Ivy Walls didn’t dream of being a farmer until the signs were too hard to ignore. She calls it a “real-time realization”.
Walls’s move to fight what they call the “food swamp” in Sunnyside has been urged by some. Her work as an infection preventer, a battle with COVID-19, and some help from Beyoncé led to the creation and growth of Ivy Leaf Farms, Walls’ farm, where she grows vegetables for the Sunnyside community.
Walls, 26, officially moved to Sunnyside in February, but had long been familiar with her after growing up in nearby Pearland.
“I would visit Sunnyside to be honest with my black culture,” said Walls. “Here are the beauty items where … you can get your soul food, meet people’s grandparents, my cousin, my family … Sunnyside (was) the closest black neighborhood.”
But before she got ready to move out of her parents’ house around this time last year, Walls wanted to give them something nice: a bed full of flowers in front of the window in their backyard. After she planted the flowers, her garden grew slowly and contained vegetables in movable pots that she could take with her when she moved to her home in Sunnyside.
The fourth plant pop-up sale at Ivy Leaf Farms on November 14th. Walls hopes to keep these pop-ups on the farm at least once a month.
Abigail Rosenthal / Chron
As Walls arrived, problems in the area became more apparent. She saw high-calorie, low-food fast food outlets, a grocery store that didn’t meet her community’s needs, and neighbors that relied heavily on public transportation, making it even more difficult to leave the neighborhood to buy groceries.
In the spring, she began planting in earnest, growing zucchini, cucumber and pumpkin under a structure donated by her former high school to distribute vegetables to neighbors, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic made it even harder for vulnerable populations their food to come. As she met her new, permanent community, especially during the quarantine, Walls always wanted to help more.
Growing her vegetables was fun and exciting, but the end product wasn’t just for her – she distributed her vegetable boxes “at least 45 times” to her community this spring.
“I think it’s only innate in Saskatoon culture and the South that when you do something, it goes to others too,” said Walls. “It really opens up what a community means when you have to stay there for a long time.”
After Walls learned of the novel coronavirus for months while working as an infection preventer and finally caught the virus in June, she pondered how the US had achieved its ongoing position. She kept coming back to one point: “It starts with what you put in your body.”
That month, she raised nearly $ 10,000 on GoFundMe with a plan to mobile Ivy Leaf Farms and expand the farm she started on her parents’ land in South Saskatoon.
“I think the beauty of Ivy Leaf Farms is that it’s made for the people, by the people, because I live in my own neighborhood,” said Walls. “Ultimately, this resource is for the people around me.”
Walls’ “Greenhouwse” which she worked on by hand.
Abigail Rosenthal / Chron
By August she had quit her job to run the farm full time. Months earlier, she had applied for a joint Beyoncé-NAACP scholarship, an opportunity she had only dreamed of.
On August 17th, her first day without the security of her previous job, Walls received the call.
Ivy Leaf Farms was featured on Beyoncé’s website and received the $ 10,000 grant.
Since then, Ivy Leaf Farms has grown rapidly. Walls has redistributed their harvested vegetables and is currently growing mustard, cabbage and beet greens. Her Instagram @ivyleaffarms has almost 10,000 followers and shows Walls with her bright smile and green overalls as she raises plants and a new baby cow, Moolatto. The houseplant pop-ups and pumpkin patch of Walls have drawn plant enthusiasts and photogenic babies from all over Saskatoon.
But local fame is far from their ultimate goal.
“My biggest fear is that my media will become bigger than my actual mission,” said Walls. “At the end of the day we have to eat.”
Walls has big plans for Ivy Leaf Farms. She’s starting a seed company next year. She works with her sister at Prairie View A&M to create holistic pop-up events on the farm. She hopes to buy her own land. Most importantly, she is working to make Sunnyside a sustainable grocery store or cooperative that provides employment opportunities for the community. She has vowed to give her harvest only to the Sunnyside community until there are enough opportunities in the neighborhood.
Walls knows that as a farmer she is young and relatively inexperienced. As a farmer and business owner for a black woman, she wants to be taken seriously. As a resident of Sunnyside, she wants to serve others.
“I want to break down barriers and the ‘grass’ ceiling of what black women and people in general can do,” said Walls. “(I want to) make a name for myself, my family and Sunnyside.”