Broadening the ‘World Crops’ Discourse: Exploring Ecological and Cultural Gaps in ‘World Crops’ Research for the Greater Toronto Area

Amy Cheng, 2016
Vol. 22 No. 6 ISSN 1702-3548 (online)

The goal of this paper is to broaden the current ‘world crops’ discourse by exploring two gaps within existing research. In this context, world crops refer to crops that have not historically been a major part of Ontario’s mainstream vegetable production, thus they are crops that are relatively new to local farms. Also, these crops generally hold strong regional and cultural significance for recent newcomers to Canada, specifically in relation to their traditional diets. The paper begins by reviewing the existing body of world crops research pertaining to production, supply-chain, and marketing data for Ontario, especially for the Greater Toronto Area. From this, it was observed that one of the major gaps was around organic world crops production. Thus, this was one of the gaps addressed in this paper through primary and secondary research. The primary research involved interviews with major actors in the Toronto food movement as well as with organic researchers. Significant insights were gained into the productive potential for organic eggplant and okra production, while the complex challenges that face small-scale organic farmers, including new farmers and farmers of colour (especially newcomer and immigrant farmers) were explored. In addition to the knowledge gap around organic world crops production, an in-depth look into the factors that influence different immigrant communities’ interest in local and organic world crops, and their engagement with the local food movement, were also deemed insufficient. Thus, a study of the Chinese community in Toronto was conducted to explore political, economical, social and cultural factors that may affect their interest in local and organic world crops, as well as engagement with the local food movement. This exploration began by looking at the characteristics of the alternative food movement in Hong Kong and China in order to identify possible linkages to the Chinese diaspora’s relation to food and farming here in Canada. This exploration concluded with interviews with food movement actors in Toronto and Vancouver who shared the opportunities and barriers they have faced in attempting to engage Chinese-Canadian communities in local food movement activities. Finally, the empirical findings were analyzed through the following theoretical frameworks: elements of Marx’s theories on capitalism and their relation to food regime theory; “agrarian question” related discussions around the role of small-scale, non-capitalist, and family farms within capitalism’s development; and class-based and anti-racism analyses from a food justice perspective. On an empirical level, each section of the paper concludes with suggestions for future research and action. On a theoretical level, this paper concludes that determining the feasibility of expanded local world crops production requires the examination of factors both within and outside of the supply chain. Factors outside of the supply chain that warrant critical attention are issues related to food and social justice, such as the political, economical, social, and cultural factors that determine the availability of culturally appropriate foods and an individual or a community’s ability to access these foods. In closing, the paper concludes that access to more culturally appropriate foods can only come about with access to a more culturally appropriate food movement.