent Canal for years. He got my brother and a couple other workers to come over to his place, opened the shed and showed them the cans of Agent Orange … Is it any surprise that not only Nishnabes’ health is affected but everyone living on the Trent Severn waterway … And it’s only been recently that they stopped using it and stopped issuing permits to have poison put in the water to wipe out aquatic weeds. So it wasn’t just organic pollution.”

James Whetung and his daughter standing side by side smiling
James Whetung and his daughter

The impacts from the restoration of manoomin in Curve Lake are many, but the impact on the importance of food sovereignty remains present in discussions surrounding wild rice and Indigenous traditional food restoration in general. “Until very recently, I never felt, or it was difficult for me to think of it as a sovereignty issue or a food security issue — just because it was so difficult and not many people cared about it or wanted it. In 2015, my community started giving me a piece of paper, saying I had the right to gather wild rice. That’s when I started to feel like it was more of a sovereignty issue — not just to me, but to us as a people. There’s no doubt in my mind that manoomin is a sovereignty issue.” The last time the Anishinaabek people signed a treaty with Canada was in 1923, the Williams Treaties, and James explains how treaties are on a nation-to-nation basis, not a nation-to-provincial basis. The common misconception among the Canadian public is that treaties with the government happen reservation-to-reservation — it was the Anishinaabek nation that signed a treaty in 1923, the same way that the Haida or Cree or Mi’kmaq nations signed treaties with the crown and government, signed as sovereign nations with the intention of remaining entirely sovereign. “Our peoples’ memory of sovereignty has been diminished a lot and I don’t even know if there’s many people who consider it a sovereign issue. I myself do and I am not alone in that.

As a sovereign nation, we should be able to determine our food security.” The restoration of manoomin is a practice of national sovereignty, cementing Anishinaabe nation’s right to the land that has been used by them for millennia, and their right to maintain access to good, healthy, sustainable food. “Food security is an idea that is pretty hard to get your mind around until a hurricane comes, and you go down to the store — there’s no food left in it, there’s no water left, there’s nothing, the shelves are empty. It does not take long for that to happen, three or four days. There’s no food.” And so, there comes the importance of manoomin, the great seed: high in protein, low in carbs, long-lasting if taken care of, and delicious. “If you process it properly, it’ll last for years. If you have substantial and sufficient rice beds, that is security. You need a constant source of food, not just food but good, healthy food. Macaroni won’t do it … That’s what it means to me, good health too. The lifestyle of gathering wild rice, it’s a lot of work. As a family or a community, it’s quite possible and I have proved that.

When asked what he has learnt through all his years spent ricing, James speaks of relationships, and it is not unlike what other Anishinaabe people would say. The importance of relationships, respect and reciprocity is a theme common in Anishinaabe culture — in the way their society is constructed and sustained. Just as the Anishinaabe entered treaties with a vision of respect and reciprocity on a nation-to-nation basis with Canada, the Anishinaabe have always held the same standard in their relationships with the land, the water, the food, and all beings that reside on Turtle Island. “I’m not a know-it-all. What I know has been learned with great difficulty. I’ve had to travel great distances, at great expense, I might as well say, to learn about wild rice when it’s not in your own home. I’ve learned the value of seeds. We gotta have access to those seeds … Monitoring, taking care, having a relationship with those plants. You just don’t go out to gather the seeds in the two or three weeks you have in September. You go out watching, there’s a lot of things out there you see. And I’ve learnt a lot about that, about the plant itself, the biology of that plant, the relationship that plant has with all of creation. I don’t know it all, I’m learning still, and there is so much to learn.” 

a ziploc bag of harvested black duck wild rice with a tag that reads "wild rice gathered and processed in the kawartha lakes region"
Harvested black duck wild rice

“I’ve learnt that our community is just in shambles — it’s tattered, it’s torn, it’s wrecked ever since they made the reserves. The genocide that’s been imposed upon us and our peoples have caused so much damage … So I learned how pathetic we are. I went to other reserves where they’ve had the whole community involved in gathering wild rice — the grannies, grandpas, men, women, the children — all taking part in some way … For years and years people have been coming up to me, telling me I should be cutting down those plants, wanting me, offering to hire me to cut down those plants. To the point where I’ve had people coming up screaming and yelling hateful, racist, rants, and rages at me. So I’ve learned how upset they are. I’ve learned that there’s people who care about us as Nishnabe people. Through truth and reconciliation, through education at schools or by volunteers coming here offering their services free to plant and gather and take care of our equipment. I’ve learnt so much about processing wild rice.” 

When asked about the future of Black Duck Wild Rice, James said that 38 years of work has not yet fulfilled his dreams. More work is to be done, more rice is to be planted, and considering the situation manoomin restoration is in with the cottage industry and the people who own said cottages, James himself says the work will be hard. “I have dreams. My dream is to put the rice back in Rice Lake. And from my experience of putting the rice back in these lakes around Curve Lake, I know it’s going to be a big, difficult job. Overcoming those obstacles, in the near future, not waiting forever to rehabilitate Rice Lake. That’s it.” The future seems bright, despite oncoming obstacles, and like other Indigenous people working to restore their nation’s sovereignty through reclamation of culture lost through the years of colonization, the impact is rippling and growing year by year as the rice beds do. “Trying to put back the rice in Rice Lake, it deals with soverignty issues too because over the years, genocide practices have used the divide-and-conquer tactic. Right now, Curve Lake is Curve Lake First Nation, Scugog is Scugog First Nation. I don’t believe in that. I think we are all one nation. And so I’m hoping that we can gather up our forces again and be a nation, a sovereign nation.”

