Cheyenne Sundance knows there are places that take urban farming seriously. She mentions Brooklyn Grange, the rooftop farms in New York City that harvest 100,000 pounds of produce a year; the backyard chickens in Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon; and the community-supported farms in Cuba that’s she’s worked on herself. But in Toronto, “the city sees urban agriculture as a hobby,” she says. “They just don’t see it as a viable career.”
Sundance sees things differently. She understands it’s possible to run a for-profit farm in the city that pays a fair wage. But it takes a new kind of leadership: one that’s urgently needed. “There is so much systemic oppression in the food system,” Sundance says, “from who has the privilege to take on unpaid internships to who can sell their produce at farmers’ markets.” She wanted to see people who looked like her running their own urban farms. So in early 2019, out of a small plot behind a downtown church, Sundance launched Growing in the Margins, a free, 12-week mentorship program that gives low-income racialized youth a crash course in farming.
The program became so popular that she quickly needed much more land—so she took over a greenhouse in the city’s north end and started Sundance Harvest, a year-round urban farm. Then the pandemic hit and all of a sudden everyone was thinking about food scarcity. While the City of Toronto dragged its feet on opening community gardens, Sundance put together a program called Liberating Lawns, matching Torontonians looking to grow food with those who had gardens to spare. “I don’t like waiting around for things,” she says. “Maybe that’s because I’m 23.”
Sundance might move fast, but already her impact has been lasting. “Every season I do Growing in the Margins, I change the trajectory of people like me, who have been dispossessed by the food system,” she says. “The education they get is truly the seed of a revolution.”