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.

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.

Book Review of Freedom Farmers by Monica M White

Book cover reads "Freedom farmers: Agricultural resistance and the Black Freedom Movement by Monica M White" the image is of different aged black farmers harvesting

Book review by Shabina Lafleur-Gangji

In her book, Monica M . White tells us a story of how Black folks in the  US have always used agriculture as a tool,  not just for survival, but also for liberation. She has done an impeccable job of meticulously searching through archives and interviewing community members to tell us about the legacies of people like Fanny Lou Hamer and George Washington Carver. Her book draws on the work of organizations like the Freedom Farm Cooperative and The Federation of Southern Cooperatives, which have been instrumental in the fight for emancipation, and connects their work to current initiatives like the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network.

This book left me feeling not only inspired, but in awe. Food justice is a tool of liberation. This book shows us how Black people have used agriculture to build housing, worker’s cooperatives, and schools to create a road map to freedom.

Radical Roots Cooperative

Cheyenne Sundance smiling and holding her hips while looking at a head of lettuce

By Cheyenne Sundance

I’ve noticed that over the last few months, I’ve received emails that have addressed Sundance Harvest as a team. I often say “we” when I speak about Sundance Harvest mainly because I’m shy and this is for community – but I think I’m under selling myself. I created Sundance Harvest all by myself when I was 21 years old. I have put my blood, sweat and tears into making it something that’s so tangible and real — high school Cheyenne would have been proud. So now, I make it known that I am Sundance Harvest. This is my baby, I have put in all the work and instead of letting people diminish my achievements, I am holding them up like a shining star. That’s what Sundance Harvest is, my shining star in a bleak and cold night.

A few of you know about how hard it’s been to deal with the rapid expansion of Sundance Harvest. I have had to hire part-time staff and I have realized that I’m not a good boss. I don’t want to be someone’s boss, I want folks to have independence in urban agriculture and craft their own way. So I decided I will not be hiring people. I’m happy about this decision because something really cool and magical birthed out of it. Radical Roots Cooperative.

Radical Roots Cooperative is a dream of mine. People I care about growing food with me and, in turn, growing community. In less than a year, Sundance Harvest has really been active and as a result I’ve noticed so much change in my community. From what I can see, Urban agriculture in Toronto hasn’t been making any major changes. I believe, part of the reason is because the non-profit model is not the solution; I think it’s a part of the larger problem. People who are systematically oppressed have to ask these non-profits and rely on them for food security. Instead what people, largely Black and Indigenous, should have in their communities is food sovereignty. A system whereby they manage it, control the seed, and chose how they grow and when. That’s what justice is. Not just community gardens, but rather community control and financial stability. You cannot pay your rent in tomatoes, you cannot survive the whole winter with just your humble harvests from your small community garden plot. Food insecurity isn’t caused by a lack of food or a lack of awareness of healthy choices, it’s a lack of income.

As someone who grew up in low-income working class home, I know this first hand. The solution is giving communities the tools they need to be resilient and survive — without non-profit interference. This is not say I don’t admire what many nonprofits are striving to do to help aide the effects colonialism, environmental racism and systemic oppression. I just think it could be done differently. What that looks like is urban farms that are governed and run by those who are most affected. Not class and race privileged people who took environmental studies in University and decided they want to “go back to the land”. Instead, those who have been historically displaced from lands here on Turtle Island and aboard that have been (and are) hurt by colonization.

Radical Roots is for us. Everything I have been doing is for us and when I say us — us knows who us is. Radical Roots is going to provide plots for us to farm and grow food as well as a direct sale through a CSA. By supporting Radical Roots, you are supporting the furthering of true food justice in Toronto that’s all led by and for youth. One that’s not dependent on benevolence, instead on independence of marginalized youth. Deciding and curating their own dreams, destinys and hopes for the future — especially in these times of climate crisis.

This is my new project and I’m proud to say that this was the end goal of something I’ve always wanted. I’ve been enjoying how big Sundance Harvest is getting, I won’t lie. But I also know that it’s time for me to give back and do what I’ve always said I was going to do — create a resilient food system. So I will be redistributing most of my food growing land towards this cooperative.

2020 is the year of radical change that has us leading it.