To learn more and support Black Duck Wild Rice, visit their website: 

Xicohtencatl Maher is a 2spirited Tlaxcaltecan Nahua and Newfie, born in Mexico and living currently on Anishinaabek territory. He is an activist, artist, writer, escuincle and shit-disturber, and in his free time enjoys mixed martial arts and going out on the land.

Gimiwan Finds Manoomin Seeds

illustration of a man and women canoing to harvest wild rice

By Chyler Sewell

The sharp whistle of the tea kettle drowns out the heavy pattering of rain, if only for a short while. 

Mom stands up from her spot at the table, where her laptop sits open, and papers stretch out messily. She opens a new can of peppermint tea and holds it close to her nose, the smell delighting her senses.

Quick light footsteps sound from the hallway, and then, a little girl. Her black hair in two braids and her dark brown eyes glittering with excitement. 

“Can I tell you a story, Mama?”

Mom smiles, and carries her cup over to the old saggy blue couch in the living room. “Of course, kwezens.” Mom replies, patting the spot beside her.

Eagerly, the little girl skips over from the kitchen and climbs up to sit beside her mother. She sinks down, comfortable in the crook of Mom’s arm. 

“Mama, my story is about food.” the little girl says.

“Okay, love.”

“Alright, Mama” kwezens says, wiggling in her spot. “My story starts with a kid like me. This kid.” Kwezens looks out the window “I’m gonna call them Gimiwan. Mama, do you know what gimiwan means?”

“Gimiwan is rain in our language, kwezens.” Mom says and brushes a stray lock of hair away from her child’s face. As she does, she remembers the excitement, recalls the sense of infinite possibilities that is so innate in children. A fond smile, small but there, dawns on Mom’s face.

“Yeah! It’s raining, and it’s a word I like and it’s a word Grandma teached me. That’s why my story has a kid named Gimiwan in it.” 

Mom’s fond smile  transforms into a small chuckle. 

“That’s lovely, Kwezens.”

“Okay Mama. So, Gimiwan likes to garden, but Gimiwan can’t get seeds. They want to plant mano . . . manomin? Mama, how do you say it?”

“Manoomin? Like, wild rice in our language?” 

“Yeah! That’s it! Manoomin! Gimiwan wants to plant manoomin but they can’t get seeds.”

The room goes silent for a moment. The little girl stares at the wall, her head tilted, and her brows furrowed.

“What happens next Kwezens?” Mom prompts.

“I don’t know Mama . . .” the little girl trails off. “Where do you get manoomin seeds? I don’t want Gimiwan to be sad, but I don’t know where they’d get the manoomin seeds.”

“Aw Kwezens, it’s alright” Mom says, and pats the little girl’s head. “I’ll tell you how Gimiwan gets their seeds, ‘kay?” She hugs her daughter close.

“Okie dokie!” 

“So, Gimiwan needs manoomin seeds but doesn’t know how to get them. Wanna guess who Gimiwan asks?”

“Oh! Oh! I know!” Kwezens exclaims, raising her hand. After a nod from mom, she says, “Gimiwan would ask Grandma!”

“Yes Kwezens, Gimiwan would ask Grandma. So, that’s what Gimiwan does. They go and see their grandma, they sit, and visit, and have tea with their grandma. Gimiwan listens as Grandma tells them about her day, and they listen as Grandma tells Gimiwan stories. Gimiwan doesn’t interrupt– ” 

“Yeah! Gimiwan doesn’t interrupt because the old people don’t get visitors a lot, right? And Gimiwan’s grandma is an old person.”

Mom chuckles. “Right, Kwezens.”

“Oh! Is my Grammy an old person, then? Grammy has friends who visit her and go to the casino with her.”

“Haha! Yes, Grammy is still an old person Kwezens. Sure, there are many elders who aren’t visited as often as they should be, but there are also elders who have many friends. Grammy is one of those elders, kwezens.” Mom says, then pauses. “Gimiwan’s grandma has friends, but they’re farther away, so she doesn’t get to see them too often. That’s why Gimiwan stays and visits with their grandma.” 

The little girl looks down at her hands and twiddles her thumbs. “Mama, can we visit Grammy soon?”

“Of course Kwezens.” Mom says, reaching to grab her daughter’s hands. “Wanna finish this story first?”

The little girl holds mom’s hands tight. “Yeah! I want to hear how Gimiwan gets the manoomin seeds.”

Mom nods, a gentle grin on her face. “When grandma finishes talking, she says to Gimiwan, ‘So, grandchild, what did you come for?’ Gimiwan smiles, and finally broaches the question to their grandma.”

“. . . Mama, what does broaches mean?” the little girl asks hesitantly.

“Oh, I’m sorry Kwezens.” Mom awkwardly laughs. “I forgot that you’re still learning words. Broaches, hm, how do I explain broaches . . . It means to finally ask the question.”

