Markham's Last Farmer Sam Orrico Needs You!

Is time is running out on Markham's Farmer Sam?
Fairy Lake Newmarket, sparse crowd for poverty issues
A few months back, I started hearing from Sam Orrico again. In 1980, Sam was evicted from lands expropriated by the Ontario government, losing his means to live and incurring tremendous losses in equipment and lost wages and crops. He was able to reassemble some semblance of farming in nearby Markham, but it seems they've tried hard to rid themselves of this resilient farmer ever since. He's addressed council as recent as 2014 even.

Orrico is a fiercely independent and proud Canadian who immigrated here many years ago now, from Italy, and who has been receiving a  supplementary disability support for a short time now in relative terms. He is always trying to move out of it through creating opportunities with his limited resources, and farming, minimally at least, having been a farmer most of his life before being expropriated from land he worked for years, from Pickering first, and then also removed from farms in Markham, Ontario, Canada surviving a "fire by miracle" the papers once wrote, at a farmhouse on the very same property he still dwells on. I don't usually hear from him unless he's desperate. I know, says a lot about me. Lol. Nothing else is funny in this piece.

Sam has ideas about fertile land for farming
He now lives in a trailer with no running water, on that field property, wedged between an industrial complex and stores, where his farm home residence once stood - gone so many years ago now, razed by a mysterious fire that nearly took Sam's life as had a previous one at another farm. He has his theories about who, and what, in respect to the fires that most would write off as the ramblings of a bitter, paranoid, old man, but I'm not so sure there isn't some truth. Farmers were in the way of developing progress in some cases after all, throughout Markham's history.

In 1000 A.D., in Markham, the Iroquois used the fertile land there to grow corn, squash, beans and sunflowers. 150 years ago, you had to promise to use 10 acres of your land for farming, in order to settle there. Now, in 2015, they are trying to force one of the, " Last Mohicans" if you will, to shove off.

At any rate, how this guy, who also has run for Mayor of Markham twice - once coming too close for comfort for them, while in another he was silenced and removed via what Sam claims were trumped up threat charges to keep him out of the race - I say they likely misunderstood his thick accent - has come to be treated by our unforgiving system, in such the manner as he has been, and been able to get away with it, is beyond me. It's shameful really. They even held him in custody for a time and put a publication ban why and him. Trying to run for Mayor in 2014 they even stopped him, citing citizenship documents needed - not previously required - that he's lost in the fire and cannot afford to replace.

And, after an Aug 27th visit from a construction contractor, he was told he had to leave the property he's been living and farming on for the past dozen years or so (as well as other area properties) since the late 70's - but what they didn't know / expect was that Uncle Sam had an ace up his sleeve - an agreement signed with the original owners giving him his place on that land.

They came to tell him he has to be off the property he's farmed for over a decade by Sept 2014 or they would remove everything themselves, using a bylaw infraction designed for residential and not farmlands to get it done, something he'd never heard of in all the years he's been there. It seems to have been drawn up without public input and placed in the books in 2012. Where does a farmer hide a tractor? Trailer, farm tools, tractor - he uses mostly hand tools now with limited power - clothing, furniture, crops and his whole being, out they said. Ironically the Bylaw, " Keep Markham Beautiful" is missing section 21, making it null and void as a legal binding bylaw in this opinion.

He knows farming, and since they've developed or (someone has) burnt down every farm spot he had left in this town, now what? 

This could become Sam Orrico's Fate without help.
Sam obliged the visiting gentleman to view his letter of agreement, which also allows for his farming of the land, but declined to allow him photos of it. They have, for now, backtracked on a date of  Sept 11 but the prideful man is not quite ready to go anywhere anyway. Where can he go? Where will he live? Farm? Remain independent without sharing a room with 30 strange, sometimes violent men?

Crane one property over on 14th and Markham Rd.
Apparently no one cares in Markham, about a man who helped feed their kids growing up here, and who has increasingly been made to feel an outcast in diverse Markham, instead of embraced for the knowledge he has to offer. He may have some ailing health issues but he's not dead... and still a man!

Sam Orrico @ International Day for Eradication of Poverty
Sam says ODSP won't pay his heat costs - he uses wood
Aside from this, he's been fighting for the past few years for the right to have water at his home / farm, covered. That's right, water - provisions for which Sam claims is outlined in the existing Ontario Disability Support Program Act already, but says that workers unfamiliar with this Act, who are given the task to dish it,  have been choosing not to, often citing confusion of the rules as their reason for denying him coverage. Sam likens it to the fact that they are saying a man does not need water to live. He also believes that female workers -  to whom he's most often assigned a caseworker to - do not fully understand what a man goes through to survive, and that therefore have, perhaps unwittingly, discriminated against him by refusing him funds for fuel and water, which he feels the Act is clear they are to provide. Okay, he never put it like that exactly, and whether he's on target with the latter I'm not sure, and maybe his own bias in the regard now magnifies everything, but Sam insists gender understanding has played a role.

" Whenever I've had a man as the caseworker they seem to understand what a homeless man might go through somewhat, or what a man has to do to survive, but the women don't at all." adding, " None of the workers are even familiar with the Act  - so you have people in charge of administrating funds and programs who themselves do not know or understand them."