Resist always and forever, speak truth to power and never stop growing.

Love, Cheyenne Sundance

Cheyenne Sundance smiling and holding her hips while looking at a head of lettuce

Cheyenne Sundance is an organic farmer and food justice advocate who has worked in both rural and urban settings. Her farming has always been with a social justice framework since being able to grow your own food is the foundation of independence and liberation, especially for those who are Black, Indigenous. Cheyenne provides Toronto with organic and ethically grown produce through her year-round urban farm Sundance Harvest.

Cultivating Food Justice

cheyenne standing in a greenhouse between raised beds with her hands up

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. 

Plant Your Seeds, Watch You Grow

black and white picture of book cover. It has a sketch of two black farm workers. It reads "Farming while black: Soul fire farm's practical guide to liberation on the land by Leah Penniman forward by Karen Washington

A book review of Farming While Black

by Ciana Hamilton

When I first got my hands on Farming While Black, I felt my soul rejoice. I have always felt a strong connection to land; whether it’s a long walk in the woods or growing a zillion tomatoes in my garden. Something in my soul sets on fire whenever I find myself intertwined with the earth. Even though this love of land comes naturally for me, I can’t help but feel misplaced, disconnected and even hurt whenever I attempt to foster a stronger bond with Mother Earth. From the moment you open Farming While Black you can feel the dedication, energy and love that Leah Penniman poured into this book. In its most practical form, Farming While Black is a hands-on how-to guide for everything to do with tending to the land. Once you begin to dive deeper though you realize it is so much more than a generic farmers guide. Farming While Black is 16 chapters of beauty, colour and testimony. It is as pragmatic as it is reflective of Black peoples’ history, connection and rehabilitation towards farming.

Penniman described Farming While Black as the book she wished she had growing up. Throughout the chapters, she seamlessly integrates her years of farming expertise with her personal journey of finding true liberation working on and with the land. Chapters such as, “Finding Land and Resources” explores different points of access to land, whether it is leased, communal, bought or through a land trust.  In chapter six, you can find vital information on crop planning, transplanting seedlings and days to maturity for a variety of herbs and vegetables. In each of these more practical chapters, Penniman includes UPLIFT subsections that draw connections to African ways of farming and present day uprising within Black communities. In one chapter, “Feeding the Soil”, one UPLIFT section speaks on African Dark Earth, a highly fertile and dark soil that was created 700 years ago by women in Ghana and Liberia. Farming While Black is easily the best book for Black (Indigenous, Brown, Latinx) folks who feel the duality of detachment and yet, the desire to build skills in farming.

For most of us, it doesn’t take much to get outside and get our hands dirty. There is nothing really stopping Black people from contributing to urban community gardens or being involved with farm internships. But where the work gets tricky is when it comes to repairing the internal damage that many Black people carry as a result of slavery. In short, slavery has destroyed our relationship with land. That pain I sometimes feel towards land, is a pain that is felt by most Black folks across Turtle Island. It is the same pain that is shared with our Indigenous cousins and others who have been displaced at the hands of colonialism. It is the pain we often try to bury; and in an attempt to forget, we sabotage ourselves from regaining identity through something that has been in our history for centuries. There is no question that even Leah Penniman felt this distorted disconnection when she first began her journey of farming. The history of Black connection to land has been greatly misconstrued to fit a narrative of white supremacy. We are perpetually told and reminded that our only real connection to farming was when our ancestors were enslaved, exploited and forced to endure hard labour. Rarely is there a discussion around Black farming prior to slavery or Black farming after slavery.  Rarely is there any discussion on African culture and how intertwined our African relatives were with nature, land and crops. The space that Penniman dedicates towards healing our land legacies in Farming While Black is what sets this book apart from any other farmer’s how-to guide.  Chapters such as: Honoring the Spirits of the Land, Plant Medicine, Cooking and Preserving and Healing from Trauma are the parts of this book that invite readers to dig deep within themselves and recognize where healing needs to begin. In “Healing from Trauma “ Penniman said, “Many of us have confused the terror our ancestors experienced on land with the land herself, naming her the oppressor and running toward paved streets without looking back. We do not stoop, sweat, harvest, or even get dirty, because we imagine that would revert us to bondage.” What makes Farming While Black a book of true deliverance, are the constant reminders from Penniman, and all those at Soul Fire Farm, that farming is in our blood. Whether it is through the UPLIFT sections throughout the book, the wealth of knowledge (old and new) or the beautiful photographs of Black, Brown, Indigenous and Latinx folks working harmoniously on the land, Farming While Black is the reminder that our history in slavery will not erase our history of land stewardship.