“So Gimiwan asks Grandma where they can get the seeds!”

“Yes, they do! Gimiwan asks Grandma where they can get seeds. Grandma tells Gimiwan that they have to go to where food grows on the water. Where Gimiwan lives, food doesn’t grow on water.”

“Oh! Food grows on the water here!” Kwezens begins, excited. “But Mama, why isn’t Gimiwan here?” The little girl furrows her brows again. This time, her furrowed gaze directed at Mom.

“Gimiwan, before they were born, their mom moved far away, Kwezens. Gimiwan didn’t grow up where food grows on water.” Mom replied quickly, feeling unnerved by her child’s gaze.  

“But Mama, that’s sad. What did Gimiwan eat then?”

“Aw, sweetheart, Gimiwan still ate food. It’s not like we only eat manoomin, right?”

“Yeah, Mama, you’re right. But– but Mama, manoomin is my favourite food.” the little girl pouts.

“Gimiwan ate manoomin before Kwezens, don’t worry. But doesn’t Gimiwan want to grow manoomin?”

“Yeah Mama, Gimiwan wants to grow manoomin. Just like me!” Kwezens stands up on the couch and reaches as high as she can. “I wanna grow manoomin when I’m this big!”

“Yeah? You wanna go out in the canoes with those long sticks and harvest manoomin? Just like your cousins?”

“Yeah! Yeah!”

“Aw, Kwezens, you’ll be big enough soon, don’t worry.” Mom says, and coaxes her daughter back down onto the couch. 

“Okay Mama. What happens next?”

“Next? Next, Gimiwan decides to go to where food grows on water.” Mom says.

“But what about Gimiwan’s mama? Wouldn’t Gimiwan’s mama miss them?” Concern was written on the little girl’s face.

“Of course Gimiwan’s mom would miss them, sweetie. You know what though?” Mom pulled the little girl on her lap. “Gimiwan’s mom would also want Gimiwan to go off and learn about things that she didn’t get to learn about. If Gimiwan can heal themself, they’ll also be healing all their ancestors.”

The little girl let her head rest on her mom’s chest. “I don’t ever want to leave you, Mama.”

“Not yet, at least, Kwezens.” Mom says playing with one of her daughter’s braids. “You might when you’re older.”

“Like Gimiwan?”

“Yeah, sweetie. Like Gimiwan.”

“What does Gimiwan do when they get to where food grows on the water?” Kwezens yawns.

“Well, when Gimiwan gets to where food grows on the water, they learn how to cultivate manoomin. They learn to go out on the canoes with the sticks. They learn how to use the sticks to tap the rice off the plant, and they learn about dancing on the rice and tossing it up on a blanket during a windy day to get the husks off. Gimiwan stays where food grows on the water for a long time and learns all of these things.They even learn how to cook manoomin.” Mom says.

Soft snores leave her daughter’s open mouth.

“Aw, did you fall asleep Kwezens?” Mom whispers, brushing a strand of hair away from the little girl’s face. “I’ll tell you tomorrow about how Gimiwan brings manoomin seeds back to their home, okay? I’ll tell you about how Gimiwan reteaches his mom and his grandma about manoomin and how they share the teachings with the people. Okay?”

“Mmhmm, Mama.” Kwezens mumbles.

“I love you Kwezens. Have a good sleep.” Mom says, and places a gentle kiss on her daughter’s head. 

Chyler Sewell is an Anishinaabe-kwe youth from Garden River Ontario. Currently living in Hamilton Ontario, she organizes and facilitates events for Indigenous youth. As an aspiring novelist, Chyler also spends her free time creating fantastical worlds from Indigenous youth perspectives.

Lakeside Hope House

By Kimberly Lyons

Illustrations by Bang Ly 

Lakeside Hope House is an organization that believes “community is the opposite of poverty”. When asked to write about Food Justice it was important for us to include the insights of community members experiencing poverty.

We are all about accessibility at HOPE House in order to foster belonging and dignity within the community. We wondered if the term “food justice” was an accessible concept for all and so Kimberly sat with community members in conversation about what food justice means to them. She asked their permission to record their responses to the question, “What does food justice mean to you?” and to photograph their headshots to be rendered into pencil portraits by Bang. 

Kimberly Lyons, Communications and Events Lead, is a playful and unapologetic feminist and social justice worker, passionate about involving HOPE House in advocacy initiatives. Kim is also a certified Death Doula and fully committed to a life devoid of “what if ’s”.

Bang Ly –Ongoing Support Manager at HOPE House, is a portrait painter from Guelph, ON. Bang works in oils and pencils and primarily focuses on depicting the life and warmth of the subject behind the painting.

You can find his work on Instagram: Superbang

Climate Change, Racial Justice and Community Sustainability

Front cover of "A Toolbox for Sustainable City Living" by Scott Kellogg and Stacy Pettigrew

A review of “A Toolbox for Sustainable City Living” by Scott Kellogg and Stacy Pettigrew, with illustrations by Juan Martinez 

By Lue Boileau 

At this moment, I hope that many of us are considering the future of our communities as we prepare for progressive climate change; to both prevent a worst-case scenario and to adapt to what is already in progress. In any climate change scenario, either the worst or best case projection, it is clear that we must radically shift our way of living towards sustainable communities.  It is also essential that we connect food justice and racial justice to our ideas of sustainability. It is urgent that we come to define climate change as a racial issue, as our communities both here and abroad experience the most unhinged destruction, neglect, and exploitation. Most importantly, we must support and follow the lead of Indigenous communities around the world, who invented sustainability and who continuously experience state violence for this work.