To be clear, Sam Orrico is not criticizing the O.D.S.P. Act, or asking for major changes in this plea, but only that the act, as written, be enforced, so that he is able to be compensated for costs for water, hydro & heat - costs that Ontario, Canada, residents receiving disability support, are entitled to. He may not be living somewhere that conforms to ease of implementation of this system, however it is not them having to live in these squalor, often cold, damp conditions, as one cannot conceivably move out, or on, without the basics - like water and food and shelter - let alone a place to move into - which Y.R. has made no move to build much of in years - whilst building yet another women's shelter/housing. This man has provided his part by acquiring accommodations and now awaits theirs as the years tick by......tick........tick..... and his health deteriorates ...tick...and his career aspirations die ....tick..... This man also shared his story here during the 2011 social audit Behind the Masks - yet nothing much has changed for him, and he never got his water covered.

Behind The Masks - York Region Social Audit All Star Team
Sam can still farm, and does, but with crude farming equipment & only able to farm little for sale and enough to eat a bit and show off some now as he's very skilled in growing and farming for example if the well runs dry at times, which happened, he knows how to access surface water for crops. Once pegged as "The Sexy Farmer" for his unusually shaped at times but bountiful produce, and his wacky beards, his corn was / is also renowned - with people coming from all over to get some. Now he barely survives with all the turmoil, and, who knows now?

Sam supposed to pack up his crops?
What he needs now is someone to use his farming expertise and skills, something that should be in demand anyway. Sam Orrico did not come to this country all those years ago from Italy via Argentina to become a burden.

" I'm a Farmer Tom. I know farming."

A bit cantankerous at times, he's still a principled and passionate man with a wealth of knowledge, and, yes, he's been a victim in many ways in the past by life, by how he's been treated, and often how he's been perceived. But get to know him and you'll find there is a lot more going on there and that he's a man filled with pride, looking for a way out that isn't a burden in a society that deems him useful, not useless. We owe him that. We owe them all that.

Plus he has value, knowledge! Use it!

Sam may be making a plea at Queen's Park sometime in the near future ( if he's physically able) to secure his right for water and heat costs in homes and voice his wish for more step out / up aid programs because as he says,

" These programs are suppose to be designed to help you get out of, not stay in, poverty. Right now you can't do anything." Sam Orrico


He's offered up his services before to the Town of Markham and been ignored but now with all the emphasis on fresh food and growing food programs today, surely we can find room for a real expert who happens to be grass roots experienced - literally!

We can't volunteer our way out of this one folks, so pony up! The newspapers / media won't help him it seems. Speak up!

Sam tells me they had subpoenaed him to bylaws court Sept 18 for an attempt to start a paper trail in order to remove him, but he has several agreements for farming several properties in the area and plans to hold fast. Those land owners have enjoyed tax break and zoning perks for years on those properties because of the farming element. Perhaps now they want to toss him aside and pave over the fertile land and he slows that considerably.

Recently, Sam tells me, they've moved a trailer into the back area of an adjacent property, with a man, claiming to be an owners son, staying with two dogs. They've been trying to make it look like they too are farming but Sam sees it differently - that they are trying to maintain the zoning perks that go with someone doing as such on the property. The same man shows up when Sam goes shopping or walking down the street or snoops around his property enough that Sam has alerted me. His contacts to me have gotten more frequent of late, and if I don't better I'd say I detect fear in him.

" Well Tom, " said he, " I've kept you a long time but I wanted to make sure you knew everything in case something should happen."

Sept 18 they informed about a bylaw infraction - where he's farmed for 20 years - to move. What are residential bylaws doing meddling with farm property? There isn't even agreement in place to develop the land. For good measure, they tried adding trespassing to the list, and asking him to move by Oct 31 2014.  Agreements made with previous owners are assumed by new property owners unless they opt to have an amendment made to the contract which was not done here, so Sam begs to differ on such a charge. But what's he got left?

Diagnosed with a tumour and with arthritis in both hands, rendering him useless until able to fire up his bunson-burner-like heater in the morning, Sam has deja vu on what is now unfolding, having seen the whole process before through the two house fires and removal from Pickering airport lands by the Crown... and now this.

Sam has some fight left in him, but it is was not like him to be non-committal to an event like the  Int Day for the Eradication of Poverty if he wasn't feeling something might prevent him from that ability to. Thankfully he showed up and shared some of his story.

As of today, January 2015, Sam is still entrenched living on the property in fear of losing his place as he awaits his day in court to fight the Bylaw infraction and in fear of a large dog that is now also residing on the property nearby and as tools, papers and the like have gone missing. 

Sam calls regularly now, fully expecting something dreadful will happen, the police having told him not to contact continually them for missing items. Sam has now started the practice of chaining the gate as opposed to the old rope, so afraid is he now of intruders. He fears the persons who suddenly set up in a nearby trailer on the owners property and with a menacing looking dog are there for a reason...and not a good one.

Regardless he resolved to see it through, including revisiting the issue of being moved from expropriated (Airport) land, now set to host the United Church, where he lost his belongings and valuables through a suspicious fire during a time he again had not wanted to move....


PACCman out!

2 Response to "Markham's Last Farmer Sam Orrico Needs You!"

  1. Poverty PACC September 1, 2014 at 3:30 PM
    I hope everyone in the pictiue comes to help Sam out in his time of need! bring a sign and show some support for him to live and farm!
  2. Poverty PACC September 22, 2014 at 2:54 PM
    I hope so too...so far I am not impressed overall with the support or lack thereof of media or from vocal locals and farmer supporters. Surely we can treat people better.

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