Cooperative Governance and a New Narrative on Agrarianism in Calgary, Alberta

May 2019

By Mary Beckie and Elizabeth Bacon

City-regions have become key players in food system governance. As part of the effort to understand how to create more inclusive and democratic governance structures, our chapter, “Catalyzing Change in Local Food Systems Governance in Calgary, Alberta” in Civil Society and Social Movements in Food System Governanceexplores the development of YYC Growers and Distributors Cooperative (YYC). The story of YYC is about a group of urban and rural growers working together to make local food more accessible in Calgary. It is also the story about the innovative governance mechanisms they are using to make this happen.

YYC was founded in 2014 as a not-for-profit society by a small group of urban growers. Over the next two years, they expanded their production base and product range by including both urban and rural growers. As the organization grew and evolved, they recognized the need for a different and more appropriate governance structure and in 2017 became a registered cooperative. Each of the 20 members has equal decision-making power, with a one-member, one-vote policy. Members’ products are collectively marketed and distributed through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program and at a small number of farmers’ markets. In addition to making local food more accessible to citizens, YYC is committed to environmental and social justice, educating consumers about the value of local food, and influencing policy changes that better support local food systems. The rationale for YYC is best summed up in the following statement made by a YYC member in a 2016 documentary on food resiliency in Calgary:

“With the declining number of farmers, we’re going to need new people innovating and creating a culture around food…A resilient food system in Calgary is always going to be a complex web of many parts. YYC was formed by a group of young pioneers in Calgary who have made agrarian urbanism happen. We’re on the cusp of major change, as food security is an issue for all of us” (2016 NUFP documentary).

Through our research, we examine how YYC’s adoption of a cooperative governance structure has reinforced democratic values and principles, and allowed them to be innovative and scale up, while being supported by and building strong relationships with consumers, community organizations, and municipal and provincial governments. This research was informed by interviews with growers, board members, customers, and representatives from municipal and provincial government.

View of Calgary, as seen from one of YYC’s urban farms
View of Calgary, as seen from one of YYC’s urban farms

Key findings of the research include:

  1. Connections between producers; rural-urban linkages

A unique feature of YYC is how it has forged new relationships and collaborations between urban and rural farmers. This bridging of urban and rural growers in a regional food system is new in a province where large, export-oriented grain and livestock farms are predominant. Additionally, a significant proportion of YYC’s members are young people with limited farming experience, which is reflective of an emerging trend across Canada, as captured in the 2016 agriculture census. Together, these characteristics contribute to the formation of new narratives on what it means to be a farmer. 

  1. Connections between producers and consumers; education and awareness of local foods

YYC’s members directly interact with consumers at CSA pick-ups, farmers’ markets and through an active presence on social media (Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook). Members see sharing information and developing relationships with customers as a key benefit of being part of YYC. By reconnecting people to food, farmers and land, YYC aims to spread understanding about the potential of local food systems to achieve social, economic and environmental goals. Understanding and regaining control over the ways in which food is produced and sourced enables the development of ‘citizen consumers’, consumers that more informed and engaged.

YYC’s table at the Hillhurst Sunnyside farmers’ market in Calgary
  1. Connections with civil society and government

 YYC has been built upon democratic principles and values of inclusiveness and solidarity that are embedded in the cooperative model. As an extension of this, YYC has built relationships with a variety of governmental and non-governmental actors and organizations. In doing so, they have created greater agency and momentum for change in the food movement.

Bringing diverse actors together and achieving more democratic governance structures for food system transformation is a challenging and ongoing process. The examination of the democratic nature of cooperatives like YYC and its outward collaborations can provide insights for more progressive change.  


Mary Beckie is an Associate Professor and Director of Community Engagement Studies at the University of Alberta and is affiliated with the western (British Columbia/Alberta) node of FLEdGE. Her research on sustainable and localized agri-food systems has taken place in western Canada, the European Union, Cuba, India and Sri Lanka.

