An Inside Look at Ecological Farming in Ontario 

Exploring racial justice, food-sovereignty and land stewardship 

By: Brenlee Brothers. 

Angel Beyde has worked in urban agriculture and small space balcony gardening for 25 years, growing from a passionate hobby into a full-time career. As an ecological landscaper, educator and facilitator devoted to regenerative landcare practices, Beyde has trained and mentored many people over the years. She currently works as a consultant for the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario, providing feedback while facilitating community meetups so BIPOC folk can voice specific barriers and needs they have in regards to growing food. 

Beyde also runs an eco-landscaping social enterprise in Toronto that focuses on providing employment opportunities for people who face barriers such as mental illness, addiction, newcomer challenges, etc. 

Raph Beaulieu and Angel Beyde from their balcony garden in Toronto. Angel Beyde photoBeing city dwellers, Beyde and her partner Raph Beaulieu grow an abundance of fruiting plants, leafy greens, herbs and edible flowers from their balcony in the GTA.  “It really creates a strong sense of community I find, when you grow food in the city or even raising houseplants, it’s such a nice way to connect with people,” she said. 

Her passion for nature and the interrelation between vibrant soil, healthy food and a healthy community has evolved over the years through self study and practice. “I’ve always been self taught in regenerative gardening, and I really wanted some kind of more formal educational structure around the stuff that I knew, to try to bridge some gaps and deepen my knowledge,” she said.
 
After becoming an Organic Master Gardener in 2016 through Gaia College, she went on to co-facilitate the program for a while. It was during this time when Beyde and Beaulieu began dreaming up the idea of having their own farm, where they could commit to the long term work of growing food and strengthening food-sovereignty. Now the couple are looking for a suitable piece of land in rural Ontario (of 10 acres or more) to begin their Good Fortune Farmstead.  

Angel Beyde trimming tomato plants. Angel Beyde photoThe transition from urban growing to rural farming is not an easy one. “Land and equity is a massive barrier for new farmers, aspiring farmers, third-fourth-career farmers like myself. The fact that our prime agricultural land is considered a commodity on the open market, is devastating and really harmful for our food security,” Beyde said. 

For new farmers looking to buy a piece of property, it means they compete with developers, wealthy people who want to build estates and large scale “conventional farmers,” looking to mono-crop huge acreages of soy, wheat and corn. For retiring farmers looking to sell their land to aspiring growers, a big obstacle can be that their only option to make money after a lifetime of farming, is to sell their land for upwards of a million dollars, she said. “It’s definitely the biggest challenge. Just to see how we can make it not only viable or sustainable, but regenerative, so we’re not impoverished in order to be able to grow fruits and vegetables organically.” 
 
As a Black, mixed raced grower, Beyde has a strong understanding of the realities BIPOC communities face in Canada in relation to both growing and eating organic food. Supporting BIPOC people to access land for eco-farming is a concrete way to help restore people back to the land who have been historically and currently oppressed, Beyde said. 
 
“Especially in the crosshairs of this pandemic - climate change and racial injustice - which we’ve seen now are kind of all braided together in a really deep and painful way.”  When you look at who owns the land, what’s being done on the land and who’s hungry - and you add those up - it shows how these things are interconnected, she explained.  

The vast majority of land in Canada is owned by non-racialized landowners and the majority of farmland is treated with pesticides, synthetic fertilizers and monocrops for cash-cropping, by an industry that has no standards or laws to enforce or maintain ecological balance. If you look at populations who are hungry in Canada, Black Canadians experience food insecurity at nearly twice the rate of white Canadians, even if you adjust for variables like education, income, home ownership and immigration status, Beyde said. “If we don’t have racial justice, where people have equal access and equity in our food-growing system, we can’t actually heal climate change and we can’t transfer land ownership equitably to a broader sector of our society.” 

The Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario is an incredible resource that’s developing a lot of interest and dedication to supporting BIPOC farmers and eaters, she said. Once Good Fortune Farmstead is up and running, Beyde is interested in partnering with different community groups that receive funding, in order to help improve food security in various communities. “It would be great if it was just a direct subsidy to the farmer from the government, but if you have to go a roundabout way, through partnering with a community organization, I think that can be one way to get awesome, local, organic seasonal food to people who otherwise couldn’t afford it.” 

The future Good Fortune Farmsteaders, Raph and Angel. Angel Beyde photoFarmers are the foundational backbone to our society; people who are passionate about ecological stewardship, but are not remunerated for the services they provide. Farmers are integral to improving soil health and increasing soil microbiology, they help clean the water to protect and increase biodiversity, yet they can’t charge consumers for these services, she said. “As it is, people are barely breaking even. Any profits are razor slim and most of the farmers I know put almost everything back into the business because they are so passionate about doing things in an ecological stewardship way.” 
 
Farmers shouldn’t have to be saints, Beyde said. They’re just business people who happen to really love the earth and want to do things in a regenerative way. “Some of the very best farmers I know are not making minimum wage. That blows me away - that people we depend on three times a day, every day, who are really more than pulling their weight in regenerating the ecology around them (literally creating a tomorrow for us; air to breathe, water to drink, something to eat) - and those people are not making minimum wage for the most part.” 

These issues should not be on the shoulders of farmers, Beyde said. “They are supposed to be farming. It’s a hard job.” 

All levels of government should be collaborating to come up with tangible, concrete ways to compensate farmers for the ecological stewardship they are offering to society. “Our broken food system just shows how things are really, really messed up, (for something as simple as we’ve got to eat every day), and therefore I think we need lots of different players collaborating in order to make change,” Beyde said. 
 
During this dark and uncertain time, Beyde and Beaulieu find motivation in the joyful appreciation of simplicity; holding onto the dream of going out every day to plant, tend and harvest. “It’s hard, sometimes back-breaking work, but there is something so comforting about the timelessness of this work. It’s joyful, it’s reassuring and it’s necessary; and there’s not a lot of jobs you can say that about,” she said. 

Farmers are incredibly optimistic people who are determined to trouble-shoot and find solutions, Beyde said. “I really want to understand what I can contribute to make this more sustainable and hopefully actually regenerative for farmers themselves.” 

There’s no lack of resources, they’re just rather damned up right now, she said. “There seems to be more of a hunger and a will to liberate those resources to get them flowing to a more balanced and equitable food-system for everybody; because we all need to eat.”

“I hope in my own humble way, I can find something that will make ecological farming and eating organic food an easier choice for more people.” 
 
You can connect with Angel and Raph through their instagram at good_fortune_farmstead.  Say hi or let them know if you have a lead on land opportunity.