Reflection from 2018
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.”
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.