Farmers’ markets have become a draw in cities across Canada, offering fresh, locally grown produce, baked goods and other artisan products, but the price points make them cost-prohibitive for those on a fixed income. Toronto’s newest market is changing its surrounding community for the better, breaking down barriers and making it a welcoming place for all.
The Afro-Caribbean Farmers Market is located in the Little Jamaica-Afro Caribbean Cultural District at Eglinton West and Oakwood. Anyone familiar with the area knows that it has been a sea of construction for close to a decade because of the construction of the Eglinton Crosstown light rail line. Shops were shuttering even before the pandemic, and it’s only gotten worse since.
We spoke with Lori Beazer, Market Manager for the Afro-Caribbean Farmers Market, about its origins and how it’s already making a difference by injecting life back into the neighbourhood and reminding the city that this important cultural hub is still open for business.
The market first ran as a pilot project in 2017 in a different area of the city, but it didn’t have a home until a chance encounter between Beazer and Toronto City Councillor, Josh Matlow. “I bumped into Councillor Matlow in 2020, introduced myself and pitched the market,” Beazer told us. “He loved it, so we started working on it.”
Fast forward to the market’s July 2021 launch in partnership with Councillor Matlow and the York-Eglinton BIA, where it found a home in Reggae Lane and the adjacent parking lot on Eglinton West. “Here we are, a year later, and it’s been well-received. Its success shows what the area was craving for so long,” said Beazer.
Visitors to this unique market can shop for clean, culturally appropriate fruits and vegetables from the Caribbean and continental African countries along with clean produce grown by local urban farmers, baked goods, fresh juices, sauces and other artisan products. “We use the word clean instead of organic because this produce is clean of any pesticides, and is grown using diatomaceous earth,” Beazer explained. “The market features clean foods that are locally grown by people that look like them. And I think for them, that’s important.”
Until this point, many farmers’ markets across the city exude a sense of exclusivity and elitism, but this is where the Afro-Caribbean Farmer’s Market is breaking the mold. “In having conversations with many of our vendors, they’ve felt a sense of racism when shopping at or even vending at other farmers’ markets,” Beazer disclosed. “We have created a platform where they’re not only able to sell their products, they’re selling out.”
They’ve even gone as far as providing a program for those facing food insecurity called Callaloo Cash, making this farmers’ market accessible to more people, especially those in the neighbourhood. From the earliest stages of planning, the program was always going to be an important facet of this market, according to Beazer.
“I understand this area and a good majority of our population of the African diaspora rarely go to farmers’ markets because they can’t afford it. But we have urban Black farmers who need a space to sell their wares. They’re not travelling a long distance and can get to the site using less mileage and expense, which lowers the cost of their produce. Having the Callaloo Cash subsidy program allows people from the community to walk out of the market with bags of food that they paid little or nothing for. They can go home with all of these wonderful things that they know are local and clean.”
Since the July launch, the market is quickly becoming a destination for people in the neighbourhood. “It has become important to the community,” Beazer shared. “They’re grateful to have something to do on a Sunday in this area. They can invite family to their homes and go to the market together for coconut water and sugar cane, or some jerk chicken with rice and peas.”
A market does so much more than provide food and a sense of community. Farmers’ Markets Ontario, the organization that represents over 180 markets across the province, has researched and proven that real estate values increase in neighbourhoods following the launch of a farmers’ market, something that Beazer has already witnessed in the area. “The community members, homeowners, and business owners have already seen the benefits of the farmers’ market being mentioned in their postal code. And that’s incredible.”
She continued, “The community wants the market here because they see the benefits. The stores see the benefits and open if they’re not typically open on a Sunday. The foot traffic has been close to a thousand people every Sunday since it started, many of who wouldn’t have normally visited Eglinton West. Our vendors sell out of their products, which has never happened to them at other farmers’ markets in the city. It’s a great place to be with a fantastic vibe.”
Despite support from Councillor Matlow and Ontario MPP Jill Andrew, the Toronto Parking Authority, which owns the lot where the market takes place, hasn’t been supportive according to Beazer. “Every farmers’ market has its challenges and we have ours. This market is dealing with some really ugly things because of this space that we’re in. The Toronto Parking Authority is not doing what they need to do for the space. They’re disrespecting the vendors by not keeping the lot clean for us.”
In fact, Beazer has taken on the site clean-up since the first day of the market and tearfully described the human waste that she faces each week when she arrives. “Every Sunday at 8AM, I head to the market site with anxiety because I don’t know what I’m going to find. Without fail, I have to clean it up myself before the vendors arrive.”
Ideally, Beazer wants this market to happen annually, and as part of that, she would love to see this space returned to the community. She envisions it as a hub for art shows, yoga classes, movie nights, children’s activities and so much more beyond the farmers’ market. “This project was really supposed to help change the attitudes of people that live in the area that haven’t come to Eglinton West for 15 years because they were afraid. By bringing food and culture to this neighbourhood through the Afro-Caribbean Farmers’ Market, we can start to change that footprint.”
Beazer also believes that there is magic in this space, especially in the Reggae Lane mural created by artist Adrian Hayles. “When the sun comes out and hits the mural, it comes to life. The talk of the community is that the elders from the mural that have transitioned join us at the market.” She added, “Hayles is creating another mural on the opposite side. Should the market happen again next year, the whole space will be filled with beautiful art.”
The Afro-Caribbean Farmers’ Market runs every Sunday from 11AM to 3PM until October 3 in Reggae Lane and the Green P Carpark at 1531 Eglinton Avenue West in Toronto.