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Toronto Island Farm’s Fate Still Uncertain

Despite a victory for the High Park Zoo earlier this week, the short-term outlook for Centre Island's Far Enough Farm remains unclear.

Donkeys at Far Enough Farm. Photo by {a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/squiddity-of-toronto/2348788006/"}squiddity of toronto{/a}, from the {a href="http://www.flickr.com/groups/torontoist/"}Torontoist Flickr Pool{/a}.

Earlier this week, supporters of the City-run High Park Zoo celebrated when a private donor offered $50,000 a year in matching funds to help keep the historic neighbourhood attraction’s llamas and yaks sheltered and fed, despite cuts to the City’s budget that would otherwise have required the zoo to close this summer.

Riverdale Farm, in the east end, has an active citizen group working hand-in-hand with City staff to find new sources of cash to keep the farm running, meaning the cows and pigs there have a reasonable chance of staying put for the foreseeable future. In September, city council voted to transfer responsibility for Black Creek Urban Farm over to the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority.

But alone among the city-run animal attractions that saw their budgets slashed by council this year, Far Enough Farm, a Centre Island fixture for a little over fifty years, remains in near-total limbo. A few private operators have shown interest in taking over the farm—with its two mini horses, seven peacocks, and 40 chickens, among other animals—but the City is set to cut off funding on June 30. If there isn’t any money by then, the peacocks will have to find somewhere else to roost. No perfect solution has presented itself.

The City issued a call for expressions of interest from private operators at the end of March. Response so far has apparently been tepid. Walter Shanley, owner of Sunnybrook Stables, is one of just two private businesspeople to have publicly signaled interest in the farm, to date. (He hasn’t formally responded to the call for expressions of interest, but has indicated to the City that he’s considering doing so.)

“It would be an absolute shame to see it decommissioned,” said Shanley. But soon afterward, he admitted what even people who cherish the farm must know to be the case: “It’s never going to be a viable business,” he said.

The farm does not charge for admission, and the City’s documents say it costs $221,000 a year to run.

The call for expressions of interest closes on Wednesday. If no viable private business formally puts itself forward as a potential operator by then, there is an alternative plan in the works. Local councillor Pam McConnell (Ward 28, Toronto-Centre Rosedale) and her staff are investigating the possibility of merging the farm with Centreville, the adjacent amusement park and refreshment area.

William Beasley Enterprises, Inc. has operated Centreville under lease from the City since the amusement park opened in 1966. The current lease expires in May, and will need to be renewed for 2013. During the renewal process, the City could try to impose new conditions, including that Centreville’s operator take care of Far Enough Farm. (The farm, while virtually contiguous with the amusement park, has always been the City’s responsibility.) Beasley Enterprises President Bill Beasley—son of the original Beasley—says he’s carefully considering that proposal.

“We have talked to the City about possible ways of continuing funding of the farm, with them continuing to operate it,” he said. “But we have not agreed.” Beasley said he’s also thinking about scenarios in which his company would be the farm’s sole operator.

But because of the lengthy process required for awarding a new Centreville lease (even though it would likely go to Beasley), it remains to be seen whether any of this could be arranged before the June 30 deadline. If Far Enough Farm doesn’t find the money it needs to stay open through the summer, there’s a chance it won’t open next year.

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