Community Farm leads the way in community care
A lot can come to mind when hearing the words Jane & Finch.
The Blackcreek Community Farm however, is playing a crucial role in nourishing an alternative narrative for the neighbourhood, one of self-sovereignty and community care.
“Millions of dollars make their way to the Daily Bread food banks and the Salvation Army, but so many of our communities aren’t going to those places for food–they come to organizations like us,” said Leticia Deawuo, Executive Director at the Blackcreek Community Farm.
Parallel to the plight of the essential workers, during our most challenging times– in this instance a global pandemic–government was exposed for depending most on the people they’ve supported least.
“We had the police calling us like ‘can you help us get food to these locations?‘,” she laughed.
The Covid-19 crises exacerbated the community farm’s workload in ways they couldn’t have prepared for.
“We’ve never done an emergency food program,” said Deawuo.
“We had 12 people working on it and it was so complex. We had to set up a system to coordinate with drivers, ensure they were able to take the appropriate safety precautions…getting PPE was difficult.”
The team did a lot of the coordination from home, meeting regularly, making calls, and arranging the team to make their way to and through communities.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the organization has improved its processes with two staff working full time on emergency food delivery, and the other team members focusing on the coordination of resources.
Back in 2012, the Toronto & Region Conservation Authority awarded the farm with money to continue the work that had been underway in the community. The TRCA awarded the leadership opportunity to an all white rural organization however, from outside of the community.
“There were multiple challenges that came under their leadership,” says Deawuo.
“There was of course unfair treatment, none of the folks selected as leaders were black, the wages were low, it was a mess.”
After years of inefficiencies and the challenges that come with those, the community made demands that the farm be led by people from the community. In 2018 they did just that, and incorporated as a not-for-profit.
“The management handed over the keys like ‘good luck‘…almost wanting us to fail,” she said.
Before this work Deawuo had no background in urban agriculture. She was pushed by her community to lead, and so she stepped up to the call.
This grassroots spirit and mindset has been at the foundation of the organization’s motion forward, and has had unquestionable impact in the process.
The farm has a tight $600,000 annual budget and with that, feeds 2500 families amounting to 12,000 individuals. Just over 1000 of those families are in the Jane & Finch area.
“We’ve been able to do so much with so little,” she said.
This impact doesn’t erase the fact that they’ve had to struggle unnecessarily to reach these goals. It also doesn’t erase the fact that they could do so much more if only they were more adequately resourced.
The crises helped illustrate the irrefutable functionality and necessity of these kinds of community programs.
“As a city, none of these [government leaders] invested in the farm. Everyone washed their hands of us–now they’re recognizing that it’s not just the Red Cross and Salvation Army that serve community, that it’s the grassroots organizations making real impact…right now the city is reliant on us as a small organization to do their work of feeding folks…We’re here picking up the pieces.”
In the last few months the organization has seen its membership donations grow from 20 monthly subscribers to 100. Deawuo and her team hopes this upward trend continues.
“Let’s see how many of them want to stay in the fight. It’s a step, and we’re happy about it. It’s not the work though…these policies, systemic barriers…and their votes are what really count. “
She and her team remain committed to feeding the community and continuing to advocate for removing the multiple barriers and factors that lead to food insecurity.
“Food security isn’t just about getting people food,” Deawuo stated.
“It’s about housing, education, employment, all those things that make up a life…people need fair wages in order to feed themselves.”
Deawuo finds herself encouraged by the youth she sees pushing the needle with similar demands for equity and equality. She remains inspired and impressed by the way they successfully organize and maintain the energy in the fight for black lives. She is hopeful that this energy will be sustained and maintained in the struggle for self-sovereignty.