By Jeffrey Liu, Junior Researcher, Feeding the City: Pandemic & Beyond

At the University of Toronto, the Feeding City research lab’s commitment to analyzing and documenting the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the GTA’s food system extends well beyond the classroom. Assisting grassroots actions that provide Torontonians with nutritious and sustainably produced food is one of the ways these students and faculty seek to help mitigate food insecurity. An important initiative is the new Feeding City collaboration with  the innovative Black-led organization that runs the Courtyard and Scarborough Farmers’ Markets:  Red Onion Events/Vision Quest Event Management! The aim of the Courtyard and Scarborough Farmers’ Markets is to bring local, fairly priced, culturally appropriate, farm-fresh, produce and artisanal products to the Greater Toronto Area’s communities in the spirit of fun, wellness and safety! With Red Onion Events, University of Toronto students and faculty have joined that important journey toward food sovereignty.  

A Scarborough Food Network meeting attended by Feeding the City Project Lead Dr. Jo Sharma and Jennifer Forde, director of Red Onion Events, laid the ground for this collaboration. Forde revealed that the pandemic had significantly decreased the amount of foot traffic for the farmers’ markets that her non-profit organizes in Scarborough. There was an urgent need to implement innovative strategies to augment the public impact and outreach of those markets. Forde and the Feeding City director Dr. Jo Sharma decided to address these issues through the deployment of university students’ digital marketing and social media skills. Not only would those students obtain an important opportunity to hone practical workplace skills, (remotely in compliance with COVID-19 restrictions), but they would also actively help to promote food sovereignty.

To date, Feeding City members from the University of Toronto Scarborough’s Culinaria Research Centre and Trinity College have supported the Courtyard and Scarborough Farmers’ Markets through a variety of innovative ways. Members have created visually appealing posters (pictured below) that were disseminated physically and digitally prior to the commencement of the market season. They also developed diverse promotional materials; those include an updated logo for Red Onion Events, an application portal for performance artists, and engaging branding and graphics for the markets’ sponsorship packages. Our senior team members are sharing their knowledge and experience with our new team members.

One new team member is working to develop the markets’ SEO and one team member is developing promotional materials and application portals for an upcoming, six week, Harvest pop-up market Forde is organizing with Canon Donald Butler, St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, Scarborough and Marina Quierolo, and The Toronto Food Policy Council.

 The team is also actively engaged in market programming through the recruitment and coordination of performance artists to further enhance the market experience and brand distinction!

The Feeding City team is actively helping the markets increase their digital presence. With Forde’s guidance this process began with a review of the markets’ social media strategy, followed by the dissemination of student-created promotional graphics. Feeding the City students  spearheaded the use of new promotional digital platforms for the market like Linktree. Their video editing skills were leveraged to create collateral like videos that  served to augment other promotional materials. For instance, in collaboration with Forde, one UofT student worked with local website developer Digital Main Street to create  new, more human-oriented and accessible websites for both the Courtyard and Scarborough markets. Feeding City team members have also facilitated a new partnership between Forde and FreshFind, a digital platform that updates the markets online ordering and e-commerce capabilities. 

When asked to provide a comment on her experience working with UofT students to manage these markets, Forde said that she was “particularly impressed by the way team members take autonomy but also work collectively. With their digital skills, they quickly disseminate information and it was very easy to get them on board and understand the operations and legalities of the markets. Overall it was quite an easy fit to work with them because they required very little hand-holding. I couldn’t have asked for anything more! This collaboration between the Courtyard and Scarborough Farmers’ Markets and Feeding the City contributes to our joint mission to help urban communities and BIPOC groups reclaim their food sovereignty, determine their food systems, and access affordable, sustainably produced, nutritious, and culturally appropriate foods.” Dr Sharma reiterated that her team are committed partners in this journey to support grassroots and racialized communities, in particular, assert cultural and economic ownership of the food they grow, buy, sell, and eat. 

The market details are as followed: 

Scarborough Farmers’ Market – Rosebank Park

Markham Rd. @ Sheppard Avenue

1051 Progress Ave, Scarborough, ON M1B 5Z6

Tuesday afternoons

June 8, 2021 – October 5, 2021

3:30 pm – 7:30 pm

Courtyard Farmers’ Market– Fairmount Park 

Gerrard Ave. @ Coxwell Avenue

1725 Gerrard St E, Toronto, ON M4L 2A9

Wednesday afternoons

June 9, 2021 – October 6, 2021

3:30 pm – 7:30 pm

Scarborough Farmers’ Market – Oakridge Park

Danforth Ave. @ Pharmacy Avenue –

3459 Danforth Ave, Scarborough, ON M1L 1C9

Thursday afternoons

June 10, 2021 – October 7, 2021

3:30 pm – 7:30 pm