I am a descendant of African heritage. The women in my family were farmers, caretakers and keepers of the Earth. Farming While Black is my awakening to remember and honour my ancestors. With every shovel of dirt, every seed planted, every vegetable harvested, I vow to never forget that they were proud people of the land and today, so am I.

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.

Young and New Farmers in the Struggle for a Decolonial Food System

Black and white photo of cupped hands holding seedlings

Report Back on the National Farmers Union 2019 Youth Convergence

by Adabu B. Jefwa

From the 4th to the 7th of March 2019, nearly sixty young and new farmers gathered for the “National Farmers Union (NFU) 2019 Youth Convergence” in Parham, Ontario, 60 km North of Kingston on unceded Algonquin territory. The NFU is a farmer-led food sovereignty organization and a member of the global peasant movement, La Via Campesina. This convergence was, to my knowledge, the first time in a generation that young and beginning farmers had come together in such large numbers, from across the country, to talk about the issues that matter most to them.

There was a lot of excitement in the air. I personally did not know quite what to expect. After a long winter of school assignments, I’d almost forgotten all about farming. For many, as spring was approaching, the convergence interrupted very important farm planning and seed ordering work necessary for the upcoming season. Nonetheless, people were enthusiastic and everyone seemed to have an aura of eagerness to connect with and learn from each other.

The purpose of the convergence was to gather self-defined young and new farmers to come together to talk about the challenges we face within the food system, specifically in Canada, but across the globe as well. Discussion topics included ‘The Political Economy of Agriculture’ and ‘Farming in a Changing Climate’. There was a strong emphasis on ‘Building Solidarity to Decolonize the Food System,’ which was a workshop that focused on how Indigenous and non-Indigenous farmers, hunters, gatherers, and supporters can challenge settler-colonialism in the food system.

This is what drew me to attend the convergence. Not only was it organized to address farm production issues, it also focused the socio-political elements that shape production, and farmers’ lives and experiences. The challenges that arise out of political, environmental and social realms seem very distant from the everyday struggles faced by farmers working outside in the field. Although the economy and politics shape farmers experiences, these topics are rarely discussed within most mainstream food and agriculture organizations. For this reason, I felt the convergence was extremely important. It created a space for participants to talk about the systemic issues that impact farmers, the land and all people. At the same time, the convergence allocated time for folks to engage in farm specific details, such as farm management and growing practices.

The presentation by former Ardoch Algonquin Chief and professor, Bob Lovelace, was of particular importance to me given my commitments to decolonization. Prof. Lovelace spoke about building alliances between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. He invited us to ask questions and participate in small-group discussions about what actions we can take and how we envision making change to decolonize the food system. As settlers on colonized lands it is important for us to, first, understand and acknowledge the ongoing colonial history of Canada and second, put intention into seeking justice in partnership with Indigenous peoples. Prof. Lovelace outlined a five-pronged approach to building solidarity between settlers and indigenous peoples and emphasized that it all begins with Research. Without knowing the history of the land and people it is impossible to engage in effective actions for decolonization. He then spoke about the importance of the four other prongs: Community Education, Legal Action, Direct Action and Healing as a means of supporting Indigenous peoples struggles.

We had discussions about issues around young farmers access to farmland. From what I understood, Prof. Lovelace was against the whole system of privatized and commercial land because it constitutes a colonial relationship to land. Canada’s settler-colonial system of land ownership reinforces dispossession of Indigenous peoples. It is also bad for Canadians as many of us across the country, especially young people, struggle with land access due to the high cost of land.

