The Toronto farmers’ market, first of its kind, grows more space for Black and Indigenous culinary cultures

Alvis Julien, co-founder of Deeper Roots Farm, lays out his wares at the Deeply Rooted Farmers’ Market in Toronto on the August long weekend. The farm offers foods of the African diaspora.Photography by Ramona Leitao/The Globe and Mail

When Camille Mayers, a queer, Black chef based in Toronto, first started selling American, Southern and Caribbean dishes at farmers markets around the city, they noticed they were the only Black vendor. “It was very uncomfortable,” said Mx. Mayers.

Mx. Mayers said Black people have historically always been entrepreneurs and have grown and sold their own food. Their mother, who sold earrings and catered functions, is a prime example of that tradition.

That’s why the Toronto chef found it important to launch Deeply Rooted Farmers’ Market, the first market of its kind in Toronto to feature exclusively Black and Indigenous vendors. The market officially launched on May 8.

Since its launch, the market has been a vibrant atmosphere for people of all ages. As local musicians provide live music and kids play in the play section of the market, others are checking out stalls that feature dishes from the African diaspora. It’s a combination of savory, spicy and sweet food, like fried chicken waffles from Mayers themselves, jerk pork sandwiches by Chef Marty Alexander, peach samosas by Niagara Samosas and classic injera with misir wat, a spicy lentil dish, by Bethlehem Mitiku. Ethiopian-styled coffee, homemade lemonade iced tea and fruit smoothies are also available to drink.

Fresh produce that’s harvested from local farmers is also sold at the market, including amaranth, sage and bell peppers being sold by Charles Catchpole of Gitigaanes, red callaloo and kale from Willie Mae Pharmacy and garlic scapes, radishes and chard from Julien Alvis and Cady of Deeper Roots Farm.

Members of the Deeply Rooted team: Founder Camille Mayers, and Métis board members Maria Simonelli and Tanika Alexander.

While it was initially supposed to be a farmers market only for Black entrepreneurs, Mx. Mayers realized it was just as important to provide the same opportunities for Indigenous vendors. Through their research, Mx. Mayers realized that the lack of land and food accessibility has also been an ongoing issue with Indigenous communities. “I didn’t feel right talking about land disparities on land that’s not ours to claim to begin with,” they said.

Black and Indigenous communities also both have experiences that are unique from those of other people of color. “The effect of slavery, genocide, systemic oppression that is still hugely impacting our people just cannot be grouped in with everyone else,” Mx. Mayers said.

Mx. Mayers hopes the market will encourage more Black and Indigenous entrepreneurs to launch farmers markets of their own as a means to assert their presence in the city’s food and business industry. They also say it’s a good way to generate economic opportunities and keep that wealth within their communities.

“It’s important for people that are living in these diverse cities who see people like us, who talk to people like us, to also know a little bit of our culture, and not just the sad stories you read about in history books,” Mx Mayers added. “We are more than that. Our cultures are so much more beautiful than all the sadness that we’ve been through.”

The farmers’ market runs every Sunday until Sept. 25 at Dieppe Park in East York.

Charles Catchpole, an Anishinaabe chef and farmer, has bell peppers, sage and other produce from his urban farm in North York, Gitigaanes. Its name means ‘little farm’ in Ojibway.

Mya Beaudry, an 11-year-old Algonquin vendor from Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation, started Kokom Scrunches when she was nine. Visitors check out the handmade scrunchies.

Gray Mayers enjoys an iced treat from the No Krumbs food stall.

Bethlehem Mitiku and her daughter prepare Ethiopian meals. She makes her dabo, an Ethiopian bread, from scratch.

Deeper Roots Farm sells produce like Jamaican callaloo, Swiss chard, baby chard, lettuce and radishes.

The market will continue to showcase Black and Indigenous vendors on Sundays until Sept. 25.

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