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Black Creek Community Farm, a hidden urban oasis near Jane & Finch

A few metres from the intersection of Jane and Steeles, a colourful mural hides behind the shade of some low-hanging branches. Beside the mural is a set of gates and across the street, a group of apartment complexes.
To a passerby on bike or car, it's almost missable, but behind the vibrant painting lays a mini paradise. The artwork marks the entrance to Black Creek Community Farm.
Black Creek is a small, seven-acre farm that has technically been a part of the Toronto food system since 2004, but has recently come to light after being taken over by the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA).
After the city of Toronto cut its funding to the project in 2011, TRCA took over the land so it could be used for an urban agricultural project, which has become a blossoming priority for the organization.  
"There are numerous benefits associated with growing food closer to city regions," says Sonia Dhir, from TRCA. "It creates more economic development, there's more job creation, there are social benefits, it can engage the community more, and there's an opportunity to celebrate diversity."
The TRCA began leasing the land to Everdale, an Ontario-based farm organization that specializes in sustainable farming and education, in 2012. Everdale opened the farm up for its first season to the public last spring, and has been going strong ever since.
Growing Opportunities

The farm is an oasis in an urban jungle, with rows and rows of food being grown in the fields adjacent to the barn and farmhouse. It's a quaint and cheery plot of land, and if it weren't for the muffled traffic sounds, it would be easy to forget the farm is located in a busy city.
But Gavin Dandy from Everdale points out this farm isn't just pretty; it's fully operational and growing real food that the people of Toronto are eating.
"It's a really, really, efficient, productive farm producing thousands and thousands of pounds of food every year," he says. "Everdale currently has eight farmers on staff who mix between farming, buying, and selling food, and doing program work."
Volunteers assist the farm, with many people from the neighbourhood coming out to lend a helping hand. Typically on any given day, the farm has about six volunteers working, but recently approximately 60 volunteers came out to help set up two brand-new greenhouses, which will allow the farm to extend its reach and grow food in the winter.
Black Creek is also engaging locals by using the farm as an event space designed to promote community involvement, including its recently wrapped annual harvest festival. The farm is multi-purposeful, with an emphasis on agricultural education. It hosts students from all over the region while the staff runs a youth training program, where young people are taught the basics of farming.
And those seeking to learn are in the right place. In Dhir's opinion, Black Creek is a model for urban farming.
"It's a good example of sustainable local food procurement," she says, "The farm is supporting produce to food facilities, and the food is also used at [Black Creek] Pioneer Village, which is unique to the farm project."
The farm currently grows over 100 varieties of fresh produce, which is sold at farmers' markets all over Toronto including at York University, Evergreen Brickworks, Wychwood Barns, and Driftwood—or used by Black Creek Pioneer Village. Vegetables grown on the farm include shiitake mushrooms, yellow zucchini, okra, and much more.
Food is also sold on-site once a week out of the barn, which is kitty-corner to a century-old farmhouse that houses the staff's offices.

Supporting the Community
The farm itself is a welcoming environment and offers more than just food and events to the community. It's a place where anyone can come to enjoy the beautiful space. It allows people to get in contact with nature and sit by the creek, Dandy says, while also providing a beautiful backdrop for a variety of workshops that all circle back to community health.
"You can see how the farm is a place where community health can really flourish and we can learn how to be healthy and how to be a healthy community," he says.  

Leticia Boahen, the farm's community coordinator, agrees it's also a beautiful place to work, one that practices what it preaches.
"Just having an office in nature has been healthy for my mental health," she says. "It can be stressful here, but just take a walk in the woods and you're okay."

Boahen first found out about the farm when TRCA hired her to coordinate a harvest festival on the land years before the farm was Black Creek Community Farm. She had been living in the area for quite some time, but was unaware of the refuge hidden just off Jane Street. This year, her work in the community helped land her a full-time contract on the farm. 

A major perk of her job? She gets to bring her young son with her.
As she yanks at a stubborn, drafty window in the farmhouse, her son wanders throughout the house, clearly at home on the farm. Boahen says that for her, the farm is a small but important step for the community where she lives.
"It's rewarding that I can be a part of a project such as this, and see how we can make good food affordable because we all know junk costs less," she says. She cites a recent Heart & Stroke study that showed people in the Jane and Finch neighbourhood pay more for fresh produce than other neighbourhoods in Toronto
"It was a shocker because we live in a predominantly low income area, yet we pay seven per cent more for fresh produce and it just doesn't make much sense."
The farm is adding sunshine to a neighbourhood that Dandy thinks deserves more credit.
"What I've learned since starting the project is that [the Jane and Finch community] is rich in terms of its human resource capacity," says Dandy.
"These are passionate people who have a real interest in this project and see the value in it, and a large percentage of the staff are from the neighbourhood and participate in our program," he says. "And that's really what it's about, for the farm to be owned by the community. That's our goal to make it happen."

Rachel Bloom is a Toronto-based journalist who recently graduated from the University of King's College journalism school. She has interned with CBC, The Coast, and Post City Magazines, and her work has also appeared in the Halifax Media Co-Op, The Dalhousie Gazette, the Watch and the King's Journalism Review.
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