An Interview with Cheyenne Sundance of Sundance Harvest
Interview by Shabina
Over the last decade, I have worked to build my food growing skills. Being able to provide fresh food to my loved ones has always been important to me for several reasons: growing food is financially accessible, environmentally friendly and connects me to my ancestral knowledge. While I am so grateful for what I have learned, one thing always stuck with me; the question of why so many of the well paid “leaders” of the food movement were always white and from wealthy families. Every organization had mandates around anti-racism and being “community-led”, however, they were unwilling to do the work of transferring power to where it belonged.
This frustration led me to search for people working near Toronto to feed their communities and what I found was both inspiring and beautiful. Black-run farms, Indigenous seed savers, community gardens run by immigrants, all run on almost no funding – only a deep love for each other and the earth. This is how I came across Cheyenne Sundance; a 22-year-old, mixed-race, Black farmer, living in Toronto.
Cheyenne is the founder of Sundance Harvest; a youth-run urban farm rooted in food justice and eradication of systemic racism in the food system. She runs all sorts of workshops and programs in her greenhouse, including a Farm School in 2020 which I decided to sign up for. So, when I was offered the opportunity to interview her, I was more than game.
So, what got you into farming?
Food is essential to any type of justice work, because food is essential to life. It is often the first thing to go when poor or working-class people are struggling to survive. When they have to pay static bills that they can’t budge on, they have to decide if they can afford salad this week. Food is something that is pushed aside because it’s often the only expense that people can see living without. Paying people minimum wage, which is not a reflection of the true cost of living, often translates into food insecurity.
Food is attached to almost any oppression. Globalization and colonization continue to disrupt traditional farming practices and healthy foods and replace them with conventional foods like grains and chocolate products that are farmed by underpaid and slave laboured children and women. Here on Turtle Island, and beyond, food is the glue that holds together a community and allows people to be independent. Food systems that have been violently fractured due to things like slavery, environmental racism and colonization cause the most marginalized to become the most dispossessed from land and food. The conventional food system is an extension of these histories and ongoing acts of violence. The system is working exactly how it was planned; with the goal of continuing to suppress us.
I never wanted to farm but the government and people with privilege in the food system aren’t doing anything to help make our communities for food secure, and so I decided I needed to do it myself.
What made you decide to start your own farm?
I noticed how glaringly white urban agriculture and farming is, yet the people who are most affected by food insecurity in Canada are Black and Indigenous people. I was frustrated at how often urban farming in Toronto is led by people who have race and wealth privilege, who use their privilege to lease public crown land or to lead a non-profit in predominantly Black neighbourhoods, yet had no connection to the communities they claimed to represent.
The food justice framework has been laid out to help Black and Indigenous peoples, or even other marginalized people- yet we are only given community gardens instead of true leadership to create change. Non-profits are often complacent in white supremacy because they only hire BIPOC people (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour), mainly women/femme folk, in entry level positions but the director is always a white person.
I couldn’t see any examples work to promote food security led by those most affected. So, I had to create the Sundance Harvest blueprint from my heart. I hope that in a few years I can foster more urban farms that are rooted in justice and that they can be carried on in leadership by people like me. I shouldn’t have to be fighting access to healthy food, I shouldn’t have to be the one who is filling the void that white supremacy and colonialism caused. Those in power should.
What are the struggles you have faced in starting this project?
I have had no support. Sundance Harvest has not been supported, despite our calls for assistance and partnership, by any other non-profit or organization with the exception of Foodshare. I truly think it’s because 99% of non-profits and urban farms in Toronto are complacent within this system of white supremacy in the food system. They constantly try to solve food insecurity by doling out community gardens or donating to food banks. They never contribute to sustainable change that removes them from the equation. We are consistently made to rely on them. We need urban farms run by people who look like me and who are actually facing the issues we are trying to solve.
These organizations are not radical and I learned early on that I cannot expect them to be. I’m happy that Foodshare recognizes racism and colonialism in the food system and strives to do something about it.
How has the rest of the community reacted to the farm?
I’ve received a lot of support from them! From those who understand that food justice is a real thing of course. From those who have been profiting off their privilege, backlash.
What motivates you to continue this work?
That I need to teach the next generation to become farmers. The next generation being my community who will be hit the hardest the climate crisis as the cost of food soars. I know there’s a demand, I’ve noticed that when people see me farming, calling out profiteers of colonialism, and building on this simple idea of liberation; they can see themselves. I don’t expect everyone to become a full-time farmer. I do think that more and more people are starting to understand that they have power within the food system. They understand that something is wrong with our current system.
How can people get involved with Sundance Harvest?
My farm school is starting next March 2020. It will be an anti-oppressive farm school. I won’t be teaching you how to build urban farms or agricultural systems that utilize exploitation of the poor and BIPOC people Instead I’ll show you exactly how I created Sundance Harvest. It will cover practical skills and theory and will take place both in my greenhouse and outdoors. There will be field trips and explorations of yourself and your place in the food system.