This document is a living report which summarizes the work that FLEdGE has been involved in, organized into six “Good Food Principles”—principles which can guide people from all walks of life to work together towards sustainable food systems. Evidence from our research is provided in links within this page.
Good Food Principles
Farmer Livelihoods- We need to help the people who produce our food adapt to changing economies by co-creating new opportunities for training, accessing capital, and connecting with consumers.
Access to Healthy Options- We need to work together with people along the values chain to make local, healthy, and culturally appropriate food more accessible to everyone.
Indigenous Foodways- We need to support Indigenous food sovereignty by safeguarding traditional foodways that rely on the health of the land and intergenerational knowledge sharing supported by technologies, capacity, and infrastructure.
Biodiversity Preservation- We need to encourage ecological farming because it supports diverse ecosystems and communities by regenerating the natural environment.
Food Policy- We need good food policy that involves cross-cultural collaboration, all levels of government and reflects the needs of people and their communities.
Food Connects- We support community-driven research as a way of connecting people and food.
Communities throughout Canada use food strategies, food charters, food hubs, community gardens, food sharing programs, seed banks, and digital tools to provide the people that produce, harvest and eat food with more control over our food systems. These innovative solutions connect urban and rural places, provide fairer wages to food workers, improve access to healthy foods, celebrate cultures, and help make sure farmers, fishers, hunters and harvesters can earn a living from the land. What follows draws together the findings from over 30 reports more than 100 public presentations and 35 workshops. Click on the links throughout this page to learn more about our work! We are excited to share insights from these amazing community-based sustainable food projects from across the country and how they are scaling-up their work to establish networks of sustainable communities for all Canadians.
Transformation through food – stories and findings from Canada
Let’s start with the people growing our food. Given there are 30% fewer farms in Canada than in 1961 and the average age of farmers is 55, we need to think not only about how to make farming more viable for existing farmers but also more attractive as a career for prospective entrants. Our research provides some directions forward.
- Our research into new farmer training across North America identified opportunities to expand internships, farmer-to-farmer and formal training and self-directed learning – all important steps for growing the sector.
- In Nova Scotia, FarmWorks, a Community Economic Development Initiative Fund is rebuilding the local food sector one farm and business at a time by leveraging more the $1.7 million in common shares supporting $8 million in annual gross business revenues and provide a fair return to investors.
- Our researchers also work with communities to understand what a ‘family farm’ looks like in Canada and how flexible definitions allow people to anchor their work in community values and engage community support.
- It is also important to consider regional food self-reliance. A model developed for the Southwest BC Bioregion demonstrates there is room to increase food self-reliance even with population growth and adding environmental enhancements. In this model that projects food demands to 2050, stable farmland availability has a greater impact on food self-reliance than improving yields.
- Other researchers found that while advancements in big data by government and private companies can make agriculture more productive, we need to monitor relative benefits for both small farmers and large-scale farm businesses. If not, agriculture may be even harder to enter for new farmers and they risk getting pushed out by new technologies.
- Our Pan-Canadian report card Food Counts, gives the lay of the land and provides benchmarks and points to gaps in what we know about sustainable food systems across Canada. It helps us understand what we are doing now and how we can do better.
- In Ontario, our 2015 sustainable food hub survey and case studies found that total gross income for the sector was over $29 million with farmers projecting potential production increases of over 135% for meat and poultry, nearly 80% for vegetables, and about 30% for fruit.
- An innovative food hub example is Cloverbelt Cooperative in northern Ontario. This hybrid food hub meets its unique community needs by providing regional leadership. Cloverbelt connects farmers to consumers through online ordering and shared transportation.
- Open Food Network Canada offers a globally supported open source online platform for producers and processors to help streamline their businesses, build capacity and set their own terms. These initiatives let consumers order their food on a more flexible basis and can help food insecure communities get access to healthy local food.
- To support food hubs, we developed a tool to calculate the dollar amount of product that needs to be picked up from a farm and sold by a hub to breakeven.
- Research in Alberta shows how community-based food initiatives that value agricultural land preservation, develop short-chain markets and provide fair food access can improve their chances of long-term success by paying attention to these core social and environmental justice values and social networks.
- In Toronto, two urban market garden projects were tested in communities designated as areas for improvement both to grow food for sale and build community capacity.
- We help developed a map for FoodShare, a community food organization, to understand food access and income data by neighbourhood so they could make an evidence-based short-list of communities to locate services for improved access to fresh healthy food.
