The Black Creek Community Farm (BCCF) is a community-based urban farming project located on a seven-acre site. The site is situated on Toronto Conservation Region Authority (TRCA) land at the northern border of the community (between Jane-Finch neighbourhood and York University). The project officially started in 2012 by the farm-based charity Everdale, which has been involved in growing food and providing food and farming education to children, youth, and aspiring farmers for 15 years. In the same year there had been a change in the mandate of TRCA regarding using their properties in the region (thousands of acres of green space which had for long been protecting the watersheds) for food production and community engagement. Thus, they had opened up the property on which the farm is currently located for proposals. Having been present in the community for a long time, Everdale was successful in building on its collaborative network to put out the winning proposal.
The farm’s primary goal is ‘to be an urban farm that engages, educates, and empowers diverse communities through the growing and sharing of food’ as indicated on the programme website’ (Everdale, 2013). The objectives of the initiative are two-fold: First, trying to promote food security, agricultural education and awareness while being able to provide high quality food at accessible prices. Second, using the farm as a development project to engage community members in all sorts of activities around food production. Moreover, there is a strong focus within the BCCF to getting staffed and supported by community residents and harvesting fresh, healthy food that will feed the local community. Given that the farm is still at a very early stage of its establishment, many of the current efforts are still mainly geared towards food production. However there is a range of programmes currently being shaped within the initiative. Examples include an extensive internship programme, which would provide around 6 to 10 local residents with food-based career training. The programme will include three days on the farm, one day in the classroom dedicated to career building skills and then another day rotating between other food businesses in the city. In addition, the farm hosts a series of workshops and a work share programme in which community residents receive free vegetables in exchange for a certain number of volunteer hours.
Given the special characteristics of Jane-Finch and the concentration of first-generation migrants many of whom have experiences with farming and food production, there is significant appreciation and demand for high-quality fresh produce in the community. As explained by our respondent:
“There’s a lot of engagement to be made simply by being here with open gates and by growing the kinds of crops that people are more familiar with in their home countries”.
Thus, by paying attention to the characteristics of the community and the type of demand arising from it, the farm has been able to bring different members of the community together. Community engagement thereby remains a highlighted objective within the farm. While the programme does seem to positively influence the social mobility (through career-building workshops and skill trainings) and economic performance of its target audience (via creating meaningful local employment opportunities and recruiting locally), the most significant impact of the initiative is to foster social cohesion.
The target audience is defined as residents of the Black Creek community. The project has three additional partner organisations namely FoodShare, a city wide food access organisation; Afri-Can Food Basket, a charity engaging the community in the garden for food security and growing culturally relevant produce; and Fresh City Farms, a local food business. The farm is further supported and guided by a number of other key organisations: York University’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, Ryerson University’s Centre for Studies in Food Security, World Crops Project, and the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority. BCCF additionally relies on private foundation, programme-specific city and governmental grants for financial support.
Perception and use of the concept of diversity
“Food is the linkage between different histories”
Our respondent rightfully claims that diverse types of food unites people. In fact, one of the major areas wherein the striking diversity in the community in terms of cultural, ethnic and economic backgrounds best resonates is the planning of what crops are being grown and sold at the farm.
“We’re growing things that I’ve never heard of!” contends the farm manager. “We see tour groups come with people from rural China and they can identify some of the things that we thought were weed! And also ladies from Pakistan are doing the same thing […] there’s a guy who lives on the 8th floor of that building [across the street] who’s been watching us grow callaloo all year. I’ve never grown callaloo so we were growing it incorrectly and he came over and told us how wrong we are doing this!”
The farm also hosts frequent workshops based on storytelling through agro-ecology and native and cultural plants of relevance to people in the community, thus creating a space for these diverse stories and histories to interact. Such space further stimulates cross-cultural and inter-generational contact in the community. Age, ethnicity, culture, socio-economic and labour backgrounds are the main categories of diversity addressed within the initiative. Moreover, there is a strong commitment within the initiative to point out to the systematic racism and systematic discrimination in the neighbourhood by doing anti-discrimination and anti-racism training for the staff. Thus positive reinforcement of a really inclusive and equitable diverse neighbourhood while not shying away from the negative realities that need to be addressed are strong mandates within the programme.
Main factors influencing success or failure
There are some success factors for the BCCF project, as well as some factors that create barriers for it. One of the most important external success factors is the primary role of food itself as a basic need and how fundamental it is to creating a healthy community. The main internal success factor that was influential to the farm establishing its grounds in the neighbourhood is access to existing collaborative resources.
“The ground work has already been done by a lot of other community organisations”, explains the farm manager, “so it is easier for us to reach out and connect with people that are already invested in improving their community, to get them to buy into this project and help us shape it”.
Another internal success factor is that the farm is very much rooted in the community, from the selection of the type of its produce to the hiring of its staff. Two external factors that create barriers for the initiative include the absence of an umbrella organisation coordinating the diverse initiatives in the Jane and Finch community (which leads to competitions and communication problems between different agencies); and lack of funding for staff and administration (while it is relatively easy to receive grants for buying a pizza oven for a community pizza event, it is difficult to find funding for the person who organises the event or the one who writes the grant). Furthermore, balancing the financial liability of the farm and difficulties for community members to access the farm (given its far off location at the northern edge of the neighbourhood) are the internal factors that create barriers for the initiative.
The BCCF is a community-based urban farming initiative that successfully engages, educates, and empowers diverse people by growing and sharing food. The initiative contributes to encounter of diverse people by paying attention to making the space a resource for the community and to facilitating intersectionality (heterogeneity and inclusion by considering the complex identities of people) via creating spaces of cross-cultural and inter-generational interaction; to recognition by producing culturally-relevant food; and to redistribution by providing meaningful employment opportunities. There is a clear effort within the initiative to tap into the resources and knowledge that exist within the community (as inherent outcomes of its striking diversity) Thus, tailoring the farm’s programming to the neighbourhood through awareness of and respect and appreciation for the diversity of the existing demand for the type of produce is an innovative approach which sets BCCF apart from many other urban farming projects. The future plans of the farm mainly concern volume production and improving food security for the community via providing healthy and affordable food for community, while securing financial self-sufficiency and effective engagement of the community are important first steps that need to be taken within the next few years.
Website & image: blackcreekfarm.ca
 A Caribbean vegetable