Toronto farmers market, the first of its kind, offers more space for black and indigenous culinary cultures

Elvis Julian, co-founder of Deeper Roots Farm, displays his wares at Toronto’s Deeply Rooted Farmers’ Market this long weekend in August. The farm serves foods from the African diaspora.Photo by Ramona Leto/The Globe and Mail

When Camille Myers, a black chef based in Toronto, began selling American, Southern, and Caribbean dishes at farmers markets across the city, they noticed that they were the only black vendors. “It was very uncomfortable,” MX said. Myers.

Mix. Throughout history, Myers said, blacks were businessmen who grew up and sold their own food. Their mother, who sold earrings and fittings, is a perfect example of this tradition.

That’s why Toronto’s chef found it important to launch the Deeply Rooted Farmers’ Market, the first market of its kind in Toronto featuring exclusively black and indigenous sellers. The market was officially launched on May 8th.

Since its launch, the market has served as a vibrant atmosphere for people of all ages. As local musicians perform live music and children play in the market’s play section, others peruse the stalls displaying African diaspora dishes. It’s a mixture of savory, spicy and sweet, like Myers’ own fried chicken patties, Chef Marty Alexander’s bacon sandwiches, Niagara peach samosas, and the classic injera with wat miser, a spicy lentil dish, from Bethlehem Mitiko. Ethiopian style coffee, iced tea for lemonade and fruit juices to drink are also available.

Fresh produce harvested from local farmers is also sold at the market, including amaranth, sage, peppers sold by Charles Catchpole of Gitigaanes, red callaloo and kale from Willie Mae Pharmacy, and garlic skin, radish, and chard from Julien Alvis and Cady of a deeper root farm.

Deeply Rooted Team Members: Founder Camille Myers and Métis Board Member Maria Simonelli and Tanica Alexander.

While it was initially meant to be a farmers’ market only for black entrepreneurs, Mx. Myers realized that it was critical to provide the same opportunities for Indigenous sellers. Through their research, Mx. Myers realized that a lack of land and access to food was also an ongoing problem with Indigenous communities. They said, “I didn’t feel right to talk about land disparities on land we don’t have to begin with.”

Both black and indigenous communities have unique experiences from those of other people of color. “The impact of slavery, genocide, and systematic oppression that continues to affect our people so dramatically cannot be grouped with anyone else,” Mx. Myers said.

Mix. Myers hopes the market will encourage more black and Indigenous entrepreneurs to launch their own farmers’ markets as a way to assert their presence in the city’s food and business industry. They also say it’s a good way to generate economic opportunity and preserve that wealth within their communities.

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

The Farmers’ Market runs every Sunday until September 25 in Deep Park in East York.

Charles Catchpole, a chef and farmer from Anishinaby, has bell peppers, sage, and other products from his urban farm in North York, Gettygans. Its name means “little farm” in Ojibway.

Mia Bodry, an 11-year-old Algonquin seller from Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation, started Kokom Scrunches when she was nine years old. Visitors check out the handmade clasps.

Gray Mayers have an iced treat from No Krumbs food stall.

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

Deeper Roots Farm sells products such as Jamaican callaloo, Swiss chard, baby chard, lettuce, and radishes.

The market will continue to feature black and Indigenous vendors on Sunday through September 25.

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