The climate crisis impacts almost every part of our lives, including the food we eat. One Toronto farmer is using a community driven form of agriculture to do more than feed society.
“Having a local food movement directly correlates to climate justice,” said Cheyenne Sundance. a farmer and the founder of Sundance Harvest, Toronto’s first justice-centred urban farm.
Floods, droughts, and wildfires are among the threats to traditional crop growing seasons each year, causing ebbs and flows in the produce available as well as the cost to buy it and often, driving up the cost for Canadians.
But many farmers in Canada are re-thinking the traditional approach and finding ways to adapt to the changing climate.
“It’s hard to imagine it worse than it is now, because what I’m seeing is pretty scary,” said Sundance.
Supporting local urban farming communities can also be a more carbon-friendly option for the food we buy and eat.
I teach people to reconnect with the Earth
Sundance Harvest is located in a greenhouse in Downsview Park in the North York neighbourhood. She sells her seasonal produce, but at just 23-years-old, Sundance’s favourite part of her farm is mentoring the next generation of urban farmers.
If communities had the space and tools to provide for themselves, eating fresh food, grown in their own neighbourhood, could be a possibility and Sundance is trying to make that a reality through free programming she offers.
“I teach people to reconnect with the Earth,” she said.
Through a free 12-week mentorship program, Growing in the Margins, Sundance opens her greenhouse up to marginalized people in Toronto.
“The demographics of the program are youth who historically and currently right now face systemic barriers in the food system. So Black, Indigenous, persons of colour, youth with disabilities, both hearing and physical disabilities and also youth who are queer, trans, two-spirit and non-binary,” she said.
Since Sundance took over the greenhouse in 2018, she has been sharing the knowledge she’s gained as a mostly self-taught farmer. She also believes in paying herself and any seasonal workers a fair living wage.
“I had really decided not to go to the food bank model at Sundance Harvest because I think that the band-aid is not addressing a larger issue of systemic oppression.”
While the food system is complex, Sundance breaks it down to three levels
“Food security is level one that’s simply someone not having enough food and there being a food bank. It could be Kraft dinner, could just even be Wonder Bread. These types of foods aren’t nutritionally dense,” she said.
“Food justice is level two. Understanding that there’s an issue that is actually causing people not to have food and trying to address that issue, whether that be through a lack of planning that makes food, especially affordable food, more accessible in their neighbourhoods. The last one is food sovereignty. And food sovereignty is kind of a goal that a lot of people are trying to get to, especially within the food justice movement…is people who are most marginalized in the food system having complete ownership and control over that same food system. Choosing where they grow, how they grow.”
Growing in the Margins meets weekly at Downsview Park for a formal discussion as well as hands-on learning. The students are eager to soak up Sundance’s knowledge with their sights set on ultimately building their own garden or greenhouse in their community.
“She made me feel like there is really a place for a young, black woman in agriculture in the greater Toronto area,” said Aliyah Fraser during a session last fall.
“There’s a big lack of space in the community, in the growing community for people of colour, for marginalized people, for queer people, for trans people,” said Maiesha Abdelmoula. “What Cheyenne is really doing is just creating a space for this community to come together and create something that is owned by us for us.”
Cheyenne Sundance is featured in a new Citytv VeraCity documentary, The Fight For Tomorrow. The film explores the impact of the climate crisis on Canada’s largest cities and how eight Canadians are trying to change the course of our future. Produced and written by Megan Robinson, The Fight For Tomorrow premieres Tuesday, March 30 at 10 p.m./9 p.m. CT on Citytv and Citytv.com. Join us for a live discussion about the documentary on Facebook, March 31 at 12 p.m. EST.