Rethinking what’s possible for parks: Flemingdon Community Farm and The Weston Family Parks Challenge

December 8, 2020

Jodi Lastman

Five years in the making, Flemingdon Community Farm, an innovative hydro corridor and urban farming project, is helping to create new possibilities for city parks across Canada and the world.

In 2016, Flemingdon Community Farm was approved for a grant from the Weston Family Parks Challenge (WFPC). WFPC was made possible through a $5-million commitment by the Weston Family Foundation (formerly The W. Garfield Weston Foundation) to connect people to nature and inspire new ways for the community and city to creatively partner together for great parks. Building on the success of the first year, the Ontario Trillium Foundation joined WFPC in 2014 with an additional commitment of $1.125 million towards the initiative. Park People brought its city park expertise and administered the WFPC program over its three-year lifespan.

The Weston Family Parks Challenge supported 26 of Canada’s most innovative park projects including Black Creek Community Farm, Aptus Teaching Landscape, Regent Park, as well as three hydro corridor focused projects, The Meadoway in Scarborough, Flemingdon Community Farm in North York and Morningside Heights Community Farm in Scarborough.

Flemingdon Community Farm’s journey from community-led concept to its planned launch in the fall of 2021 demonstrates the enduring impacts of the Weston Family Parks Challenge on city parks across Canada.

“Flemo Farm” and WFPC Principles in Action

With support from the Weston Family Parks Challenge, the Flemingdon community has worked tirelessly to bring the urban farm, now affectionately called ‘Flemo Farm,’ to life. Once launched, the project will represent a new model of urban agriculture in a hydro corridor and transform an under-utilized green space into a public space that truly supports community needs.

 


Credit photo: Flemo Farm

WFPC’s support for Flemo Farms demonstrates the programs’ four core principles in action:

  1. Nature focus – Enhances the natural elements of green spaces.
  2. Connection to the community – Enables communities and organizations to come together to support their local park, encouraging stewardship at a personal and community level and revitalizing their relationship with nature.
  3. Sustainability – Contributes to high-quality maintenance and management of parks for the long-term through community engagement, strong partnerships, and diverse funding streams.
  4. Innovation – Generates new park solutions, designs, and partnerships that can be replicated elsewhere in Toronto and Canada.

Nature-focus:

Flemingdon Park is a diverse neighbourhood in North York largely made up of recent immigrants. Today, almost one-third of Flemingdon residents live below the poverty line and experience both food and economic insecurity.

Mussarat Ejaz, a community health worker at the Flemingdon Health Centre, told CBC News that: “There is a high incidence of diabetes, high incidence of obesity, high incidence of hypertension in the community.”

Flemo Farms is a nature-based project that addresses the community’s need to access affordable, healthy, and culturally appropriate food. The urban farm project trains ‘community farmers,’ giving them the hands-on skills they need to grow food. From understanding seeds to promoting healthy soil and operating farm equipment, the project fosters an understanding of the natural world at both a personal and community level.

Rhonda Teitel-Payne told CBC news: “We need to come up with some really concrete solutions, some tangible solutions. And gardens are one way for people to reclaim some power in their life, to take back control over a system that’s not working to their benefit.”

Innovation:

By transforming underused land within a hydro corridor, the project broadens the idea of parks beyond city-owned lands and showcases new ways to meet the city’s green space needs.

Because WFPC employed a very broad definition of parks, provincially-owned lands within hydro corridors, schoolyards, and land owned by public-housing agencies, like Toronto Community Housing were included in the Challenge.

 


Credit photo: Flemo Farm

 

Situating a half-acre urban farm on a hydro-corridor transforms kilometers of mowed hydro corridor grass into fertile, productive land. Ultimately, Flemo Farms showcases new ways for people to access land for food production.

Sustainability:

A unique collaboration between the Flemingdon Health Centre and FoodShare Toronto, the City of Toronto, and Hydro One, Flemo Farms models how to establish strong and innovative partnerships. The diversity of partners and uniqueness of the project location no doubt added layers of complexity and time to the project. However, experience indicates that this complexity is to be expected. One of the key learnings from the WFPC outlined in Park People’s Breaking New Ground report is that complex spaces and partnerships take time to come together.

The report recommends that, at the outset, partners need to “recognize and prepare for the fact that different spaces—schools, hydro corridors, parks—contain different and sometimes complex regulatory hurdles.”

It has taken five years to secure the permits, approvals, and funding necessary to access the site and launch the Flemo Farms project. But, managing through the complexity has allowed this project to pave the way for other projects in hydro corridors. 

Connection to Community:

Flemo Farms is not only creative in its use of underused space, but also in its approach to addressing multiple community needs. The urban farming project is the first hydro corridor project in which the food produced on the farm will be available for sale right in the community. In other words, Flemo Farms will not only grow food and make fresh food accessible in the Flemingdon community, but it will also support local economic development.

 

Credit photo: Flemo Farm

Flemo Farms and The Meadoway: Hydro Corridors Inspiring a new vision for Parks

 

WFPC’s long-term goal was to support projects whose success would inspire further creative approaches from city leaders, residents, the private and philanthropic sectors in Toronto and across Canada.

The two WFPC-supported hydro corridor projects, Flemo Farm and The Meadoway, have already inspired innovative new creative uses and models for parks both in Canada and around the world.

In addition, to support through the WFPC, the Weston Family Foundation announced up to an additional $25 million in funding for The Meadoway in 2018. When complete, The Meadoway will be a vibrant 16-kilometre stretch of urban greenspace and meadowlands that will become one of Canada’s largest linear urban parks.

Like Flemo Farms, The Meadoway is an innovative green space initiative with a long-term vision to transform a hydro corridor. Both projects began with the question: Why not rethink the underutilized space beneath a hydro corridor? While Flemo Farm focuses on urban agriculture, The Meadoway will become a place filled with butterflies, birds, and wildflowers – a rich meadow landscape realized on a scale never before seen in Toronto.

 

Photo credit: Flemo Farm

Both The Meadoway and Flemo Farms serve as examples of how parks can balance nature with community use. In the case of Flemo Farms, the hydro corridor supports both food security and economic development. The Meadoway is not only a rich meadow landscape, but it will also feature a 16-kilometre multi-use trail for walking, cycling, and other non-motorized uses. When it’s complete, you will be able to ride your bike from Rouge Park through The Meadoway to the Lower Don Trail and down to the central waterfront—almost entirely through off-road trails. That’s pretty astounding.

By challenging residents and communities to enhance public spaces and connect people with nature across the city, Flemo Farm, The Meadoway, and the 24 other innovative Weston Family Parks Challenge recipients ask us to rethink what’s possible for open spaces in our cities.

Flemo Farm is now accepting applications for the Community Farmer Program 2021.

 

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