I  recently had the opportunity to hear New York based Food Justice advocate and founder of the Black Urban Growers Conference, Karen Washington, speak on achieving food justice and Black food sovereignty. She raised the critical point that true food justice must disrupt and contradict the current food system; a system that relies heavily on the free labour and exploitation of mainly Black, Brown and Indigenous communities through colonialism, agricultural prison labour, and the Seasonal Agricultural Worker program. 

As Karen illustrated, any solution in regards to food justice must be one that seeks to empower and mobilize the skills that already exist within the community. We must achieve food sovereignty that is, of course, independent of government or corporate funding and non-profit intervention. This must be achievable in urban and rural settings. 

In their introductory statements, the authors of A Toolbox for Sustainable City Living, define radical sustainability and the key principle of autonomous community development as “…systems that give control over basic resources to the people using them, increasing community self-reliance and aiding resistance to resource monopolies. Design criteria include; affordability; use of salvaged materials; simplicity; user serviceability; ease of replication; decentralization …. All of these criteria lead to systems being replicable. Replicable systems are capable of being transferred and adapted to other communities and locations without significant redesign” (xiv – xv). This demands a swift break from the non-profit model of community intervention. 

“Any solution in regards to food justice must be one that seeks to empower and mobilize the skills that already exist within the community.”

A great example of autonomous development is the North Philly Peace Park (NPPP) in Philadelphia which grows food in what was an abandoned lot, without the permission of the city.  NPPP also includes a STEM education program on the site, with the support of retired science and math teachers from the community. NPPP is an example of a  Black-led project, utilizing skills and salvaged materials from the community to create food and education autonomy.

As we create these alternative systems, radical sustainability must mean recognizing “the inseparability of ecological and social issues and the necessity of ensuring the solution to one problem does not create or worsen another” (xiii). As we try to create sustainable communities, we must be careful not to replicate resource hierarchies and disempowerment. A conversation on building functional communities that include rehabilitative justice and intergenerational relationships are equally important to achieving sustainability and one that we should engage in, in parallel with creating food sustainable systems. 

However, what I would like to offer here is a brief review and introduction to the hard skills offered in A Toolbox for Sustainable City Living, co-authored by Scott Kellogg and Stacy Pettigrew, in regards to urban sustainability and food production. 

To be honest, I found this book on my shelf buried under hundreds of other books. As I found out, it was given to my roommate as a gift in 2008. Over ten years later, it contains blueprints to significant skills we need to survive and create self-sustaining, food sovereign communities, making the most of urban infrastructure. 

“The key to establishing community food security”, the Toolbox tells us “is to have food coming from multiple and diverse sources. Urban farms and gardens can grow a considerable amount of vegetables while fruit and nut trees in parks, can provide a foragable community crop. Fire escapes can be home to mushroom logs and trellising vegetables. Neighbourhood microlivestock collectives can be formed, with members sharing responsibility and benefits – cleaning the coop, feeding and watering the animals and collecting the eggs. Interlocking backyards make ideal locations for collective microlivestock operations and expanded bird runs. Local aquaculture specialists can offer fresh, locally [raised] fish” (60).      

The challenges of food production in urban settings are the lack of space, the amount of land that is locked under concrete and pavement in need of rejuvenation, and the lack of natural sunlight due to building density.  The techniques covered in A Toolbox are those that are best suited to urban settings, but have been less covered in gardening and food production resources. The authors do not include information on basic gardening techniques, seed saving or cooking which as they mention, have been covered in many other valuable books. 

Non- Plant Based Foods 

In regards to non-plant based food, the key is to concentrate our energies on livestock that do not require large amounts of feed. Small birds and mammals are efficient at converting feed protein to body mass, are a convenient size for urban space and can also be helpful in the garden!  We review a number of different options for small mammal or microlivestock, the most common are chickens which can be kept in coops or free run with the use of roosts. Roosts can be built with metal sheeting wrapped securely around trees or poles to prevent predators such as racoons from climbing up them. Vegetable scraps, cultivated insects, vermicompost worms and spent barley hulls all make excellent chicken feed which supports a zero-waste system. Free run chickens will also eat unwanted insects in the garden with minimal damage and their droppings provide excellent fertilizer. There are many innovations for managing free-run and roosting chickens. The authors review a number of other options for fowl, including turkeys, ducks (great at purging slugs), guinea hens, etc. but in any species suggest selecting breeds that are less domesticated and hardier especially for adverse weather such as the Rhode Island Red (chicken). In terms of mammals, the Toolbox provides a reasonable guide on keeping rabbits, and guinea pigs which are also space efficient and like fowl, can be raised in a collective in adjoining backyards.  Rabbits in particular provide especially rich fertilizer through their droppings. We must always be thinking in terms of creating sustainable ecosystems and symbiotic relationships for both plant and animal life. 

