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Charles Catchpole at his farm, Gitigaanes, at Flemo Farm, an urban farm in North York on Oct. 5, 2021. Catchpole’s 2,400 square-foot plot consists of Indigenous crops that he either sells at Flemo Farm’s weekly market or uses for his catering and hot sauce business, Charger Foods.Ramona Leitao/The Globe and Mail

The Thanksgiving holiday often romanticizes the history of settlers in North America while neglecting the stories of the Indigenous people who have lived here for thousands of years.

“It’s a silly question I get asked a lot: What did people eat before colonization?” said Charles Catchpole, an Anishinabe chef and new farmer wrapping up his first harvest in Toronto. “What we ate is what’s considered trendy today, which is eating a local diet,” he said. “Well, that’s a traditional Indigenous diet. It’s always been around.”

With his farm, Gitigaanes (Ojibway for “Little Farm”), Catchpole aims to promote Indigenous food sovereignty by primarily growing Indigenous foods and using traditional harvesting methods that have been passed down from generation to generation. He hopes to continue educating the community around him, both at the farm and at the local markets where he sells his harvest.

Catchpole forages for beans. He says he has about 12 different varieties of beans that are wrapped around what’s left of the corn stalks. The Canada Wild Goose, Speckled Algonquin and Mohawk Early are just some of the beans he has harvested.Ramona Leitao/The Globe and Mail

Potatoes and potato berries are ready to be stored. During his first harvest season, Catchpole says he learned that potato plants actually produce berries; they are toxic to eat, but help breed more potatoes in the future.Ramona Leitao/The Globe and Mail

Gitigaanes is located at Flemo Farm, an urban farm in Toronto’s North York neighbourhood. Catchpole’s 2,400-square-foot plot consists of Indigenous crops that he either sells at Flemo Farm’s weekly market or uses for his catering and hot sauce business.

It was his wife who saw that Flemo Farm was looking for an Indigenous urban farmer in a tweet in February. Catchpole initially wasn’t convinced the position was right for him. “As a chef, I know about food. But I [didn’t] know how to actually grow it,” he said. “I get the end result of farming, not the whole process.” It took “a lot of persuasion” before he applied for a plot in March.

Catchpole harvests eggplants at one of the community plots at Flemo Farm. 'Even though we’re at the end of the harvest season, I can still get two to three buckets of them,' he said.Ramona Leitao/The Globe and Mail

Sunflowers and other flowers are planted at the edge of the Gitigaanes plot. Catchpole says this Indigenous method was used so that birds and squirrels would eat these plants first, before reaching for the other crops. 'They’re sacrificial plants,' he said.Ramona Leitao/The Globe and Mail

Among the traditional Indigenous farming techniques Catchpole uses is the Three Sisters harvesting method, where crops such as corn, beans and squash are planted together on a mound. “In conventional, modern farming, you’d have fields of beans growing on fence lances or along some type of trellis, whereas here you don’t need those extras.” Catchpole said. Instead, the corn stalks act as the trellis, holding the beans in place while also shielding the squash, which protects the soil with its leaves. “All three plants rely on each other’s nutrients to thrive, like a little ecosystem.”

Catchpole shows the inside of a tobacco plant at his farm. Tobacco is referred to as one of the Four Sacred Medicines (which also consist of sage, cedar and sweetgrass). 'The medicines are used to help us thrive,' Catchpole said. According to Catchpole, Tobacco was the first of the Sacred Medicines that the Creator gave to the Indigenous Peoples and one of the first Sacred Medicines that Catchpole planted. 'Tobacco is something that you give to people. Our culture gives tobacco ties when someone is thankful for you. It’s a sign of respect,' he said.Ramona Leitao/The Globe and Mail

Catchpole grows about 12 different varieties of beans, such as Canada Wild Goose, Speckled Algonquin and Early Mohawk. He has planted sunflowers and other flowers at the edge of the Gitigaanes plot, an Indigenous farming method to encourage birds and squirrels eat these plants first, before reaching the other crops. “They’re sacrificial plants,” he said.

As his first harvest season comes to a close, Catchpole says he has learned a lot about what it means to be an urban farmer and plans to continue advocating for Indigenous food sovereignty. He still doesn’t feel comfortable being called a farmer. At the same time, he says that he can’t go back to life before farming. “I think now that I’ve got my hands into it, I’ll be doing it on some scale forever.”

Local community members play basketball nearby as Catchpole prepares to harvest crops. 'That’s how accessible and visible this farm is,' Catchpole said. 'You often get community members coming up to the fence and wanting to learn what we’re doing.'Ramona Leitao/The Globe and Mail