In 2017, food prices were skyrocketing. The Rev. Beverley Williams picked up a head of cauliflower at a grocery store, and, looking at the price, saw it cost $7.
“I don’t want to pay $7 for cauliflower, and I’m not on a fixed income,” she says.
With rising food prices and a lack of fresh produce, she knew there was a need in the community for locally grown fresh produce. In the spring of 2018, shovels went in the ground at Flemingdon Park Ministry’s urban farming project, the Common Table, located at the Church of Our Saviour, Don Mills.
That summer and fall, staff and volunteers pulled spinach, kale, tomatoes, peppers, onions, eggplant, Swiss chard, bok choy, herbs and cucumbers out of the ground.
Since that first harvest, the project has continued to grow, adding a greenhouse and learning hub, building community partnerships and distributing more produce to more families every year at its weekly community farmer’s market.
“The farm is legit,” Ms. Williams says.
In the first year, 129 families registered at the ministry’s farmer’s market, held every Friday. In 2019, 250 families registered. But in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic presented challenges to safely hosting the market, and it looked like they may not be able to keep it open.
“We were inundated with phone calls saying, ‘Where’s the market? We miss you,’” Ms. Williams says.
Knowing that they had to keep serving families in the Flemingdon Park community, the Common Table partnered with FoodShare, a non-profit organization that tackles food insecurity in Toronto, to distribute their produce at the nearby Angela James Arena. With 700 families registered, the Common Table delivers 200-300 lbs. of produce every week.
“We wouldn’t have been able to keep everyone safe,” Ms. Williams says. “This is the best way to distribute our produce.” Having shown itself to be an important community asset by growing and distributing healthy food to hundreds of families, the next step is to deepen those relationships and build more community bonds. “We hope to start building relationships with kids and families in the community,” Ms. Williams says.
With its lands sitting between Our Saviour and Three Valleys Public School, they are aiming to build discipling communities in urban farming by launching a Bible study group focused on Jesus and the environment.
“It’s going to be about discipling through farm and food justice,” she says.
The farm is also developing a learning hub to teach local students about food sustainability and urban farming.
These relationships will help ensure the farm is part of the community, and the community is part of the farm. “The community is connected to this, they’re involved and it’s having an impact,” she adds.