Edible Forests and Mushroom Cultivation

I love the idea of edible forests; creating self-sustaining food sources from perennial trees and vegetation, or a combination of perennials and annuals. When selecting tree species, the authors note that it is important to know if you are selecting a self-pollinating species or if more than one tree will be required for pollination. Trellis structures may be built around the edible forest for fruits like grapes, and vegetables like pole beans, squash, and cucumbers that take well to trellising. The authors provide an excellent guide to planting trees, understanding soil quality and the varieties of fruit and nut trees that you might select for an edible forest. 

An underutilized method, and one that suits urban infrastructure very well, is mushroom cultivation. The method that is detailed is log cultivation using mushroom plugs or plug spawn. Both medicinal and edible mushrooms are covered in the guide, as well as an understanding of what kind of tree species and log to select, how and when to harvest mushrooms. 

Inside look of “A Toolbox for Sustainable City Living” by Scott Kellogg and Stacy Pettigrew, with illustrations by Juan Martinez

Waterways and Aquaculture 

As we begin to experience freshwater drought and the continuous contamination of waterways, a knowledge of aquaculture will be particularly important. And for those of us who love and eat fish and wish to do so responsibly, we can cultivate a fascinating and intimate understanding of freshwater aquatic ecosystems and how to maintain them. Many people have heard of aquaponics, but it wasn’t until I read a Toolbox that I understood what an intricate and graceful system it can be. The authors also provide a guide to creating passive pond systems. This knowledge is extremely valuable. However, for my own reasons, I am going to focus on the recirculating aquaponic system, that is built using four 55 gallon barrels each containing its own ecosystem that supports through piping and pumped water circulation. Juan Martinez provides beautiful illustrations throughout, but this is my favourite. 

In the recirculating system, the first barrel is our biofilter. It is filled with plants emerging from the surface of the water, ‘like catfish, bullrush and taro,’ which can be harvested and are all edible. The bottom of the barrel is filled with gravel, which is a great ecosystem for ‘water-purifying microorganisms.’ The second barrel contains the fish. It is very important to pay attention to the guide on the fish to water ratio, to maintain healthy fish and prevent ammonia build up. Snails and rooted plants also provide an essential function to this stage. Barrels three and four are water purifiers, containing an ecosystem of submerged plants such as duckweed and water hyacinth, as well as zooplankton, crawfish, snails and microorganisms that recycle and consume the waste from the fish in the second barrel. All elements of the aquaponic system work together to maintain healthy plants, healthy fish and other organisms. 

Although vertical space food cultivation  – barrels, trellises, fire escapes, and rooftops – is a way to use the constraints of a city as a strength, we cannot neglect the land. So much soil is trapped under concrete and pavement, without exposure to oxygen, natural water cycles, plant life or healthy microorganisms. As we continue to experience flash floods, pavement and its disruption to water and soil cycles will become more of an urgent and destructive problem. The authors of a Toolbox stress the importance of releasing the land, working to increase soil health, and provide a review of a number of methods of breaking, repurposing and discarding of toxic pavement when necessary. 

In their words, “Growing food in a city is a wonderful way to build community, support local economies, and be rooted in a place” and this element of community collaboration and mutual support will be essential as we prepare for the next several decades of change. 

A Toolbox for Sustainable City Living includes several more chapters in addition to food, covering urban sustainability in water, waste, energy and a guide to bioremediation including conversations on access to land and a discussion of sustainability and gentrification. 

For readers eager for information on how to adapt to our current context, I recommend combining this reading with Deep Adaptation, A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy by Jem Bendell (an academic paper that is also available in podcast); and for Black readers, following up this work with Farming While Black by Leah Penniman of Soul Fire Farm.

side profile headshot of lou boileau

Lou Boileau is a mental health advocate and writer of creative non-fiction and short stories. She works in the areas of youth work and food justice. She is based out of Tkaronto. Her work in mental health and advocacy is from lived experience, and family support caregiving.

Finding Peace in The Garden

black and white photo of a daisy

By Natalie Boustead

‘Tap tap tap!’ I turn towards the greenhouse door knowing, without needing to look, who will be there. Sure enough, it’s, Jacob*, his arms laden with plants, as usual. Jacob collects discarded plants wherever he can;  from the side of the road and from behind dumpsters. Sometimes one of the doctors or nurses he sees will give him a plant they’ve neglected, knowing he will understand how to bring it back to life. Every Tuesday, without fail, Jacob shows up cradling yet another cast away plant with a big smile on his face.

This is just one of the magical moments at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) Sunshine Garden and greenhouse. The Sunshine Garden is a FoodShare Toronto program that, since 2002, has been connecting mental health patients to nature, food, and each other. Participants have said that gardening has been key to their healing; helping them stay sober and giving them a calming, peaceful refuge in times when life feels chaotic and ungrounded. For Jacob, the greenhouse is his “favourite place in the world,” where he spends several days a week nursing abandoned house plants and rare tropicals like the dragon fruit he cultivated at home, then brought to the greenhouse. 

Recognizing the inherent healing power of tending to and growing vegetables and flowers both CAMH and FoodShare Toronto have ensured that this client-centred program has flourished over the years. Clients participate in a full season of organic food production, from planting seedlings in the spring to curing and replanting garlic bulbs in the fall. 

