In honour of black history month, I thought I’d find a few stories relevant to the black experience in Canadian gardening and agriculture. These stories go back a few years, but I haven’t previously reported them, so at least they are new to this site.
Long history for Black farmers in Ontario
Reporter Jackie Clark writes about the Prince family’s long history of farming in Ontario. The article includes links to another piece about Buxton, Ontario, as example of a place where formerly enslaved Black people worked together to build a thriving agricultural community.
The Prince family have help to keep alive the history of black farming in Ontario. Shannon Prince is the curator of Buxton National Historic Site and Museum, near Chatham, Ont., lies the Buxton National Historic Site and Museum, where visitors can learn about the history of the Eglin Settlement (also known as Buxton). Founded in 1849 by Reverend William King, a white minister, Buxton eventually grew to a community of 2,000 Black people. King helped formerly enslaved Black people settle on the tract of land purchased by the Elgin Association.
“There was a lot of opposition (around) Chatham. Basically, they didn’t like the idea of having Blacks in their backyard,” Prince said. “Reverend King founded this (settlement on) heavily forested, swampy land. Because of that opposition in the outlying area, he put a lot of rules in place. Land could only be purchased by Blacks.”
King wanted to prove that, if Black people were given the same opportunities as white people, they could become self-sufficient and prosperous. And they did. They cleared and farmed the land, established businesses like a sawmill and hotel, and started a school with high-quality education and night classes for adults. “The education really changed change the whole perspective” of the white people in the surrounding area, Prince said. Buxton developed from swampy wilderness to a self-reliant community.
Black Farmers & Regenerative Agriculture
Young Agrarians lists eight contributions by black farmers to the modern-day success of small farms. These includes such innovations as the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) business model, U-pick operations, “lean farming” to minimize waste and increase efficiency, designs for early seed planters, crop rotation and nitrogen fixation, and the use of refrigerated trucks.
Three Black farmers and the fight for land
Ramona Leitao has a gorgeous pictorial essay in The Narwhal about three black famers in the Toronto area. Although Black and Indigenous households are vastly more likely to experience food insecurity in Canada, when it comes to bringing local food to Black communities in Toronto, farmers say access to land remains one of the biggest hurdles. Leitao’s essay documents the experience of three Black-led farms, Sundance Harvest, the Toronto Black Farmers and Food Growers’ Collective and Lucky Bug Farm, which are committed to resolving food insecurity within their communities but are struggling to access and retain the necessary land. Two of the farms are based in the GTA and one is based in Wellington County. Each of them, while different, have unique experiences with land accessibility and retention.
Sadly the Ford government’s passage of the Bill 23 likely to exacerbate this issue.