How A Self-Taught Toronto Farmer Is Tackling Inequality And Food Insecurity

Cheyenne Sundance, a 23-year-old self-taught Toronto farmer, is tackling inequalities within the agriculture industry and addressing food insecurity among racialized people through her project, Growing in the Margins.

Started in 2019, the free 12-week program caters to youth between 18 to 25 who are low-income and self-identify as Black, Indigenous or a person of colour (BIPOC), LGBTQ+ and/or a person living with a disability. The course is open both to drop-ins and in-depth mentorships and takes place at Sundance Harvest Farm in Downsview Park. The program offers youth with the education and land to start their own farms.

"I was very food insecure growing up and I had a hard time dealing with that, and when I got older, I was interested in local food and organic farming, but I found I was often not reflected in those worlds,” Sundance said in article by “People didn’t look like me who were the farmers, and when I was growing up I never thought I could be because that wasn’t offered as an opportunity to me.”

Growing in the Margins offers classes like Tomatoes 101, Worm Composting and Fertilizers and Microgreens, among others. But it also teaches other subjects in order to run a successful farm, like business planning, crop planning and marketing.

Since the program’s inception, Sundance has personally mentored more than 50 people. However, the wait-list for people to get in is far larger, she said. The program has been funded by Alo Restaurant in Toronto and with donations from the community.

“When we think about traditional education for agriculture, the main thing that anyone thinks about is unpaid internships,” she said in article with Toronto Star. “For someone who’s low income ... there really is no opportunity for them to get a fully-fledged education.”

According to Sundance, the biggest problem facing low-income youth is the price of land. Many farmers inherit land from their families, or rely on intergenerational wealth to afford it, she said.

liyah Fraser, 24, joined Zocalo’s incubator program after finishing Sundance’s mentorship program in November 2020. Her quarter-acre farm, Lucky Bug Farm, will open this spring.

“It’s kind of a happy medium between having a lot of infrastructure already set up, but still being able to do my own thing on my own crop and have control over what I’m doing,” said Fraser.

“The owner of that farm has been really great and understanding of the issues around BIPOC farmers and land access ... she recognizes the systemic barriers that marginalized farmers face.”

For Fraser, who worked as an urban planner before leaping into agriculture, the idea of starting a farm was daunting before she met Sundance.

“Farming is a very white-dominated industry ... I just didn’t think it was a possibility for myself until I saw Cheyenne doing it,” she said. “She gave me enough knowledge that I feel confident to start farming.”

Adjowa Karikari, 23, feels the same. After finishing the program in November 2020, she is now working as a farm education co-ordinator with Black Creek Community Farm in Toronto.

“Meeting Cheyenne and getting to learn from her was like a really amazing experience because it really empowered me to know that I’m able to do all that I want to do,” she said.

Karikari said she and many other youth were motivated to enter agriculture because of the climate crisis.

“People are really seeing the effects of climate change and witnessing how important food is,” she said. “There’s a really big shift happening, which is great. If everyone learns how to grow what they can in the climate that they live in, then it would help the world a lot.”

According to Sundance, COVID-19 has only hastened the social awareness of food sourcing.

“There’s (now more) people that are really wanting to support local farmers ... they know where their food is coming from and they feel more secure about it.”

While not all the graduates from her program end up working directly with farms, Sundance said the knowledge gained could spark larger movements down the line.

“It’s up to the youth what they do with the education,” she said. “I hope to plant the seeds, but they tend the crop.”

To learn more about Cheyenne's incredible project visit: Sundance Harvest Farm

Source: Adapted from Toronto Star, 'This Toronto farmer wanted to address inequity in agriculture. Now she’s helping youth start and operate their own farms'

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