Citizen Group Seeks Input on a New Business Model for Riverdale Farm
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Citizen Group Seeks Input on a New Business Model for Riverdale Farm

The historic east-end attraction faces closure if new revenue sources can't be found.

Horses at Riverdale Farm. Photo by {a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/postbear/5701566614/"}Postbear{/a}, from the {a href="http://www.flickr.com/groups/torontoist/"}Torontoist Flickr Pool{/a}.

The Riverdale Farm Coalition, a citizen group deputized by city council to find a way to keep Riverdale Farm running without City funding, is now seeking input from Toronto residents on ways to pay the historic neighbourhood attraction’s $500,000 in yearly operating costs.

An online survey containing questions on topics ranging from admission fees (the farm is currently free to visit) to corporate sponsorship is available here. The survey closes this Wednesday, February 1.

About 300 people have filled it out so far. “We would be delighted if we could get up to 1,000,” said Anne Pastuszak, a volunteer who helps head the coalition.

Riverdale Farm was one of the more atypical stories to emerge from this year’s budget process. In September, city council spared the farm from having its operations put out to private tender by bureaucrats (the zoo in High Park and the one on Centre Island weren’t so lucky, and both face closure if benefactors can’t be found). Instead, the City agreed to keep up normal levels of funding through the spring, while the Riverdale Farm Coalition tried its best to find a business model that would satisfy both neighbourhood residents and right-leaning politicians at City Hall, who have made their strain of stinginess into a kind of orthodoxy there.

The Riverdale Farm Coalition was originally a loosely organized network of individuals involved with different east-end neighbourhood groups. Since receiving city council’s vote of confidence, they’ve formalized themselves somewhat, and now hold regular meetings.

Pastuszak expresses no bitterness over the farm’s fate—this despite the fact that Riverdale Farm’s operating subsidy wasn’t among the about $19 million in cuts reversed by city council earlier this month.

“I think for us right now, what happened in some way actually is a very good opportunity,” Pastuszak said. She believes that finding some form of private funding for the farm is preferable to allowing it to continue to rely on City funding, because private money will enable the attraction to weather future periods of political and financial uncertainty. “With every year there’s a new budget,” she added, “and there will always be economic pressures.”

The Riverdale Farm Coalition expects to bring its business plan before council in July.

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