Durham Chronicle Volume XLIV, Issue 11
18 The Chronicle April 10 - 16, 2018 chronicle.durhamcollege.ca Community Farming fresh food in the city Author who started an urban farm explains why the farm is important for his community Shanelle Somers The Chronicle Have you ever dreamed about growing your own vegetable garden or even just eating a plantbased diet? It's a vision that urban farmer, author, and plant-based coach Joe G. Thomas has made a reality today. Responding to what he says is the urgent needs of Black consumers in Toronto regarding health, food and Black farmers, Thomas started the Toronto Black Community Supported Agriculture, an urban farm located in Downsview Park. It’s unique to the world of farming. Their website cautions: “While you enjoy your weekly share of the fresh, local, farmfresh food, you must also share in the lack of food should there be a drought, flood, pest problem or other issues that reduce the amount or quality of the food. You become one with the farmer in understanding and dealing with the ways of nature.” Chronicle reporter Shanelle Somers spoke with founder Joe G. Thomas to find out more about it. Where did the idea come from to start a community agricultural group? Actually the initial idea came from when I was in Florida because I was doing some real estate work in one of those really depressed areas where there were churches and fast food places on most of the corners but no proper grocery store. So I started working with the people in that area and I came up with a plan that I called ‘each one grow one’. I took 15 homes and I encouraged them to grow one crop and share with each other. When I met with farmers here (Black Farmers and Growers of Toronto), we found that it would be easier to just grow the food and have people participate as part of it. What has the response been like to plant-based eating and the Black farming community in Toronto? When I decided to start the Black Vegans of Toronto, I expected that I’d get about maybe 10 or 15 people interested. So I phoned the group and I posted it on Facebook and in about two or three days I had over 100 people join. Inside the Downsview urban farm. Then I started having two meetings a month, one in the east end and one in the west end and the attendance at the first meeting was about 14 people and now it’s more or less 20 to 25 people who are very serious about their health. It’s very encouraging and every day I have more people asking to join my Facebook group. Why did you start the business? When I wrote my book in 2017 (‘Let food be your medicine today: Live healthy and strong on plant based whole foods’), I discovered that Black people were basically leading in all of the chronic diseases. Whether it’s diabetes or heart disease, it all came down to what we were eating and the research that I did showed that we could avoid a lot of these illnesses if we just changed our diet to a much more plant-based diet and cut back on the amount of meat, eggs and dairy and milk. So that sort of got me going, and on top of that I had a personal tragedy when my son died suddenly of a heart attack in 2016. He was 40 years old. So that gave me more interest to really go out and encourage people, especially young Black people, to be much more aware of what they eat. How did you first start the greenhouse of Downsview? The fortunate thing is the people that I hooked up with had already gotten a greenhouse through another organization to grow food (Black Farmers and Growers of Toronto). But they didn’t have any marketing or any kind of setup to take it to the point we have taken it today. I discovered that Black people were basically leading in all the chronic diseases. My contribution is organizing and bringing in people who are looking for plant-based organic food. I brought the market for the food and that is what I am developing. They do the growing and I go there to help with the planting. But I do more of the outside organization and marketing. Now we are growing for the general public as much as we can. We have one greenhouse space that is going well but the cold weather has kind Courtesy of Joe G. Thomas of affected some of the stuff we are growing in the greenhouse. Is growing the food the main challenge you have during the winter season? Yes, because we have aphids, black flies and stuff like that that just come out of nowhere. If we don’t stay on top of it then the rest of the plants could get infested very quickly. So far we have been doing quite well. What were some of the challenges you faced in bringing the idea to the community? The concept of a CSA (Community-supported Agriculture) is that people pay money up front to the farmers so that they can get the things they need like the seeds and the equipment and material to grow the food, and then you get a share of the harvest every two weeks. We have had a few people who have bought in right away and then gave us the money up front but the majority of people are waiting to see us do it and then come on board. But we are gearing up for the spring and summer, that’s when we expect to have a lot of people involved and we will be doing farmers’ markets as well. What would you to say to people who are opposed to a plant-based diet? The proof is when I look at my life experience, in terms of how I have been eating for the last 41 years and I check my health and the benefits I’ve had over the years. This started with a friend that decided he was going to go vegetarian. He encouraged me to do it back in 1975 and I tried it and almost immediately I felt different, more energy. Over the years I’ve never spent a day in hospital and I turned 71 in December. I am on no medication, I wake up every day with lots of energy, and if the weather is good I walk in the morning. So, I’m getting results and that’s why I stick to this. If I wasn’t getting results then I would think maybe I should try something else. But I get excellent results from the way I eat and I also see evidence of people where the only difference between them and me is their lifestyle and they are sick and I am not. They have aches and pains and all kinds of chronic illnesses and the only difference is our lifestyles. Have you found that Black people are looking for cleaner products and food that is grown locally? To be honest, the response from Black people was slow at first, because I think a lot of people pay more attention to what they wear and their hair than what they put in their bodies. So there wasn’t much of a great interest particularly from Black people. But now it has changed because the vegan movement is moving fast and Black people are getting much more conscious of what they eat. But just a few years ago I was seen as a kind of weird guy not eating meat. It is not something that was very accepted before but now I am very encouraged. A lot of people, particularly Black women are more conscious of what they eat. What expansion plans do you have? We have already secured four acres of land and we have another two acres that may be available to us too. That is a good chunk of land to grow a lot of food in the Downsview area. We also have a possibility of getting some farm land at York University. We want to make it a ‘no excuse’ situation with all people. No excuse about the price, no excuse about the service and no excuse about the convenience. We have a list of things that we hear of all the time and we are tackling each one of those so when we say we have food for you, it is locally grown, it’s fresh, it’s nutritious, so you have no excuse not to buy from us. People interested in purchasing fresh, locally grown food can sign up to be a member at www.bcsatoronto.com and receive organic groceries bi-weekly for $110.00 per share. Members can pick up their share of the fresh food grown in season from the greenhouse or have it delivered to their home. Their next harvest is expected to be ready by April 12. This article was written by Chronicle reporter Shanelle Somers and originally published by ByBlacks.com.
