By Emma Buchanan and Susie Turner
Pedal to Plate Tour Members Extraordinaire
Sunday marked our first morning waking up as a team! Even at 7 am at Round the Bend Farm, we could feel how much heat the day would bring. The sun beat down on those of us who had unfortunately not taken Farmer Brian’s advice to set our tents up in the morning shade near the trees and had to emergency evacuate at around 6:45… We were somewhat grateful that all our visitors that day were coming to us!
Our day officially started with a visit with James from the West End Food Co-op (WEFC). James was an incredible speaker and very clearly laid out the WEFC’s model, and how they increase food security for members of the Parkdale community in Toronto. The WEFC is a multi-stakeholder co-op, which is very uncommon in Ontario. The workers, purchasers, producers (farmers, etc.), and community members all have a say in the store’s operation. They operate within a continually evolving non-hierarchical structure.
Most notably, each year, the WEFC and PARC (Parkdale Activity-Recreation Centre) run the Ride4Real Food, which raises money for the WEFC’s co-op credit program. The co-op credit program goes like this: members at PARC, who come from marginalized communities and often suffer from mental health issues, poverty, and addiction, can work a few hours a week at the WEFC and gain credit dollars to the store to buy fresh, healthy, local food. The WEFC also has a few other credit programs to increase the food security of the community.
I have to say that his talk changed my initial impression of the WEFC. As I’ve done some organizing, but mostly a lot of reading into social justice issues and am fairly cynical, I assumed that the WEFC was another co-op that has pricey, frilly organic food that only the most well-off can afford, and if this was the case, found it problematic for the store to be located in a low-income, marginalized community. However, I was pretty wrong, and should think twice before judging a store by its storefront.
Later that afternoon, we were joined by Patrick and Aurora from The Three Sisters’ House/N’Swo N’Shiimenhig Endaayaat. Patrick is from Chippewas of Nawash First Nation and Aurora is from the Philippines. From their website: “Patrick and Aurora’s two-person team speaks at panels, runs workshops, leads discussions, and gives demonstrations about Aboriginal issues and food security. We do this with the twin goals of sharing the wisdom, traditions, and history of the First Nations as well as empowering our audiences to make healthy food choices. We also cater small events, and at times Patrick is asked to lead opening and closing ceremonies.”
To start, Patrick smudged the group with tobacco and said a prayer in Ojibwe. He then discussed berry season, and the rich access he had to berries and traditional preservation techniques as a child and young person. Aurora spoke of pemmican, which is a crushed mixture of berries, meat, and fat that contains all of the nutrients one needed to survive for days to week at a time while on hunting trips. Patrick then gave us many examples of how the Ojibwe, and in particular the Chippewas of Nawash, continue to have their access to traditional foods and therefore food security taken away from them by the government and settler populations, including the destruction of traditional fishing lands by industry. He also spoke of the destruction caused by residential schools, and how the horrors suffered by many indigenous children led to addiction and abusive behaviour, making it difficult for communities to maintain gardens and other methods of securing healthy, traditional food.
Speaking with Aurora and Patrick re-affirmed to the group that we must work in solidarity with the indigenous communities of Canada (Turtle Island) and amplify their voices, that are calling for food security and justice. It was a truly learning-filled day.
On Monday, the team left Round the Bend Farm and biked 26 km to the community of Palgrave, Ontario, where we received a warm welcome at Palgrave United Church.
The church is a hub for many local organizations, and is known for its efforts to run sustainably. Caledon, the town that the community of Palgrave is located in, was named the “Greenest Town in Ontario” in 2003 and has kept up its sustainability initiatives ever since (check it out here: http://www.naturalstep.ca/town-of-caledon-ontario). Barb, a powerhouse community organizer, and Palgrave UC hosted our Pedal to Plate Tour in 2013, and we were so thrilled to return; it’s clear that Otesha and Palgrave have a lot in common. Upon our arrival, we had the chance to learn from Gavin, one of the founders of a bike shop in Toronto called KindHuman. He led us through conversations about some bike basics, from brakes to gears, and was on his way.
Tired, sweaty and hot from the day, the team was invited to a community member’s swimming pool. Thank you Carol!! After a headwind-heavy, hilly, partly graveled ride, the pool was pretty fabulous! Our favourite pool activities that afternoon involved throwing Frisbees at each other’s faces as we tried to leap into the pool to catch them, and attempting to smoothly get on one of the largest floating rafts you’ve ever seen.
Tuesday took us to our first official farm visit just 5 km away at Albion Hills Community Farm. This year’s farm manager, Shannon, gave us a tour of their CSA (community shared agriculture)-based operation. The farm receives support mainly from Trillium Grants, dedicated volunteers and interns to make financing and production possible.
They are an organic farm and do not use any machinery, which makes for many hours of intensive labour and weeding! We were set to the task of weeding rows of potatoes that had been engulfed by buckwheat, buckwheat and more buckwheat. Two hours of weed-pulling and potato bug-plucking later, we had successfully salvaged a row of potatoes.
That evening we were joined by past tour participants Frank and Jaime. Frank has ridden on 3 (!!) Pedal to Plate Tours, twice as the Food Coordinator cooking up delicious grub for the team. We were lucky enough to discover that the guy who jokingly yelled at us to “Get off the sidewalk!!!” on our first day in downtown Toronto has a big heart, an ability to make anyone laugh, and an even better French toast recipe. Jaime has ridden on two Pedal to Plate Tours and was the Tour Coordinator for the 2013 ride. She brought an amazing sense of calm and focus to the group. That evening, we returned to Albion Hills for a potluck with community members involved on the farm’s board and local environmental initiatives. Hooray for delicious, fresh vegetables from field to plate!
Wednesday morning we were back on our bikes and began our trek to Peace Ranch, a centre for individuals with mental illness. Our tour guide, Deb, describes the ranch as a client-focused community which offers temporary housing (ranging from 6 months to a few years) and a number of programs to individuals with mental illness.
Their gardens are a source of healing for residents. Tom, the manager at Left Field Farm, told us that the farm is trying a different strategy that it has in past years. As the gardens are therapeutic and provide employment for adults in the area who struggle with mental health issues, they’re focusing on a few bulk crops that are less intensive to manage, including potatoes, squash, and garlic, to sell to catering companies and restaurants. Many farms will grow 50+ crops to make their CSAs more diverse, but this isn’t realistic for a dual-purpose garden such as Left Field Farm. The garden was amazingly well taken care of and the crops were thriving.
The group enjoyed a tour through their herb garden, hydroponic greenhouse, programs building, animal barns (where we were promptly spit on by Peanut the alpaca), and farm fields. We tried fresh fava beans and met Rosie the pot-bellied pig (the (un)official mascot of Peace Ranch). We were truly impressed and inspired by the work at Peace Ranch. After endless thanks for the visit, we said our goodbyes and mounted our bikes, setting off to our next destination: Zocalo Organics in Erin.