My name is Cheyenne Sundance and I identify with pronouns she, her, and I’m the farm director of Sundance Harvest.
How did you start farming?
When I was 18, I finished high school and I decided that I didn’t really want to go to post-secondary. So instead I wanted to travel a bit. So I went to Wyoming, I went to Idaho, I went to places in the Caribbean, and then I ended up in Cuba and I ended up in an area in Cuba called Viñales, Cuba. And I worked on a tobacco farm for event. And then I found my friend’s farm and they were growing many different things. So they’re growing, they had chickens. They had mangoes and coconuts. They had a lot of different fruits and vegetables and through being with them and getting to know them more. I decided that I really wanted to farm. So after a while of traveling a bit more, I went back to Toronto and I said, well, how do I farm in the city? And then I found that this greenhouse at Downsview was open and I started farming here. And then I just expanded ever since.
Had you ever farmed before?
I never farmed before; my parents never farmed before. Um, but the really cool thing about farming is every single person on this planet has a farming past. At one time, hundreds of years ago, some of our ancestors farmed, they gathered, they foraged, they hunted. So everyone in the history of the planet has a farming history. So as farming for me, even though I didn’t have any formal training or any school training with farming, I decided that it would be a good career for me to get into because I like nature. And I also liked growing food. So when I was getting started, uh, the barriers I faced were a few, the biggest barriers were land access. I don’t have money from my parents to purchase a farm. So my only real options were to ask a friend, if they had land, or farm in the city.
I really liked staying in the city because my family is here and my friends are here. So I decided to stay in the city and finding land, obviously in Toronto is quite difficult because there’s a lot of towers, a lot of buildings and not a lot of green space. So it took me about two years to actually find the land that I’m farming on now. The second barrier I would say is, there’s not a lot of people who look like me, who are farming. There’s not a lot of Black women who were farming. So I didn’t have a lot of people to look up to, to ask for questions and get mentorship. Those are the two biggest barriers for me, farming.
What’s a typical work day for you like?
There’s two types of work days. One work day is when we harvest all the vegetables, which can take all day. And then the second work day is when we plant vegetables. So on the harvesting days, we usually come here around 9:00 AM. So fairly early, and we basically harvest things that are tender. So lettuce and kale and chard and collard greens before. And then during the mid day, we harvest tomatoes and okra and eggplants and other, uh, hotter crops that you would find in the summer months because they don’t wilt as fast as the lettuce does. On the days we’re planting, we usually get here after the mid-afternoon because the sun is very hot. So we don’t want to work in the sun and we get some music on and we just plant, we just put the plants in the ground until we’re done. That’s really what we do at the farm.
What do you grow at the farm?
So I grew a lot of vegetables. In the summertime, I try to take it off because I like going canoeing and hanging out with my friends by the barbecue. So I grow things that are easy in the summer. So tomatoes and squash and carrots and beets. For squash, carrots, and beets, I actually save it and I can store it over the winter for up to six months. And with these crops, I sell them through Dufferin Grove farmer’s market, which is a west end farmer’s market in Toronto. I’m also going to be selling it at another farmer’s market. And if you don’t know what a farmer’s market is, farmer’s markets are a place where all the farmers that grow food and the people that raised cattle, they have sheep, they have meat, they have cheeses, they all meet at one place one day a week, and they all sell the vegetables together. So I’m one of the people. So I sell the vegetables one day of the week, and then I meet people. I meet my neighbours and they purchase the eggs, the dairy, the meats, and then they have hopefully some nice vegetables to go along with it.
What’s the difference between farming and gardening?
What I do is farming. So I call it farming, but I’m happy if people want to call it urban farming. Um, when we’re thinking about farming and gardening, a really good tip to kind of understand the two because they kind of seem very close is gardening is usually on a smaller scale for your loved ones, yourself, your friends, or just the community and farming is for specific production. So farming is a larger scale. So let’s say at your garden, you may have two tomato plants, but I have a thousand tomato plants and one person cannot eat tomatoes from a thousand tomato plants. So farming is a big scale and gardening is on a smaller scale.
Were people supportive when you were first starting?
When I started Sundance Harvest, most people actually weren’t supportive, and this is true for most people who are starting something that’s fairly new. Um, if you’re starting something that really no one else has done before on, on the scale that I’m doing, you’re going to get some people that are haters or people that don’t really believe in your vision, but it really takes perseverance. And also a bit of stubbornness to actually keep going with your dream. Ultimately, now I have a lot of supporters and a lot of people that support Sundance Harvest’s work, but it just takes time to get to that point. So when I was starting Sundance Harvest, not having a lot of support was hard. So I can only imagine as a kid, if you’re doing that, it’s going to be even harder because maybe your parents don’t want you to be farming or maybe your friends don’t think farming is cool. But if you think that’s what you want to do, I would say, just do it. If you have passion, if you have drive and you have a really amazing dream, um, what’s the worst that can happen if you just try it out? So for me, when I started out, maybe I would have failed, maybe it would have been great, but I wanted to try it out because I wanted to be happy and live a life that I was really proud of.
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