- In northwestern Ontario, a research project working with commercial and recreational fishers, First Nations and policy makers found new opportunities for sustainable fisheries in the Lake Superior region.
Access to Healthy Options
In Canada, the health care system is increasingly burdened with the results of poor eating options and a lack of access to healthy, affordable food. Our research highlights these solutions.
- As Canadian households spend 72 cents of every food dollar on food in retail stores, researchers in Atlantic Canada look for new ways to link small businesses so they can carve out their own, profitable niche and provide healthier food choices to consumers. Attention is also paid to how far people travel to get good food, the retail options in cities and rural communities and the way this shapes the food we eat.
- In eastern Ontario, Project SOIL identified ways to use food gardens on hospital and long-term care facility land for therapy, improved mental and physical health outcomes and to grow food. Through nine projects, they identified evidence for the co-benefits of gardens and developed tools to support these initiatives including resource databases.
- Other research looked at how institutions such as hospitals and universities can create menus and purchasing guidelines that emphasize local food and increase demand for food from regional farmers.
- And in Ottawa, researchers documented the role of Just Food as a model not-for-profit that uses a food systems approach focused on sustainable production and access (e.g. community gardening, farmer training, promotion of local producers). Just Food acts as a coordinating body in Ottawa with projects including a regional food hub (to facilitate aggregation and distribution of local food), incubator kitchen, food literacy and community action to address poverty and hunger.
Many Indigenous peoples practicing traditional foodways are dealing with ongoing impacts of colonialism and changes to the climate and changing landscapes.
- In Northwestern Ontario, researchers supported the development of the Indigenous Food Circle – a collaborative food policy platform to support food related initiatives developed by and for Indigenous organizations in the Thunder Bay region.
- Our researchers in the Northwest Territories work with Indigenous peoples to understand and address impacts of climate change on traditional food systems. In part this means enabling connections between elders and youth to help with knowledge sharing. It also means supporting infrastructure initiatives such as community food growing projects, developing appropriate technology supports and waste management programs.
- In one case, phone apps help hunters create maps to show where landscapes have changed. This makes being out on the land safer and more affordable and helps communities harvest traditional foods. The tools developed and the lessons learned through this research can help other communities in Canada and beyond be more resilient.
Environmental relationships are enriched by preserving biodiversity, developing regional approaches to food, and supporting ecological farming initiatives that protect and conserve precious resources for future generations.
- Raising the profile and clarifying the value of seed banks and seed saving networks is central to work in Atlantic Canada. Building on food movement needs, these seed initiatives are central to preserving and ensuring access to seed heritage and biodiversity needed to preserve food system resilience that has developed over thousands of years.
- In British Columbia, work is on-going to build integrated bioregional food systems. In this case, research identified that the ecological food consumption footprint is influenced most by the kinds of foods consumed (fruit, vegetables, grains, meat etc.) and not by where the food is grown, as well as the value of decreasing dairy and meat consumption to reduce greenhouse gases.
- Related research points to the value of connected, high value habitat for improving and protecting ecosystems and biodiversity in food producing areas.
Policy at all levels needs to be contextual and rooted in place-based knowledge and experience to support sustainable food systems. We work across sectors and levels of government to support and create food policies that move towards the future we want. We’ve learned about a range of policy initiatives, from local to international, that aim to shift thinking and priorities in promising ways.
- We have contributed briefing notes to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals consultations.
- Our team was invited to present a panel on Building Resilient Food Systems at the ICLEI World Congress 2018, helping to shift the discussion of urban resilience to include food systems.
- Several of our researchers were invited to participate in the National Food Summit in 2017 and testify before the Standing Committee on Agriculture to contribute to A Food Policy for Canada.
- Many have contributed to municipal and regional policy development including facilitating the work on the Yellowknife Food Charter.
- Our team co-wrote a book about how sustainable food systems nourish communities.
- In northwestern Ontario researchers participated in a project to develop a regional food charter.
- Our innovative International Working Group released an open access book about civil society and social movements in food system governance.
Food connects people and communities. Through our community-driven research we enable and foster better food systems across the country. Our community-based research tells us there are grounds for optimism in better connecting farmers, harvesters, and fishers to regional markets. As we documented in eastern Ontario and with increasing relevance across the country, there are more and more thriving connections between consumers and local producers with the growing availability of fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables, meat, fish, game, poultry, grains, wines and craft beer and spirits. Let’s make food healthy, sustainable, and accessible for all Canadians.
As we continue our work supporting communities, building networks and doing research and policy work, we would love to hear from you. You can check out all our work here.