In one especially dramatic moment, Lovelace asked the nearly 60 farmers in the room to raise their hands if they owned the land they farmed. Only three people indicated that they owned land. This is because of the huge barriers of cost, access to financing and lack of support for farming, especially organic farming. (And even when farmers ‘own’ land, it’s usually not ‘owned’ by them but by the bank!). Lovelace emphasized that alternative relationships to land are possible, and already exist within Indigenous systems. He also emphasized that cooperative relationships between Indigenous peoples and settlers requires building trust and meaningful, long-term relationships. Only then, through true solidarity based on personal connections, not based in a self-satisfying identity of allyship, can a strong foundation be established for developing alternative systems that center around land and food sovereignty for both Indigenous peoples and Canadians.

A major contributing factor which made the convergence possible was the funding allocated to covering each participant’s travel costs, accommodations and food. Those from Ontario travelled by car while others took trains and planes from across the country. But everyone was reimbursed for their travel costs and no one was required to pay for the amazing meals that were served during the convergence. This made the convergence accessible for the many young and new farmers who are, by and large, struggling financially. On top of that, all of the dinners were locally sourced from farms around the area, including kegs of beer from a local brewery. Well nourished, and well accommodated, we were able to maintain high spirits throughout the duration of the convergence. This enabled a very open, vulnerable and cooperative space for folks to discuss the heavy topics we addressed.

The title ‘convergence’ was intentionally used to differentiate the event from a conference. A conference usually implies a formal, academic, lecture-based style of learning. The organizers, however, wished to create a more lateral climate in which everyone was welcomed, and encouraged, to share their knowledge and skills. This was accomplished by dividing the large group into smaller groups of 8 to 10 people. The groups were prompted to discuss amongst themselves then reunite for a sharing session whereby everyone contributed to a large group discussion. This allowed for people to share their perspectives and ideas and made for a comfortable space for people to work through challenging concepts without the pressure of 60 people listening.

The structure of the convergence made for an open and inclusive space that overall made people feel inspired and empowered to move forward in continuing the fight for food justice within the agricultural and broader food system. This was one of the wonderful outcomes of the convergence and reflects the need for these types of gatherings to occur more frequently amongst farmers with an inclusion of people who understand the importance and value of land.

This is not to say that there was no room for improvement. The convergence would have benefitted from a more culturally and racially diverse range of speakers and attendees. For me, struggles within the food system center primarily around engaging racialized communities and including racialized people in the fight for food sovereignty. Within Canada, it is extremely important to recognize and engage in Indigenous movements and struggles for sovereignty, but as a country built on white supremacy, it is also important to consider the ways in which racialized people and immigrants are included in activism for food sovereignty. Moving forward I urge for organizers, not only in the NFU, but within agricultural and food organizations more broadly, to put intention into including the voices of racialized people and immigrants, and especially migrant agricultural workers, for they play a huge role in the current agricultural system and hold a lot of knowledge that can contribute to envisioning alternative farm and food systems.

Farming matters because we all eat and we all rely on the land. We all also rely on caretakers of the land to regenerate a healthy, balanced ecosystem and provide us with the nutrients necessary to survive. Ensuring the sustainability of agriculture means deconstructing the current agricultural system based so heavily on corporate industrialization. It also means shifting to a more diverse range of alternatives that are suited to work in favor of all people across the globe. The NFU, La Via Campesina and many food justice organizations are working to make this shift possible. Gatherings such as the Youth Convergence that intentionally create space for building relationships between people who understand the importance of farms and land and are committed to preserving knowledge related to the land are necessary, and make it possible, to continue the movement for food justice and food sovereignty.

Adabu is a black queer student, farmer and DJ. She is committed to building a sustainable food system that is inclusive of black, indigenous and racialized people across the globe. She also believes in decolonization and building relationships through sharing knowledge and celebrating diverse cultures through food and music.

Claiming Our Clean Food Sovereignty

An Interview with The Black Farmers and Food Growers Collective

by Adabu Brownhill

Adabu: Who established the organization? When?

