Abstract illustration of tomatoes and onions on a green background

Illustrations By TeddyandMia/istockphoto

How a Brampton community farm makes it easier to access healthy food

At Green Peas Organic, amateur farmers grow good food to share with their neighbours

The broad, slightly crinkly leaves and thick, round stems of callalloo plants stand out in several of the 1,000-square-foot irrigated garden plots of this community farm. Also known as amaranth, callalloo is a relative of spinach and a staple food in Jamaica, where it’s usually served as a side dish—also called callalloo—cooked with tomato, onion and scotch bonnet peppers. The plant grows throughout the island—but we’re far from the Caribbean here. We’re in Brampton at Green Peas Organic (GPO).

GPO is a non-profit organization that operates 50 garden plots at the McVean Farm in Brampton’s Clairville Conservation Area. Community members sign up to farm one of these plots, where they can plant whatever they like over the six- to eight-month growing season.

That makes for a diverse harvest, says GPO’s coordinator, Kate Hamilton, as she describes how many members grow foods from their countries of origin on their stretches of soil. “For people from [Caribbean countries like Jamaica], callaloo is one of the things they always grow. So, one of our long-time plotters grows callaloo for his community and takes baskets of it to his church every week.”

While most participants—typically siblings, couples and families—are growing produce for their own households, their personal motivations vary. “Some people see this as part of living a responsible life and reducing their footprint,” Hamilton says. “Some people are from generations of farmers who want to maintain that connection. Or some people want to show their children how to do this.”

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But the common thread that keep them coming back for 10 to 15 hours a week, Hamilton adds, is the joy of doing something productive in nature. “We can’t get people to follow through on the gym memberships they buy, but these people are so persistent and loyal and committed,” she says. “It’s a very nice community.”

While 20- by 50-foot garden plots are just a tad bigger than your average backyard garden, Hamilton stresses that people with all experience levels are welcome to join (or at least to join the waiting list—returning plotters are given priority every year and then Hamilton chips away at the list of eager participants). Take the woman in her early twenties who, Hamilton warmly recalls, had never grown a thing in her life. “We said, ‘OK, let’s start you off with peas and beans,’ simple things. And towards the end of June, when the peas were ready, she was so excited! She was calling everybody over to see the peas that she herself had grown. And everybody was pleased for her,” she says of the simple, but deeply rewarding, moment that many plotters shared with the gardening newbie.

Hamilton notes that among the 50 households managing plots, she estimates that at least 10 or 15 different languages are spoken, reflecting the diversity of the local region—and desire to grow fresh food that crosses national borders. “Growing vegetables is a little bit like raising children,” she says. “Everybody gets it.”

Get involved: Looking to get a plot of your own on GPO’s community plots on the McVean Farm in Brampton? Visit the Green Peas Organic website for more information. Or, visit Ecosource to find other community gardens in the Peel Region.