Toronto advocate for food justice Mildred Agsaoay is here to create results

When Mildred Agsaoay moved to Canada from the Philippines in 2005, the first thing she noticed about grocery items was that even though it looked nice, it lacked flavor.

After all, both Agsaoay’s parents were farmers, and she was used to eating only fresh fruit and vegetables. On the family’s four acres, they grew eggplant, okra, tomatoes, squash and more.

Not only did she enjoy tasty mangoes, but growing up on a farm gave Agsaoay a different perspective on food. “We were neither rich nor poor, but we had access to nutritious food,” she says. “I think everyone should have that access. It is a very basic need. ”

This belief informs her current role. For the past four years, Agsaoay has been an advocate for food justice as a program coordinator at Black Creek Community Farm (BCCF).

The farm was founded in 2012 by the Everdale Environmental Learning Center, FoodShare Toronto and Afri-Can Food Basket to help address food insecurity in the Jane and Finch community, one of Toronto’s most ethnoculturally diverse and lowest income neighborhoods. In addition to providing access to healthy food at a reasonable cost, the farm is a community hub with programs and workshops that focus on food knowledge and skills such as cooking and canning.

Mildred Agsaoay, coordinator of the town harvest program at Black Creek Community Farm, has been an active resident, volunteer, and organizer of the Jane and Finch community for the past 10 years.

BCCF is located on an eight-acre property that includes farmland, a hereditary farm, a barn, two greenhouses and the forest that stretches down into a gorge. A number of grounds are available for families and organizations, with priority given to BIPOC residents who lack access to garden space.

Agsaoay’s journey to the farm was not a straight road. She took a biology degree from the University of the Philippines in Baguio City before immigrating to Canada through the Live-in Caregiver Program. To build on her degree, she enrolled in Humber College’s Horticultural Technician Pre-Apprenticeship program.

But after just one season working for a landscaping company in Toronto’s affluent neighborhoods, Agsaoay set her sights on making a bigger impact. “I love ornamental plants,” she says, “but I realized I wanted to grow something practical that people can eat and nourish their bodies with.”

BCCF was the epitome of what she had been looking for: an apartment building run by and serving the needs of the community.

Some of the products at Black Creek Community Farm.

She started as a volunteer in 2017 and created a garden group where mothers and children could learn to grow their own food. Back in the Philippines, Agsaoay had helped hold community events for women, and that experience stuck with her.

“Women are full of talent, accumulated knowledge and skills,” she says. “They’re smart, they’re good at their profession, and they’re the glue that holds families and communities together.”

The following year, Agsaoay applied for a grant and, with additional funding, expanded the mothers’ program to a program that promotes healthy lifestyles, adding nutrition and exercise to the mix.

She joined BCCF full-time as program coordinator for Urban Harvest, an initiative that collects unwanted fruits and vegetables from backyards and redistributes them to local food banks. To date, it has released more than 10,000 pounds of surplus production.

“Food justice means knowing that my neighbors have access to good, nutritious and culturally appropriate food,” she says. “Not only for today and tomorrow, but at any time.”

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