Rob Ford, along with all 44 of Toronto’s city councillors, voted unanimously to keep Riverdale Farm in the city’s hands on Sept. 27, after a day and a half of debate at city hall.
Joe Pennachetti, city manager, proposed budget reduction strategies, including the privatization of Riverdale Farm, based on the “core services review” released July 14 by audit consultancy firm KPMG. The review comprised of a list of potential service cuts intended to reduce the city’s budget shortfall, which Mayor Rob Ford pegs at $774-million.
In the report, KPMG suggested the sale or closure of Riverdale Farm, a popular tourist attraction where people can explore butterfly, herb, flower and vegetable gardens at the heart of Toronto’s historic Cabbagetown neighbourhood.
According to KPMG, closing Riverdale Farm, along with the petting zoos at Centre Island and High Park, would result in an annual savings of $1.27 million. Mayor Ford who has been a supporter of KPMG’s proposal maintains that services like Riverdale Farm are non-essential “nice-to-haves.”
Dan Eldridge, the chair of the Riverdale Farm Advisory Council said concerned neighbours and citizens across Toronto have been contacting him “endlessly” about the farm.
“It’s a wonderful thing to see a community rally around something like this,” he said. Eldridge, who has lived in Toronto for 37 years, said he has been going to the farm all his life.
Newer Cabbagetown residents are equally attached to the farm, which serves not only as an admission-free tourist attraction, but also as a community centre.
Kate Burnham, a Cabbagetown resident and student at University of Toronto, visits the farm weekly. She said the farm provides children with an opportunity to learn about animals they would otherwise have to leave the city to see.
“Where else are kids going to see horses and pigs and turkeys in Toronto? They can’t,” Burnham said. “The farm is free and it should stay that way. It’s really a symbol of Cabbagetown – welcoming and inclusive.”
Councillor Pam McConnell of Ward 28 (Toronto Centre-Rosedale), which includes Riverdale Farm, said that in light of city council’s unanimous decision “everything at the farm will be business as usual.”
“This is a great win for the natural resources of the city,” McConnell said.
“A coalition of community stakeholders will work with the city to come up with new partnerships,” which will allow for the farm’s continued operation, according to McConnell.
Their progress will be reviewed in the spring of next year.
According to Eldridge, many benefactors have helped out at the farm during his time as chair of the council. He noted that several years ago, the farm’s duck pond sprung a leak, prompting the city to demand it be shut down. Instead, concerned citizens, with the help of the Toronto Star, contacted industrial giant Lafarge who agreed to reline the pond free of charge.
Burnham said she is relieved to learn that the farm will avoid privatization.
“It looks like democracy works when we work together,” Burham said.
— Photo courtesy of Martyn