We look up from weeding in the kale beds. A young girl’s voice calls to us from the other side of the fence, where children from Three Valleys Public School tear through the schoolyard during recess. She extends her small arm through the chain link fence, offering us some flowers she has picked. We walk over to accept her beautiful gift and offer back some flowers to her and her friends.
“What are you doing? What’s growing over there?” Bright eyes, noticing everything. They are curious about what so many of us city-dwelling adults have become immune to – the life right before us. In every plant and patch of soil we mindlessly walk (or drive) past is a world of life rooted in the sustaining Earth.
At the Common Table Farm, we grow local organic produce in the Don Mills area. These fresh veggies are distributed at no cost to families and seniors experiencing food insecurity. The farm is a project of Flemingdon Park Ministry, an Anglican charity working in the neighbourhood of Flemingdon Park for many years. We grow thousands of pounds of food each season. A farm in an urban centre like Toronto offers much more than food, however. There are so many opportunities to connect people with the Earth, with each other and with curiosity.
Last spring, Anélia Victor joined our team as the Urban Farmer & Educator. Here she shares about last season and what we look forward to in 2023:
“Can you grow dragon fruit at your farm?”
For the past year, I have heard such wonderful quotes from children, teens and adults during our workshops. As I started this position, I was excited to create educational workshops for folks living in Flemingdon Park and the area surrounding our farm. Since I am coming to almost a year in this position, I want to share the joyous moments we created as an urban farm community to teach others the importance of growing food and caring about the land that provides so much to us.
Starting in March 2022, we ran two workshops with guest facilitator Tim Martin, teaching students about the benefits of pollinating plants and bugs. The children played a fun game mimicking the flight patterns of various pollinating bugs and learned how predators can disrupt the pollination process.
Next, in August our farm hosted a community pizza-making workshop. Participants from ages 4 to 60 learned how to knead pizza dough, build a pizza using fresh ingredients from our farm, and cook a pizza using a griddle on the stovetop. After the workshop, our summer staff member Kalia distributed tote bags with pizza flour, yeast and recipes to make your own dough and pizza at home.
We ended the year with two new educational partnerships that will bring opportunities to teach the community at large. We have created a three-part workshop with Three Valleys Public School, teaching children the life cycle of vegetables – from saving seeds and planting seedlings to having dedicated beds to grow their own food. As well, we were awarded a grant from Telus to build a youth program to teach Flemingdon Park students from grades 10 to 12 how to grow their own vegetables and nurture the land.
We can learn how to nurture the land and, at the same time, the Earth nurtures us in more ways than one.
“I learned bats pollinate.” “Bees make food.” “How do you pick out the plants you want to grow?” “I want to know, do pollinators eat pollinators?” “I like seeing the flowers.” “What are those white things in dirt?”
Upon visiting the farm, students are bursting with thoughts and questions. These children will inherit what we older folks leave for them of this Earth. Our modern, urban lives tend to dissociate us from the physical world around us and the food systems that feed us. So much depends on the bats, the bees, the flowers and the white things in the dirt! Perhaps significant shifts could take place in how we relate to the Earth if we learn to become curious again.
This season the farm will be humming with learning activities, even as we keep on weeding around that kale. We look forward to hearing many more inquisitive questions – from young and old – as we farm and learn together.