Co-founder and executive director, Afri-Can FoodBasket, Toronto
For teenagers in Toronto’s northwest corner, where the pull of gang life is strong, the idea of a summer spent farming organic vegetables might not hold much sway. But Guyanese-born Anan Lololi is changing that, one callaloo and okra crop at a time. Afri-Can FoodBasket, his non-profit organization based in the Jane and Finch area, has helped to establish close to 30 community gardens in the city’s priority neighbourhoods. Mr. Lololi, 56, who played bass for the band Truths & Rights, connects young people with jobs, leadership training and cooking skills, teaching them how to reap the fruits of their labour. Winner of a 2011 Green Toronto award, he has a master’s degree in environmental studies from York University.
“As a reggae musician in the eighties, I got involved with a food co-op because it was hard for people in the Caribbean, African and Latin American communities to find affordable food from their home countries. So we’d buy in bulk, have volunteers pack the baskets and deliver them. But the more I learned about food security, the more I realized it’s not just about buying food, but knowing how to grow and cook it. AFB started out in 1996 as a partnership with FoodShare Toronto, and things evolved from there.”
“We’re a community food-security movement. We want to make sure everyone has access to fresh, nutritious food that’s grown in a sustainable way.”
“My wife, Tafari: We built the organization together. She’s a teacher who founded her own school [the Afrocentric Umoja Learning Circle in Rexdale] She takes care of the education side, and I run the community-gardening side. My inspiration is the Rastafari way of life. I grew up with it. To me, it’s a way of being in harmony with nature.”
What keeps you going?
“Teenagers are the most difficult to work with. They can be very territorial, so we get kids together from different communities on neutral ground, at Ujamaa Farm in Brampton. Digging in the dirt and putting plants in, that’s not very sexy, but once they understand how it all connects with food security, they light up. What’s rewarding is that most of the young people we’ve employed focus on going back to school.”
“When you’re working with young people, you need to learn to listen to them. Don’t assume you have all the answers. They’re not always right, but you need to hear what they’re thinking. It works better as a partnership.”
“Trying to respond to demand. We can hardly keep up with all the requests for new gardens. We’re focusing on getting more youth involved, because they’re the ones who will be running this movement in the future.”
This interview has been condensed and edited
Special to The Globe and Mail