Elizabeth Bacon is a research assistant with Dr. Mary Beckie at the University of Alberta, as part of the FLEdGE network. She is currently pursuing an MSc. in geography at the University of Montréal.


Beckie, M. & Bacon, E. (2019). Catalyzing change in local food system governance in Calgary, Alberta. In P. Andrée, J.K. Clark, C. Z. Levkoe, & K. Lowitt (Eds.), Civil Society and Social Movements in Food Systems Governance (81-100). London: Routledge. DOI:

The Civil Society & Social Movements in Food System Governance Blog Series showcases the chapters and themes from the open-access book. Follow along as we explore the governance of contemporary food systems and their ongoing transformation by social movements.

Previous posts in the series:

Traversing Theory & Practice and the Governance Engagement Continuum

April 2019

By Kristen Lowitt, Jill Clark, and Peter Andrée 

Food systems are in crisis. For social movements and organizations working at the front lines to build more sustainable and just food systems, this crisis also represents an opportunity. Civil Society & Social Movements in Food System Governance provides an array of examples from the Global North of how members of food movements are attempting to make change by getting involved in food system decision-making, or ‘governance’, both inside and outside governments. Local government engagement is exemplified in the case of Correns, France, where organic food advocates have harnessed municipal government to further sustainable community development in their rural community. Formal government engagement at the national level is examined in a case study of participation in the national food policy consultation process in Canada. While another chapter highlights the case of social movement engagement in the World Committee on Food Security. 

Food governance is about more than simply working with governments. Governance refers to all of the relationships, processes, rules, practices, and structures through which power and control are exercised and decisions are made, whether by companies, organizations, governments, Indigenous authorities or international institutions. The case of the YYC Growers and Distributors, a new food producer’s cooperative in Alberta, exemplifies the creation of collaborative food system governance mechanisms outside of government, though the chapter on YYC also shows how local and provincial governments had to be engaged to ensure success. 

These are examples from just four of the ten chapters covered in this new book, which can be thought of as a primer for food system activists working to strengthen alliances and governance around their own innovations. Published in February 2019, Civil Society & Social Movements in Food System Governance includes chapters featuring case studies from Canada, the US, Europe and New Zealand. Most chapters are grounded in research supported through the FLEdGE project, and were discussed at a project workshop in September 2017. 

To set the scene for the on-the-ground case examples that follow, the book begins by introducing the concept of neoliberalism, or the predominance of the private sector and markets as prime concerns, as a defining feature of contemporary food systems. We also review the range of ways that social movements characterize the food system and seek to make change – from food security, to right to food, to food sovereignty. 

In addition, we present an original framework for thinking about the variety of forms that social movements engage in food system governance. We suggest these forms may be situated along a continuum, emphasizing how social movements experience and work with power. 

Governance Engagement Continuum: The role of food movements

This collection illustrates four main ideas:

  1. Food movements are increasingly engaging in governance to have a wider, systemic, impact.
  2. Food movements engage in governance at a variety of scales, though there is an emphasis on the local scale.
  3. The variety of forms that governance engagement takes can be placed along a continuum when considering the power that social movement actors wield.
  4. Building relationships with other actors based on mutual trust and commitment is central to achieving change. This volume highlights how many of the relationships built through local food  initiatives  may become the foundation for broader collaborations.

By examining and comparing a variety of ways social movements engage in decision-making, at a range of scales, the book offers insights for those considering contemporary food systems and their ongoing transformation by social movements. Alongside the cases featured in this book, we hope that the framework presented in Chapter 1 will be helpful for other communities and researchers to examine what is happening with food in their own backyards.

Civil Society and Social Movements in Food System Governance is an open-access book. You can read it online or download for free here.