BFFGC: The Black Farmers and Food Growers Collective came out of the oppression of the Black Creek Community Farm located in the Jane & Steeles area, where infamous Jane and Finch is just south of the farm. The Collective was established by the Afro-farmers and local community members to address and dismantle racism and oppression as it pertains to our food system as well as the generational food oppression coming out of slavery. We are one of three local cross-cultural food access hubs in partnership with FoodShare Toronto funded through the Ontario Trillium Foundation and Access and Equity Toronto. We are still learning about some of our culturally appropriate foods from Africa and our vast afro food culture, we are also working to connect with other afro farmers in the diaspora from the Caribbean to share farming and food knowledge as it pertains to the afro-people’s experiences in the diaspora. The organization got started in 2013 officially after the Intensive Leadership Facilitation Training (ILFT), working to dismantle racism and food oppression in the food system as it pertains to the community. This training was done by “Growing Power” from Milwaukee and Chicago through the partnership with Foodshare Toronto local Empowerment Group (LEG), “Growing Food Justice For All Initiative.”


A: What is the main goal or vision of Black Farmers and Food Collective?

BFFGC: One of the main goals of the collective is to ensure that the “clean” (organic) food we grow gets distributed through collaborative partnerships such as pop-up communal markets in fresh food oppressed communities that are affordable and sustainable. Also encourage communal growing so food-insecure and oppressed members of the community can and will have access to clean and affordable local, culturally appropriate food that can be grown in Canada in the short growing season through collaborative efforts and participation.

A: Who is mainly involved with the organization? Do you have many participants from the Black community?

BFFGC: We are farmers, food growers, small food business owners and food-insecure families and individuals –eight members thus far. Our Collective presently are all Afro-people from the Caribbean, Canada and Africa. We get volunteers from right across the ethnic board. People have been stoked by what we’ve been able to accomplish this year, its magnitude, and the variety of crops we’ve grown.

A: Do you have garden space that you use to grow food? How does that work?

BFFGC: This year we rented a half acre of land from Fresh City Farms – a local organic farm that operates out of Downsview Parkc at Keele & Sheppard Ave, West. We had written formally to the Black Creek Community Farm steering committee in 2014 and made a request for an acre of the land to do the work we are now doing but our request was laid under the rug and locked away! We are now working towards our own farm and growing spaces in the city with future community collaborations wishing to address food security and food justice issues as they pertain to affordable and sustainable and other racialized communities.

A: In my experience agriculture in Ontario is extremely dominated by white people. What are your views on this? Do you feel that Black Farmers and Food Collective address the issue of environmental racism?

BFFGC: Yes, I agree with you but once upon a time we had productive and stable farming communities; this was how we fed ourselves and shared food with each other– trading through commerce and land ownership. After our younger generations left their communities for the big cities they abandoned their roots in the agricultural sector and assimilated into the wider food culture which has impacted us in a very negative way through many types and diseases and sickness. Historically we were also driven off land and much of  this lands  was used to redevelop middle to high-income communities, unfortunately just like like all the other oppressive tactics perpetrated against us these issues were swept under the rug! As a collective member I have the right to live, work, contribute, play and invest in myself and my community just as any other ethnic groups in Ontario and I can do it anywhere in any community I choose. This is what we do presently, we share space with such a high profile farm in the local urban sphere. Our encouragement to community is to empower them through a variety of engagements. We work with our community as they come and we meet them where they are presently but we ensure we leave them more empowered than how we found them through the work we are doing to dismantle racism and oppression and to empower ourselves and the community.

A:  Can you tell me about what kinds of things volunteers can get involved with?

BFFGC: Yes, we welcome volunteers to help us in capacities that they are knowledgeable or want to learn with us. We are still grassroots but are working towards developing and becoming an independent local cross-cultural food access innovation hub for Afro-people and other community members who wants to support our work and experiences.

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Adabu Brownhill
Adabu Brownhill (DurtyDabz) is a Black/Mixed, Queer, FemmeBro dedicated to fighting for Mother Earth and the Liberation of Black & Indigenous Peoples and All People Of Colour. She is a badass DJ as well as a passionate gardener. She strives to decolonize agriculture in Ontario and create farming/gardening spaces that are fun and kool for racialized folks. She dreams of a farm where People Of Colour be chillin’, bumpin hella beats, planting seeds, harvesting herbs and eating gourmet meals while making jokes and enjoying each other’s company. She draws inspiration from radical underground artists such as Junglepussy, Destiny Frasqueri (Princess Nokia), Jay Boogie and Le1f. Her favorite foods are spicy meat and fresh fruits and vegetables.