Some of you may have met us years ago, during our early farming days. Others may be meeting us for the first time, or have only seen our work through posts on social media. We felt that it would be a good time to break the ice and (re)introduce ourselves to you!
Before Deeper Roots Farms started, we each were on our individual journeys that brought us to the trade. My partner started his journey when he was quite young. Maybe his love for growing began as a child growing up in the Caribbean. He was surrounded by citrus trees, mango trees, banana trees, gospo trees and avocado trees. In the backyard he would grow cabbage, carrots and even peppers with his father. He would go out to fish, hunt and care for chickens. This experience is very common in the Caribbean akin to an every day chore, maybe its better to describe it as a way of life. Thus, when he came to Toronto, Canada, he wasn’t connected to the soil as he was in his youth, he felt uncomfortable or rather it didn’t feel like home. So of course, he wanted to do something that felt more familiar.
In or around 2009, independent growing opportunities seemed rare in the city of Toronto, however there was a fresh new movement of young urban growers, some of who made their stamp on the farm plots at Downsview Park. On approximately 1000sqft, he was growing common staples like lettuce, cabbage, tomatoes and callaloo to refine his already present skills. He also borrowed books from his peers, learned about industry shakers and movers all in aims of figuring out farming possibilities for himself in this new country.
He later got employment at a farming organization for about two to three years. (Thanks to community members creating/advocating for their own farm and urban growing space(s)). His community involvement accelerated once he became an urban farmer. Some of which included, providing subsidized harvest share bags to community members, working alongside volunteer community members, as well as training youth & waged farmers.
(North York, ON 2009?)
(North York, ON 2016?)
I got my first farming experience interning at a farming organization, I think I was there for about two years. I learned a bit about plants but most of my learning consisted of seeding, weeding and transplanting crops. The usual. It was during this time my partner recommended that we attend a conference called The Black Urban Growers Conference, which was about what its title entails. A conference about Black Urban Growers. Attending the conference was both eye opening and motivational. They seemed so untouchable. The obstacles that were present in Toronto’s urban farming landscape seemed so juvenile in comparison because these exemplary farmers (and many non-farmers/farmer adjacent career persons) were conducting revolutionary advocacy work and making changes in their community to make it possible to grow food. We left the conference very motivated, ready to start our own farm.
(Harlem, New York, 2016?)
Other than my internship, I haven’t had much experience with agriculture, but I like to tell myself that my farming knowledge is stored in my DNA. I’ve heard stories from my parents, grandparents and great grandparents about back home when they’d have to wake up early to do particular chores or clean the chicken coop or about how my great grandfather managed two acres of the fields by himself or the time he caught an eel and they ate that for breakfast that morning. The conversation always ended up with them saying that “the food back home is better tasting than anything here.” But I think, the major difference is that my parents had access to local, organically grown food, usually freshly picked! When seeking my cultural food staples here, you have more difficulty finding them (rather all food staples of the African Diaspora), and if you are able to find them then seldom are they local or organic. Since the beginning, part of our objective has been to provide culturally appropriate food to our community; in aims to reintroduce that experience into the lives of people like my family.
Once we set out to start the farm, it wasn’t so long until we learned first hand the meaning of land insecurity. We both became vagabond farmers in 2017 and onward. Between purchasing farm land or renting a farm plot, renting was so much more accessible/affordable but, it felt like there no longer were any opportunities to do so. If the farm plots were not at full capacity, the incubator farm running the farm plot was being shut down. If it wasn’t shut down, we were just flat out refused the opportunity. It was quite disheartening.
(Maloca Gardens, North York, ON 2015?)
(McVean, Brampton, ON 2016)
(Downsview, North York, ON 2017)
We resorted to more creative means in accessing land. We asked other farmers if it was possible to work alongside them, while we waited for the next opportunity to get our own farm plot.
(McVean, Brampton, ON, 2018?)
In 2020, we finally were able to start Deeper Roots Farms, leasing approximately 0.38 acres. The first challenge of many were over, but our next issue was managing the farm on a part time basis; we worked full-time jobs, attended school and volunteered. There were expected hardships like never having enough time, tremendous weed pressure, finding money to repair/replace items or having to farm late hours in the evenings rushing to finish before the sun set. Then there were unexpected hardships such as our rototiller being stolen, other tools were stolen, enduring precarious lease situations, and others more.
It has been frustrating farming in this timeline because we know our potential, but have not been able to work to the fullest. This was true even in our second year. At least now, we’ve gained knowledge of whats working and we think we’ve successfully made adjustments (we’ll find out this season).
(McVean, Brampton, ON 2020)
Today we are excited to continue the mission further because we are more capable of introducing these cultural staples to communities of the African Diaspora. Despite our focus on this community, it’s not limited to them alone of course. We’ve met others who along the way share some of these staple foods in their culture. Like Greeks eat a dish where the vegetable and the dish share the same name, it's called Vlita. The key vegetable is what I call Callaloo! The entirety of Asia can recognize this same plant as well. We’ve noticed this trend along the way with other produce and look forward to seeing it more as we introduce more food staples. It has been pretty warming to see how food shows that many cultures/communities share much more in common than at least I ever realized.
I’d like to also state that we don’t just grow these cultural staples, but also grow the vegetables commonly seen in Canadian grocery stores like carrots, cabbage, beets, lettuce etcetera.
This surmises our experience as a farm so far and it’s been a pleasure! We hope to hope to be able to make new memories with you all in the coming year.
Deeper Roots Farms