Building a Nigerian farm in Mission

Toyin Kayo-Ajayi wants to spark inspiration in the Black community

Toyin Kayo-Ajayi is experimenting with growing produce native to Africa on his Mission farm. | Joti Grewal

When Toyin Kayo-Ajayi looks at his Mission property he sees his homeland of Nigeria.

“Back home in Africa we are farmers,” he said.

His five-acre property in the Hatzic Valley might not yet be an established farm, but Toyin sees its potential.

Before purchasing the property in 2019, Toyin had been working on Fraser Valley farms for nearly two decades.

“When I came to Canada 22 years ago it was a no-brainer for me not to get into farming,” he says.

But when Toyin arrived in Canada from Nigeria it seemed like everyone but those from the Black community were farming.

“We have just become a consumer,” he said. “And we are bonafide farmers back home.”

The bustling sounds of the city are left behind en route to Toyin’s farm. Soon you find yourself on a less-travelled, gradually winding road. There is the rare sighting of another vehicle. But it’s just you and the nature that’s flanking both sides of the road—and the occasional sighting of a home.

Soon you’re hit with the ultimate sign that you’ve entered the natural world: no cell service. And then, eventually, Toyin’s property.

It’s early morning and already Toyin can be seen surveying his farm. Aside from the babbling of his goats, it’s quiet.

Toyin greets me at his driveway and we begin the tour of what he hopes will one day be a learning farm.

Toyin lost some crops when a greenhouse collapsed last winter from heavy snowfall.

After a brief introduction to the goats, Toyin showcases his “lab”: a half dozen garden beds sprouting greenery. To the average person the budding crop may not appear novel, but to the Fraser Valley they most definitely are. In his garden beds, Toyin is experimenting with growing produce native to Africa: garden egg, efo tete, green and red waterleaf, ugwu, African sweet potato, and African yam.

This isn’t Toyin’s first attempt. Some of the crops were lost last winter when a greenhouse collapsed from heavy snowfall. Toyin admits some African farmers might be intimidated by growing native crops because the climate in BC isn’t anything like that seen in the tropical continent.

But Toyin aims to spark inspiration.

A short mountain of soil is piled near the entrance of the property. Toyin mixes a variety of organic material to achieve his ideal blend.

Not all African crops need to be imported, Toyin says. He wants to show the Black community the crops can be produced fresh in BC.

“By the time some of them get here half of them are destroyed, it’s garbage,” he says. “They can’t eat it anymore… Why can’t we grow it fresh here?”

Toyin and his partner hope to build a new greenhouse in the near future to grow year round and produce a better yield. For now, the handful of garden beds are serving their purpose. The pair have also researched vertical and indoor farming options and visited local facilities that are embracing the different practices.

Toyin is working to grow crops native to Africa on his Mission farm.

Once Toyin is satisfied with the experimental phase, he aims to focus on the three most favourable and nutritious crops. Eventually he hopes to share his success with the Black community.

So far, he and his partner estimate they’ve invested $400,000 into getting their projects off the ground. And until recently, Toyin had been working three jobs to sustain his passion.

He still has a long way to go, but he's unfailingly optimistic that once the public sees his dream, they'll follow him.

“A number of Nigerians are responding, that are actually showing interest,” Toyin said. “But still skeptical, because nobody’s doing it except just me.”

In addition to helping the members of the Black community enter farming in BC, Toyin is making an effort to introduce farming to the next generation.

Toyin’s non-profit organization, the Kara-Kata Afrobeat Society, is working to fund its youth program, whereby kids can learn the process of farming while learning about African seeds and crops.

“It’s a metaphor for their own life,” Toyin said.

Eventually, Toyin hopes to construct several small A-frame structures on his property to welcome the community to stay and learn on his farm.

For now though, the focus remains on farming.

“Being able to grow what you eat, and eat what you grow, I think it’s very essential, and it’s kind of our way of life.”

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- Tyler, Joti, and Grace.


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