A citizens group working to save Riverdale Farm is set to present its rescue plan to Mayor Rob Ford's executive committee, recommending the site stay in city hands, supported through a combination of public funds and private donations but without an entrance fee.
The coalition has been working for months on a business plan to save the east-end landmark after winning a one-year reprieve for the farm, which was slated to close as a money-saving measure, along with the High Park Zoo and Centre Island's Far Enough Farm. Closing all three would save the city about $1.2-million annually.
City Council at its meeting next week also will be asked to take steps to spare both the High Park and Centre Island sites, which were scheduled to close at the end of this month.
In the case of Riverdale Farm, council agreed last fall to extend funding for a year, with a request for a plan by June. The group will present the results of their efforts to the executive committee on June 12. A staff report also is expected.
Anne Pastuszak, who last July delivered a petition to the city's parks committee with 7, 413 signatures calling for the farm to remain open, said the group has focused on developing a vision and sustainable model for the site, rather than on fundraising.
The coalition, she said, has consulted widely, talking with staff, surveying close to 800 residents and hosting a public town-hall meeting and day-long workshop with individuals from the food sector. The result is a new mission statement for the farm that focuses on education about local food and food sustainability and will form the basis for diversifying the facility's sources of funding, including possible corporate sponsorships, she said.
"What we are trying to do is position this for that long-term future sustainability, not just the immediate Band-Aid," Ms. Pastuszak said. "We heard from all the stakeholders that we really need to be looking long term."
In the short term, donation boxes have been installed at the farm and the group is planning its first major fundraising event – a summer solstice picnic at the farm on June 21 that it hopes will raise tens of thousands of dollars, Ms. Pastuszak said.
The farm, which is free to visitors, benefits from a network of local volunteer groups and costs the city about $500,000 each year. Ms. Pastuszak said during consultations there was strong opposition to an admission charge, but support for selling memberships and donations.
Ms. Pastuszak would not say how much money the group wants the city to contribute to the farm, but said feedback from organizations and corporations is that the city's continued involvement in the site is important. "People don't want the city to walk away," she said.
On the other side of the city, citizens fighting to save High Park Zoo, faced with a looming July 1 deadline, have already raised $118,776 – enough to cover the estimated $114,000 operating costs for the second half of the year. The group also has raised $88,678 towards next year's costs, plus a pledge from a family foundation to match gifts up to $50,000 for three years.
Councillor Sarah Doucette will ask council next week to use the donations to keep the zoo open and to have staff report in 2013 on options for its continued operation. "We are in very, very good shape," she said. A citizens group is working on a business plan.
On Centre Island , the news is not as good. Fundraising has started, but Councillor Pam McConnell said it has been hampered by the fact most of the farm's visitors come in summer. She will ask council next week to extend funding for six months, a stop-gap measure that requires about $120,000. This will let the city co-ordinate the timing of the contract to run the farm with the one for Centreville amusement park, she said.