Chapter Contributors

Peter Andrée is Associate Professor and Associate Chair in the Department of Political Science at Carleton University. His research focuses on the politics of food systems and the environment. He practices, and teaches, community-based participatory research methods.  Prof. Andrée is co-editor of Globalization and Food Sovereignty: Global and Local Change in the New Politics of Food (2014) and author of Genetically Modified Diplomacy (2007).


Jill K. Clark is an Associate Professor in the John Glenn College of Public Affairs at Ohio State University. Her research interests include food policy and practice, centering on community and state governance of food systems, the policy process, and public participation.



Charles Z. Levkoe is the Canada Research Chair in Sustainable Food Systems in the Department of Health Sciences at Lakehead University. Charles’ community-engaged research uses a food systems lens to explore connections between social justice, ecological regeneration, regional economies, and democratic engagement.



Kristen Lowitt is at the Department of Geography, Brandon University, Canada. Her research looks at the interactions among food security, communities, and natural resource management in rural and remote regions.



Carla Johnston is a Ph.D.  Candidate and a Doctoral Fellow at the Balsillie School of International Affairs. Her research interests include the governance of sustainable food systems in northern Canada as well as using Participatory Action Research (PAR) methodology to work directly with civil society groups to create meaningful actions that help them reach their goals.


Chapter Citations

Andrée, P., Clark, J., Levkoe, C., & Lowitt, K. (2019). Introduction – Traversing theory and practice. In P. Andrée, J.K. Clark, C. Z. Levkoe, & K. Lowitt (Eds.), Civil Society and Social Movements in Food Systems Governance (1-18). London: Routledge. DOI:

Andrée, P., Clark, J., Levkoe, C., Lowitt, K., & Johnston, C. (2019). The governance engagment continuum: Food movement mobilization and the execution of power through governance arrangements. In P. Andrée, J.K. Clark, C. Z. Levkoe, & K. Lowitt (Eds.), Civil Society and Social Movements in Food Systems Governance (19-42). London: Routledge. DOI:

The Civil Society & Social Movements in Food System Governance Blog Series showcases the chapters and themes from this open-access book. Follow along as we explore the governance of contemporary food systems and their ongoing transformation by social movements.

Guest Lecture: Food Metrics 3.0 – Unearthing Hidden Data

Thursday, March 14th, 2019
7:00pm – 9:00pm
Balsillie School of International Affairs

Since 2011, the New York City’s Mayor’s Office of Food Policy has released a Food Metrics Report which provides a snapshot of data from across City agencies on food-related programming and trends. The report has expanded every year to include the broad range of programs and initiatives that the City is doing to address food insecurity; improve City food procurement and food service, increase healthy food access and awareness, and support a more sustainable and just food system. In a review of New York City’s 2018 Food Metrics Report, Dr. Nevin Cohen and his team at the CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute, identified a number of food metrics that would deepen our understanding of the food system and yet are often overlooked. These hidden food metrics—data which is collected by city agencies but often buried in low-profile documents—could be used by interested citizens, policymakers, and advocates to monitor important aspects of the food system, lobby for new resources, support effective initiatives, and design and implement complementary programs.In this talk, Cohen will discuss these hidden food metrics and what they can tell us about the food system.

The talk will be followed by a Q&A with Barbara Emanuel from the Toronto Public Health’s Toronto Food Strategy. 

Registration is required.

A reception with light refreshments will follow talk.

About the speaker

Nevin Cohen is Associate Professor at the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate School of Public Health, and Research Director of CUNY’s Urban Food Policy Institute. His scholarship explores the policies, governance systems, practices, and infrastructure to support socially just, healthy, ecologically resilient, and economically viable urban and regional food systems.

Current projects include a five-country analysis of urban agriculture, research on food retail access; a study of the intersections of zoning, planning, and food gentrification; the effects of social equity policies on food systems; and an evaluation of the effects of urban farms in New York City Housing Authority developments. Dr. Cohen is the co-author of a recently published book, Beyond the Kale: urban agriculture and social justice activism in New York City (University of GA Press) that examines the potential of urban farms and gardens to address racial, gender, and class oppression. He has a PhD in Urban Planning and Policy Development from Rutgers University, a master’s in city and Regional Planning from Berkeley, and a BA from Cornell.