Community chronicle.durhamcollege.ca April 10 - 16, 2018 The Chronicle 19 Photograph by Shanelle Somers Dr. Jim Park, a Physiatrist, at Baycrest Hospital's rehabilitation unit in Toronto, positively impacts health care in the Durham Region. Dr. Park makes the 'golden years' a little easier This is one story in a series profiling people who have made an impact in Durham Shanelle Somers The Chronicle If you are in your “golden years” or have an elderly loved one in the Durham Region, chances are you have been impacted by the work of Dr. Jim Park. Dr. Jim Park is one of the few Physiatrists in Ontario who work to rehabilitate patients after a fall, stroke, amputation, rotation, or a neuromuscular disorder. Dr. Park says, many confuse the profession of a Physiatrist with the work of a Physiotherapist. He says the difference is a Physiatrist must go through medical school and attend another four years of further training, ultimately to become a specialist within the profession of rehabilitation. Physiatrist focus on the medical aspects as well as the therapy aspects. In order to afford the cost to become a family doctor, Dr. Park, applied for the military. I was a military doctor after I graduated from medical school,” he says. “Towards the end of my time in the military at the National Defence Medical Centre in Ottawa, the Physiatrist there asked if I was interested in it.” It was then he decided he would not pursue a career as a family doctor but go into the specialty training of Physiatry. Jim Park successfully was certicfied by the Royal College of Physicans and Surgeons of Canada and in September of 1992 he was certified as a Physiatrist. Dr. Park attributes his success to his mentors who supported him in his community practice. With the help of Dr. Mark Masson, one of Dr. Park’s mentors, Oshawa became Dr. Park’s first location spending 24-years working as a Physiatrist in Oshawa for the hospital Rehab Unit. Dr. Park says, “it’s a coincidental thing, it was meant to be.” During that time Dr. Park had hospital appointments of Chief of Department, Medical Director for the Complex Continuing Care, Rehab and Palliative Services. Soon he moved into the positions of Hospital Administrator and Physician Administrator which allowed him be an aid in the development of the Geriatric Program and Nurse Practitioner model at Lakeridge Health. In 2003, Dr. Park was asked by Lakeridge Health Oshawa to develop a geriatric program. At that time Oshawa did not have a program to improve the quality of care the elderly receive. Geriatric care includes working to prevent and treat diseases and disabilities the elderly may experience. Dr. Park spent a year learning geriatrics and imported what he learned to Lakeridge Health along with many others creating the geriatric program. One of the benefits of his work was the creation of the Nurse Practitioner Model for Geriatric Care. In addition, a designated Geriatric unit was created for Lakeridge Health called the Acute Geriatric Unit on the 8th floor. “The Nurse Practitioner and I manned that floor. We created a consult team that did consults throughout the hospital,” Dr. Park says. Dr. Park currently works at Baycrest Hospital in North York, Toronto. Dr. Park sees his work as a Physiatrist as a great assistant to nurses, patients and families. He says the big thing for him is to support the team, help the nurses, and answer questions. He believes having medical knowledge has helped nurses take better care of patients and has helped therapists understand how to protect patients’ safety and progress. He also believes he adds value by collaborating and encouraging the team. Dr. Park says he sees himself as an assistant to helping patients and family members understand their medical conditions. “I’ll draw pictures for them and I’ll tell them what to expect,” says Dr. Park. “The bones take six to eight weeks to heal, the pain may last for two to three months, but, a week or two after you are going to be doing laps around here and in three weeks you will be able to go home. You will need some help with stairs, that kind of thing so they [the patient] know what to anticipate, “ says Dr. Park. He also helps improve medical care by teaching his practice residents. He says it is a way of giving back and hopes to influence young graduates. Dr. Michelle Hart, a physician at Baycrest Hospital, says Dr. Park has been a very strong addition to the team. “Ever since he has come to Baycrest and started working with us on the rehab unit it has made the whole rehab experience so much more patient-centred and really addresses the functional needs and guides the team members in how to set the appropriate goals for the patients,” says Dr. Hart. Even his patients notice the impact Dr. Park has made on their medical care. Park walks around the floor interacting with each of his patients assessing any changes in their recovery. One elderly patient says Dr. Park is her pal another touches Dr. Parks finger smiling during a quick check-up. Dr. Park says he is most proud of his family of three adult daughters which he has been able to raise and nurture over the years. He and his wife have been married for 31 years and are looking forward to grandchildren. Dr. Park says he is most proud of all of the accomplishments he has made in the middle of his career. “Winning those little battles is really fulfilling and you go, hey well I’ve done something, I’ve accomplished something, I’ve added to the care of the elderly or disabled people in Durham Region,” he says. Dr. Park’s advice to anyone looking to make an impact in their community is to have courage, provide service, work hard, be selfless, persevere and if you do those things results will come.