The produce that’s grown is sold at a weekly market stand on-site and at special events throughout the year. Some of the produce is taken home by clients and some is donated to a local food bank. Throughout the winter, clients like Jacob get a chance to propagate and tend to a wide variety of houseplants, flower bulbs and seedlings for the following season.This ensures the Sunshine Garden is a year round haven to connect with nature. 

I open the door for Jacob, and listen to him carefully explain the names of each plant he is holding: “This one is a Canna, and this is that yellow hibiscus I told you I was propagating at home from the cutting I took at the nurses’ station!” I learn something new every day from clients like Jacob, many of whom have many more decades of plant knowledge than I, and who, when allowed to access a greenhouse or a plot of earth, thrive alongside the plants they tend. 

Natalie, a white women, is wearing a denim sleeveless top and sun hat. She kneeling in a garden and smiling with a fruit in her left hand.

Natalie Boustead is the Community and Market Gardens Coordinator at FoodShare Toronto. The Sunshine Garden is one of the only full season organic gardens situated on mental health hospital grounds in North America. FoodShare Toronto is one of Canada’s Toronto’s leading food justice organizations, with more than 30 years of experience creating and maintaining programming that focuses on food access, food education and food-based policy at municipal and provincial levels.

We Need More BIPOC Co-Ops

black and white photo of a grocery bag that reads "peope's free food program" between a women's legs

Highlighting Successful Black-led Food Cooperatives in the U.S

By: Ciana Hamilton

Food co-ops are one way BIPOC communities can reclaim food sovregnity whilst resisting problematic food systems. Cooperatives are owned and operated by groups of people or members. Members typically pay a small, one time, membership fee which allows them access to shop at the store, elect board members and provide input on products and services. One of the biggest impacts Black or Indigenous run food co-ops can have — is the ability to keep money within the community. Food Cooperatives do exist in Canada, but many remain inaccessible to the communities that need them the most. Here are three success stories of Black-led Food Co-ops operating in the U.S.

Mandela Grocery Cooperative 

Mandela Grocery, a Black-owned and led food co-op, has operated in West Oakland California for the last ten years. The full service grocery store is a worker-owned cooperative and provides fresh, high-quality food for residents in the community. Mandela Grocery prioritizes sourcing its food from Black and Brown farmers and strives to strengthen the community by providing an array of wellness resources. “We intentionally support businesses run by people of color because we are deeply committed to creating opportunity for interdependence in the food space, where POC entrepreneurs generate livable incomes that support their families.”

Check out Mandela Grocery here:

Central Brooklyn Food Co-op

The Central Brooklyn Food Cooperative (CBFC) started in 2013 and is a member owned and operated food store located in Brooklyn, New York.The mission at Central Brooklyn Food Co-op is to collectively break down social barriers that prevent access to healthy and sustainable foods. Much like Mandela Grocery, CBFC prioritizes purchasing food from local farmers of colour. CBFC has a membership open to all and acts as a skill sharing hub to educate folks on nutrition and ways to overcome oppressive food systems. 

Check out Central Brooklyn Food Co-op here:

Detroit People’s Food Co-op

The Detroit People’s Food Co-op (DPFC) is a full service grocery store set to open in 2020. DPFC is going to be Black led (not completely Black owned) with an elected board of directors. DPFC is striving to provide Detroit residents with access to healthy food and strengthen the food system within the Black community. DPFC will prioritize locally grown food in order to provide economic growth to Detroit’s fragile economy. 

Check out Detroit People’s Food Co-op here:

A black and white portrait of Ciana smiling with her mouth closed. She is a 20 something black woman with dreads. She is wearing a winter coat, scarf and has a sunglasses ontop of her head.

Ciana Hamilton is a happy nappy freelance creative writer & journalist. When she’s not writing she can be found doing fun shit with her kids.

Afri-Can FoodBasket Food Justice

colourful illustration of fruits and vegetables. text reads "food is freedom"

Reflection from 2018

By Anan

Above Illustration by Favianna Rodriquez

Another year on the food justice journey with the Afri-Can FoodBasket (AFB). The AFB was founded 23 years ago in the City of Toronto responding to the cost of food being purchased by people of African descent (African Canadians) who lived in low-income communities across the City. Neighborhoods such as Jane & Finch (our home base), Lawrence Heights, Malvern, Jamestown/Rexdale, Regent Park, Galloway, and Thorncliffe Park just name some of the more recognizable “hoods.” 

We came to the realization that our community members, who are mostly Caribbean and African immigrants, were purchasing culturally specific foods that travelled many food miles. In this early stage of our understanding of sustainable food systems, we were not too concerned about the environmental impact due to carbon emissions associated with transportation — but rather the food insecurity associated with purchasing expensive food that is not in sync with a low-income status. Cultural foods that are more expensive than the premium priced organic foods are not accessible. At this revelation, we established the first African centered Food Justice Consumer Coop type non-profit organization in Canada. 

In 2018, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs (OMFRA) commented, “Growing numbers of newcomers are creating new market opportunities for locally grown and processed world foods. People of South Asian, Chinese and Afro-Caribbean heritage typically consume more fresh vegetables and spend more of their household income on fresh produce.”