About the moderator

Barbara Emanuel is the Manager of the Toronto Food Strategy. Led by Toronto Public Health, the strategy proposes a new vision for Toronto’s food – one that integrates health and city building. The intent is to build food connections across and within city divisions, between city government and community and between multiple food system stakeholders, with the goal of a healthy and sustainable food system for all. The food strategy builds on the strong foundation of the Toronto Food Policy Council which has operated for more than 27 years. 

Prior to her work on the food strategy, Barbara was the Strategic Policy Advisor to the Medical Officer of Health for Toronto where she worked on a range of local and global public health and environmental issues including food and nutrition. Barbara has worked for the City of Toronto for over 25 years in a variety of policy and strategic issues roles. 

Before working for the City of Toronto, Barbara worked at the Development Education Centre, an adult education resource centre dedicated to international development and capacity building issues.

Unable to attend in-person? Register to be notified when the video recording of the event has been made available.

Sustain ON tries to engage politicians with varying success

December 2018

By Harrison Runtz

This past summer I had the privilege of working with Sustain Ontario, a non-governmental organization that works on connecting the needs/policy asks of different stakeholders in Ontario’s food networks. Sustain Ontario’s main goal is to transform our provincial food systems into more sustainable, community-oriented forms. My work was specifically related to the provincial iteration of their VoteONFood campaign. VoteONFood is an election-based effort to inform politicians on crucial areas of policy that are needed to address food systems issues. While my work focused on the provincial level, the campaign is currently targeting prospective municipal politicians. This initiative, which attempts to spread awareness of issues brought forth by experts working in these fields as producers, academics, scientists, and others, highlighted the intensely difficult task of breaking down partisanship and spreading best practices. While the issues of knowledge mobilization are many, I’ll outline two challenges that seemed particularly pertinent to the work in which I was involved. Continue reading “Sustain ON tries to engage politicians with varying success”

City Region Food System Assessment and Planning Toolkit Now Available!

Guido Santini
Programme Coordinator, Food for the Cities Programme
Rural and urban crop systems (AGPML) team
United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Plant Production and Protection Division (AGP)

November 19, 2018

We are pleased to announce that the City Region Food Systems (CRFS) assessment and planning toolkit, jointly developed by FAO, RUAF Foundation, and Wilfrid Laurier University’s Centre for Sustainable Food Systems in the framework of the Food for the Cities Programme, is now available online.

The CRFS toolkit aims to help local authorities and other stakeholders strengthen the understanding of the current functioning and performance of food systems in the context of a city region, within which rural and urban areas and communities are directly linked. In particular the toolkit provides guidance on assessing food systems and forms the basis for further planning to reinforce and promote the sustainability of CRFS.  It is meant to be a resource for policymakers, researchers, and other key stakeholders and participants who want to better understand their own CRFS and plan for improvements. Continue reading “City Region Food System Assessment and Planning Toolkit Now Available!”

Exploring Community Stories About “Fish as Food”

August 2018

Written by Kristen Lowitt

In May 2018, members of the FLEdGE Northwestern Ontario Research Node hosted a “fish as food” roundtable session at the Community Conservation and Livelihoods Conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The session featured community stories on “fish as food” from the Northwest Territories to Nova Scotia. Collectively, the stories illustrate the importance of not seeing fisheries solely as an assortment of fish harvesters or fish stocks, but as part of larger food systems that provide for community sustenance, cultures, and economies. Co-organized by Kristen Lowitt and Charles Levkoe, the session builds on their ongoing FLEdGE research exploring the links between sustainable fisheries and food systems in the Lake Superior region of Northwestern Ontario. Continue reading “Exploring Community Stories About “Fish as Food””