Food and Land Distribution in Parkdale, Toronto: An E4A Internship with the Parkdale Community Food Hub (by Molly Fremes)

Working with the Parkdale Community Food Hub (PCFH) was the perfect E4A internship for a super-nerd with a passion for political agroecology and ecological economics (read: me). South Parkdale’s food access challenges are a microcosm of the failures of the Canadian food system. This system, both shaped by and shaping the global food economy, has failed to provide food sovereignty to its residents* through violent systems of oppression, land seizure, heteropatriarchy and ableism.

The folks behind PCFH seek to address issues of food justice, land distribution and economic opportunity in the South Parkdale community. It takes a systems-based understanding that food could be both the root and the solution to many interwoven social and environmental injustices – physical health, mental health, emotional wellbeing, affordable housing, social inclusion/isolation, family dynamics – all of which can hinder or contribute to the building of a truly equitable, “resilient” community.

Unlike other neighbourhoods in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA), South Parkdale has not been characterized as a “food desert”. Instead, the challenge that too many residents face is securing affordable food that is healthy and culturally appropriate (a need reiterated by citywide priorities put forward by the Poverty Reduction Strategy Report). A proposed solution to this challenge has been to build a “community food hub” in South Parkdale. In tandem with the other social, economic, and environmental challenges that the neighbourhood faces, the community sought out how to define what the most effective food hub design would be to address South Parkdale’s circumstance and challenges.

So that’s what we did. Though I’ve been involved with PCFH since 2016, I welcomed the “need” to fulfill an academic internship as an opportunity to spend more dedicated energy with the group. From January through to June 2018, I designed, facilitated and executed an agency consultation and research partnership to create the PCFH Agency Consultation Report. I designed the report to first consolidate the rich history of Parkdale’s action and activism around local food insecurity, to which I added my work: neighbourhood asset mapping, a case study analysis of similar projects across Turtle Island, agency interview results, organizational visioning, and recommendations based on current and future capacity.

What did my (burgeoning) background in ecological economics bring to the internship? Well, I’d developed a foundational understanding of systems theory, a critical analysis of land and property, and a deep frustration in mainstream economic distribution mechanisms. Most importantly, I had been working on my practise of “Participatory Action Research”, thanks to a very special partnership with University of Vermont’s Agroecology Graduate Certificate through the Agroecology and Livelihoods Collaborative (ALC) in August 2017. And all of this was informed and complimented by a social justice framework. Yet it goes without saying that no academic discipline better explained the failures of the food system than those experiencing the brunt of its consequences.

Coming from the multiple points of privilege that I do, I would fall woefully short to simply “remain forever grateful” for the insights shared by those experiencing financial and/or food insecurity. In fact, to just sit in my gratitude would be downright extractive. To me, the real work comes after the internship. We did the research. We collected the data. We mapped the results. Now what? How do I, as a young researcher with connections in municipal politics, academia and the corporate world, share the results of this community’s efforts so as to advocate for local and systemic change in the food system? How do I, now that this internship is “over”, and I’ve graduated with my Masters’ degree, continue to practice PAR and champion this project?

I’ve been lucky to stay plugged into the South Parkdale community as a Food Security working group member with the Parkdale People’s Economy, as Vice-Chair of the Institute for a Resource Based Economy, and as a research assistant the Centre for Studies in Food Security at Ryerson University. Just this month, the Parkdale Community Food Hub was just awarded a 3 year Ontario Trillium Fund grant to finally develop its programming. It is my hope that the research that we did together increases the food access and connection of South Parkdale residents, and that I can continue to support where I am invited to do so.

*The community of South Parkdale sits on the traditional territories of the Huron-Wendat, the Petun, the Seneca, and the Mississaugas of the New Credit River. Note that Land under Treaty 13 is disputed under the Toronto Land Purchase (1805) – there is no evidence that the land was “sold” in the deed to the land under Sir John Johnson and the Mississauga of the New Credit River.

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