Back in 2009, one of our project partners, FarmStart (the innovators of the urban incubator farm) stated, “There is also room for more research and resource development around access to locally grown ethno-cultural vegetables, and also in the areas of empowering African Canadians, communities of colour and new immigrants to be included in the food industry, particularly in the area of sustainable agriculture targeting access to locally grown organic food market. Since income impacts household expenditure on ethno-cultural vegetables in the GTA, income enhancing policies could help to increase expenditure on and consumption of ethno-cultural vegetables.” 

Afri-can FoodBasket tent at Local Market

Fast forward 2018

After 23 years of cultivating partnerships and collaborations within our networks in the food justice movement —  it is our mission to assure the spread of sustainable food system education, food justice and food sovereignty among African Canadians. We believe that universities, higher learning opportunities and the local school system offer the most hope for constructive solutions to our community’s problems of lingering food insecurity. Since 1996, we have always engaged the youth within our community to become aware of our struggle with food security through our Cultivating Youth Leadership program (CYL). AFB promotes the sustainable development of Urban Farms and Community Gardens by nurturing a new generation of young leaders through the Cultivating Youth Leadership: Urban Farm Project. We work towards this goal by creating opportunities for primarily Black youth and youths from other low-income communities in Toronto. The CYL program helps expand their knowledge base, develop new skills and promote a positive engagement with their community.

Afri-Can FoodBasket will continue to provide leadership in urban agriculture, and foster collaborations to advance food justice, health and social enterprise in Toronto’s low-income communities. AFB’s integrated programs leverage one another as a means to create a holistic solution to address youth unemployment, youth leadership, and cross generational/cross cultural collaboration. These programs provide an avenue for marginalized communities to exercise self-empowerment and gain access to healthy organic foods. As such, AFB uses food as a nexus for the development of youths’ life skills. The youths plant a seed and watch it grow. They are intrinsically involved in the reaping of the produce, preparing it for market and the total economics of the farm enterprise.

At Afri-Can FoodBasket we find ourselves in an exciting moment of change and opportunity. The impetus for our move to the Black Creek Community Farm, came from recognition of the need to enhance food literacy amongst children and youth in Toronto. This recognition was met with the desire to transform our physical and social infrastructure to accommodate and support the needs of children and youth as they relate to food. We seek to provide a space and opportunity for children, families and youth to learn. 

AFB has animated over 100 Community and Back-Yard Gardens. We have developed two urban farm projects in Toronto & Brampton as part of a community food collaborative process with community members including: City of Toronto Community Garden program, Toronto Community Housing, FoodShare, Everdale Farm, York University Faculty of Environmental Studies, Ryerson University Food Security Program and the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network. Our success makes us optimistic of our journey to realize our vision of being a leader in building awareness and developing sustainable and equitable food policy.

Our hopes and aspirations for the future is to first establish an African Canadian Food Justice Caucus to conceptualize our strategies for a more equitable place in the sustainable food movement in Canada and then establish an African Canadian Food Justice Centre. If you are not at the table of moving food forward, hunger will always be your meal.    

Afri-Can Food Basket recognizes that we are pioneers in this Canadian foodscape — not just advocating for the delivery of fresh, affordable, nutritious and culturally specific foods but for our leadership in the North American food justice movement. AFB is aiming to make race part of the agenda in the evolution of community food security in Canada. As we have observed over the past 23 years, the food justice cause has been the most challenging area of development in the North American Food Movement. The similar struggles and battles of the civil rights movement, people of African descent and communities of colour are often times an after-thought when it comes to the development and food security in North America. As can be seen by the urban food movement in Toronto — communities of colour are not part of the solution of this progressive move forward of creating a sustainable local food systems in Ontario and Canada. 

AFB response to this state of insecurity is educating our community to the best of our ability. 

It is our hope that Afri-Can FoodBasket, with the support and partnership of the Black Creek Community Health Centre, will be able to initiate a Community Food Assessment to possibly establish a Community Food Centre in the Jane & Finch neighbourhood. We will also continue our annual youth leadership engagement sustainable food system 101 program with our new partnership program – Harvest Kitchen: Food as Medicine, youths in the community growing food at the Black Creek Community Farm and cooking for and with seniors in the community.

A strong nation and a free nation can only base itself upon education. In order to make life worthwhile it is also necessary to acquire other things that can only come about after the acquisition of learning. Learning and technical training must be nurtured by faith in God, reverence for the human soul, and respect for the reasoning mind. HIM Haile Selassie.

Anan Xola Lololi is a Food Justice advocate, musician and a vegan. Anan is one of the founders of the Afri-Can FoodBasket (AFB) a non-profit Food Justice & Community Food Security organization that began in

1995 in Toronto. He has been the executive director of AFB for the last 19 years promoting CFS and Food Justice in Toronto, North America and the Caribbean. Anan has a master’s degree in environmental studies from York University with a focus on CFS and a diploma in Business Administration from Centennial College. His passion is working in low-income communities to help create food secure communities.

Harvesting Injustice

Illustration of a brown hand holding a tomato. The text reads "harvesting freedom: the year 2016 is the 50th year that migrants workers have been putting food on our table.

