Black History Month – Celebrating Black Figures in Ontario’s Agri-food Sector

In celebration of Black History Month, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs is honoured to celebrate the contributions of Black Canadians to the agri-food sector in Ontario.

Did you know that February was first celebrated as Black History Month in Canada by the City of Toronto in 1979, after the founders of the Ontario Black History Society (OBHS) successfully filed a petition? In 1993, the Government of Ontario followed suit after another successful petition by the OBHS and proclaimed February as Black History Month.

After these successes, Rosemary Sadlier, president of the OBHS, partnered with the Honourable Jean Augustine, the first Black woman elected to Parliament, to have Black History Month recognized throughout Canada. In December 1995, the House of Commons unanimously voted to recognize February as Black History Month.

The Past

James Wesley Hill was born in Maryland, United States as a slave but escaped into Upper Canada in a packing box and settled on a farm in Oakville. Though safe and free in Canada, James Hill decided to pave the way forward for other slaves to escape. He returned to the United States several times over the next few years and became an agent of the Underground Railroad, earning the name ‘Canada Jim’. He helped to free an estimated 700-800 Black people and led them back to Oakville. In Oakville, he started a strawberry farm and hired free slaves to work. His work helped make Oakville the one-time strawberry industry capital of Canada.

The Present

Today, Black people continue to make significant contributions to the agri-food sector in Canada. Here are some black food and agriculture figures to celebrate this month:

Cheyenne Sundance is a 25-year-old Black farmer and food justice advocate. She founded Sundance Harvest, an incubator farm and distribution hub that grows food and trains farmers all year-round in three different locations in southwestern Ontario, including an urban farm near Downsview Park, Toronto. She runs the farm on the core values of fair labour and access to knowledge of farming to scale. One of the Sundance Harvest’s programs is the Market Farmer Incubation Program, which gives Market Farmers access to organic farmed land with zero lease. All Market Famers are paid a fair wholesale price and receive a steady weekly income as their crops are sold to their market members. In her programs, she prioritizes Black and Indigenous youths to give them the necessary tools to feed themselves and boost representation of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) youths in agriculture.

Afia Amoako (aka The Canadian African) is an online creator who shares delicious and creative recipes to inspire people to live a plant-based lifestyle without losing their culture. Her recipes pay homage to her Ghanaian roots, as well as highlight diverse foods from around the African continent. Not only does she share recipes, but she also shares culture and history as a way to demystify and make west African food mainstream and highlight the contributions of west African food to global food culture. Her creativity and authenticity have drawn over 163,000 followers to her Instagram page, @eatwithafia

Sources

James W. Hill Public School – History
Oakville.ca – Underground RailRoad
Cheyenne Sundance, urban farmer and founder of Sundance Harvest (nowtoronto.com)
Home | sundance harvest (sundanceharvestmarket.com)
The Canadian African – Delicious food from the African Continent made plant-based

Written by: Patience Moses, Jr. Social Media Analyst, OMAFRA

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