Indigenous organization will take over leadership of Hamilton's urban farm

The city voted Tuesday to transfer operational leadership of the McQuesten Urban Farm in Hamilton to Indigenous charity organization Niwasa Kendaaswin Teg. The organization's executive director says the move was a "natural fit."

Project manager Adam Watson said the farm has become a 'point of pride' in the area

Operational leadership of the McQuesten Urban Farm - shown here in 2019 - will be transferred from the city to a local Indigenous organization. (Christine Rankin)

Hamilton city officials have given the go-ahead to transfer leadership of an east-end urban farm to an Indigenous organization that operates a child-care centre and food bank nearby. 

On Thursday, councillors on the emergency and community services committee voted to transfer managing the McQuesten Urban Farm from the city to Niwasa Kendaaswin Teg, which operates programs from 785 Britannia Ave.

Coun. Sam Merulla (Ward 4, east end) called the transfer "incredibly exciting."

"I really thought ... that [the farm's] day would come and there wouldn't be any money available, particularly surrounding all of the challenges we have.

"But what's before us is the actual missing link, and that missing link was sustainability." 

Merulla called the farm the "only one of its kind." The farm officially launched in 2016, he said, and was aimed at addressing food insecurity in what used to be a "food desert" area. 

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The farm has run weekly "weed and feeds" events, where participants complete farm tasks and then gather afterward for a meal. (Christine Rankin)

Niwasa Kendaaswin Teg is a non-profit charity organization that "provides high quality programs and services across the entire life cycle" to Hamilton's Indigenous population, according to its website

Executive director Monique Lavallee said she was "absolutely delighted" to be working with the farm.

"We have been operating our programs in the McQuesten neighbourhood for 25 years ... so we feel like the partnership is natural fit."

Lavallee said the move is also an important step for the local Indigenous community that will be able to know and grow their own food. 

"Growing the foods that are here of Mother Earth that will nourish us [and take care] of the land. [Our programs] are rooted in our cultures and our language. Our connection to the land is so important for us." 

"Having a gathering place for Indigenous peoples in Hamilton in the urban setting that is rooted in their culture, their languages and traditional practices and is a safe space for everyone is what we're looking forward to."

'A point of pride' in Hamilton 

Adam Watson, project manager for the farm, told CBC Hamilton that the project was never supposed to be city run, so Niwasa was the "perfect organization" for a partnership. 

"It was important to fulfil the community's wishes that [the urban farm] be a community farm ... and that it'd become a part of an organization that was already in the neighbourhood and already sustainable, so [Niwasa] was a perfect fit."

Watson said the McQuesten farm has become a "point of pride" in the area. 

"We've taken this roughly four-acre parcel of unused land, and we've transformed it into a functioning farm that grows thousands of pounds of food every year."

"There's nothing like it around."

Niwasa operates a child-care centre and food bank in the McQuesten area, and regularly partners on community events on the farm. A city report says the organization is working toward securing funding to build an Indigenous regional health-care centre. 

"Portions of the urban farm lands will be required for construction and a portion of the urban farm will be reconfigured and integrated into the landscaping for the new health centre," the report says. "It is anticipated that the health centre will commence construction in 2024."

Current staff of the farm will be contracted by Niwasa Kendaaswin Teg as of April 1. 

Watson said the partnering with the Indigenous-led organization is a sign of success and "something worthy of pivoting."

"It was always very important that we were mindful of Indigenous history in the neighbourhood, and its attachment and proximity to the Red Hill Valley."