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:

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””

Hidden Harvest Ottawa has big dreams for a greener Ottawa. What are yours?

By Phil Mount

August 2018

Imagine if every time you purchased $100 worth of groceries, your grocery store donated $25—or 1/4 of their ‘harvest’—to their local food bank. This is the scale of charitable benefits that Hidden Harvest supports in Ottawa.

Hidden Harvest’s impactful new video describes the benefits of gleaning to the uninitiated, and follows with a series of recommendations challenging municipal political leaders to make their community’s future “the most sustainable future it can be”. The video captures the essence of the Nourishing Communities Hidden Harvest Case Study by Chloé Poitevin DesRivières, released earlier this year. That case study found that, along with benefits to local food access agencies and processors, the services Hidden Harvest offers to the community and the city by creating alternate means to feed people, manage renewable resources, developing green infrastructure, and diverting waste from landfills speak to the aims of different city offices, including community and social services, energy planning, and forestry services.

This new video makes the case that the exceptional value in the public services produced through largely voluntary labour deserves the support of public officials.

About the Social Economy of Food Video Series 

The Social Economy of Food Video Series showcases local leaders that are using food to improve their communities by enhancing the local and social economies. Watch the complete series here.

Other videos in the series: 


Cultivating Connections: Alberta Regional Food Systems Forum 2017

Conference Proceedings Now Available!

Find Forum Keynote and presenters’ slides, resources, and summary notes here:

On Feb 3-5 2017 Alberta Food Matters and FLEdGE—Food Locally Embedded, Globally Engaged – hosted a very successful Cultivating Connections 2017 Forum about Alberta Regional Food Systems. The purpose of this Forum was: 1) to bring together individuals and representatives from public, private and non-profit sectors in Alberta to share information about innovative initiatives; 2) to identify opportunities; and 3) to collaborate in building socially just, economically viable and ecologically sound and sustainable local/regional food systems in the province. The Forum provided a venue for those interested in forming partnerships, coalitions and action-oriented working groups toward this end.

Continue reading “Cultivating Connections: Alberta Regional Food Systems Forum 2017”

Governments, grassroots, and the struggle for local food systems: containing, coopting, contesting and collaborating


Local sustainable food systems have captured the popular imagination as a progressive, if not radical, pillar of a sustainable food future. Yet these grassroots innovations are embedded in a dominant food regime that reflects productivist, industrial, and neoliberal policies and institutions. Continue reading “Governments, grassroots, and the struggle for local food systems: containing, coopting, contesting and collaborating”

Buying Local Food Made Easy with Local Freshness Launch during Ontario’s Agriculture Week Oct 3-9th, 2016.

For immediate release

Ottawa-Gatineau-Renfrew, October 3, 2016 – The Table agroalimentaire de l’Outaouais, Just Food and the Ottawa Valley Food Coop are pleased to launch the first regional portal dedicated to helping eaters find local food products.

On this portal, eaters from Outaouais, Ottawa and Ottawa Valley will find important links in one place to identify local producers and locate where they are selling food – at the farm-gate, at restaurants, and/or online. Indeed, this portal unites for the first time.

For more information local_freshness-_press_release