The Erasure of Migrant Workers From our Rural Landscape

By Chris Ramsaroop

Illustration by J4MW

For nearly two decades Justicia for Migrant Workers (J4MW) has organized with migrant farmworkers across Ontario to confront the injustices labourers have faced working in our fields. This struggle has taken many forms: protests, mass organizing meetings, legal challenges, and media exposures. J4MW’s work has focused on addressing the pillars of an apartheid system that relegate migrant workers to an indentured system of labour while working in Canada.  Temporary migrant workers are always seen as mobile, transient between Canada and their home country matter how long they have worked in Canada.

When employed under  Canada’s temporary foreign worker program; migrant farmworkers are tied to an employer, denied equal access to entitlements such as healthcare and education and must return home upon completion of their contract. Two separate migration schemes operate in our fields: the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP) and the Agricultural Stream under the Temporary Foreign Workers. Workers have a limited duration of employment and can not apply for permanent residency. This labour program has existed for over 51 years and is based on similar schemes that brought indentured labour in post-slavery periods.

A legal system of exclusion is probably the last thing that one would think of when visiting a local farmers market, family farm or buying produce that is marked ‘local’.  Many people claim ignorance or call this Canada’s dirty secret. Others are shocked when they hear of the abuses that occur in our own fields. Yet this isn’t a story about ignorance, or simply not knowing about the apartheid system in Canadian fields; ideology is at play in how the mythic image of Canada’s agricultural landscape is constructed. Simultaneously, racialized bodies such as migrant workers are often erased, historicized and decontextualized. Spatially, migrant workers are hidden from plain sight often being housed in bunkhouses in the back of employer’s properties.

In Min Sook Lee’s seminal documentary El Contrato, audiences gasp in one scene where an employee refers to farm employers as ‘owners’ of the thousands of migrant workers employed in the region. After seeing this scene countless times, and engaging in discussions where audiences grapple with the idea of property, ownership and racialized bodies, it’s not about what the intentions of this employer’s words and whether or not they misspoke. The reality for migrant workers are they are seen as unfree labour hence connected to both land and private property in rural Canada.

Representation in rural landscapes is critical to understanding Canada’s agricultural history. Think of the imagery that is associated with rural land. Who is seen and who is erased? Who owns the land and who does not? How has land been commodified, and by whom?  We are often told a narrative of white farmers owning vast plots of land, generation after generation. Rarely is the story about the ongoing violence that is inflicted on racialized bodies and theft of Indigenous land told. When we speak of the violence inflicted on the bodies of migrants, never do we think of the violent processes of colonialism that has uprooted migrants from their own communities to toil in our fields. Never do we think about the violence that occurs during immigration raids where migrants are forcibly removed from their workplaces for administrative infractions under Canada’s immigration system. Rarely do we think about the countless workers who are injured and killed in the production of food.  

Protestors walking down the road holding various signs. The main sign reads "justicia justice for migrant workers"
Photo by J4WM

Our work in J4MW is to dismantle the state narrative of land and food production to ensure that migrant struggles are not erased. To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers program, Justicia for Migrant Workers organized a 30-day caravan across Ontario. Entitled, Harvesting Freedom, the caravan visited over 30 communities and engaged with thousands of migrant workers and community allies to demand permanent residence for migrant farmworkers. Our demand is an intervention to push the boundaries of how migrant workers are positioned in relation to land. Concepts such as “seasonal” and “temporary” perpetually remove migrant workers from the image of Canada’s rural landscape. Many of the women and men who we have met over the last two decades are the same faces that come to Canada year after year, often living and working in Canada for up to eight months a year. We have met three or four generations of family members who continue to work and live in Canada.

As part of the caravan, J4MW and activists from local communities across Ontario, organized a multi-prong strategy to engage and confront the erasure of migrant labour from the rural landscape. The caravan included events such as: local community forums, town halls, movie nights, workshops, classroom presentations, community dinners, protests, marches, direct action delegations and interventions at local farmers’ markets. One of the highlights also included a roving picket of Ontario’s Food Terminal, where hundreds of activists disrupted for hours one of North America’s largest food distribution centers.

When confronting ideas of private property and production of food, farmers markets became extremely contentious spaces during the caravan. In communities like Chatham-Kent many community members had heard about the caravan and sympathized with the struggle. In whispered tones, several passersby shared experiences where they heard about a sick or injured migrant workers wrongly sent home to their country. Others who disagreed with our messaging took time to hear us out. However, not every intervention was ‘civil’. In communities such as London, and in St.Jacob, participants in the caravan were escorted off the property by police and threatened with arrest and ticketing for trespassing on private property. When questions were posed to the organizer of these farmers markets around the injustices faced by migrant workers, they countered that farmers markets are not political spaces!

As we move forward in challenging farm labour practices, we need to not only challenge government legislation but also to engage in organizing and solidarity work. We need to question who owns the land, how has the land come to be developed and how do we challenge both ideas of a food system based on a private for-profit model to a system based on a collective cooperate model. While daunting and sometimes overwhelming, there is hope and there is always a sense of resistance. It is our responsibility to fight alongside migrant workers to change the narrative of land, food and to fight in the direction where there is justice for those engaged in the production of our food.

A man in a blue shirt holding two signs. One reads "50 years justice now" and the other reads "status now! 2016 harvesting freedom"

Chris Ramsaroop is an organizer with justicia for migrant workers, a grassroots activist organization that works with migrant workers employed under Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker program.