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.
Being 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.
The 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.”
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.”
Farmers 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.”
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.
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.”