ACROSS ONTARIO, farms, organizations and businesses are working to transform the food system from the ground up. Entrepreneurial, collaborative and co-operative, these enterprises are building on the public's interest in healthy, local, sustainable food; sharing their models, experiences and technologies; and becoming a network that links issues, sectors and regions. They are engaging people and are helping communities to grow, process, deliver and cook food.

As communities begin to think differently about food, people are reaching outside their silos and working on food charters, policy councils, food strategies, roundtables and working groups. These initiatives reflect a systems approach to food that involves a growing acknowledgement that food and farming are connected to health.

Ontario's Good Food Future

In 2020, farmers across Ontario are not only growing food for diverse markets, they are helping to solve environmental problems by contributing ecological goods and services, such as soil erosion control and carbon sequestration. Government farm programs support farmers who are transitioning their land to optimize its ecological contribution.

Niche markets are proliferating as both new and established farmers plant new crop varieties and produce specialty products. Agricultural transition funds and government-generated economic analyses of market trends, demands and consumer habits assist these entrepreneurial farmers. Culinary tourism flourishes as a result.

People are increasingly growing their own food. Kids are keen to stay on the family farm, where incomes are sufficient to support them. Urban farms are training a new generation of farmers, and urban agricultural co-operatives are growing enough vegetables and herbs to provide access to healthy food for all. As a result, the number of green jobs is growing, and cities are becoming increasingly sustainable. Food processing facilities and supply-chain systems have been revamped to allow for the special requirements of many small producers.

Meanwhile, community food centres have replaced food banks. They address the complexity and interconnectedness of food by providing emergency food distribution, pre- and post-natal nutrition, food literacy, community development and urban agriculture. A provincial school lunch and snack program, with complementary food-literacy education, is available for all Ontario children. Farming, food and health are linked through inter-ministerial policies and programs, ensuring that all Ontarians have access to healthy, affordable and culturally appropriate food.

What allows these new systems to evolve

  • Municipal and institutional urban space is available for cultivation and food processing.
  • Official plans and zoning bylaws recognize agriculture as an official urban land use, and new housing developments include space for farmers' markets, community gardens and food retailers.
  • Grants and loans support urban agricultural development, while supply-management institutions (eggs, milk, chickens) make space for new farmers across the province.
  • More resources are available for farms to improve their environmental performance. Tax relief, zoning easements and access to capital encourage agricultural-enterprise zones that lead to farming and food innovation.
  • Small- and medium-sized enterprises face fewer regulatory hurdles and are assisted by co-operative food-processing models.
  • Food-safety and public-health regulations support home food entrepreneurs who sell their products at farmers' markets, fairs and roadside stands.
  • Institutions such as hospitals, universities and government offices procure more food from regional supply chains, while public health units strengthen food security in their communities.
  • Food hubs in libraries, schools, community centres and other public spaces provide food, nutrition and social services.
  • Access to micro-financing and community food animators help launch local programs such as community gardens, good-food markets and good-food box programs.
  • Food-literacy education in every grade teaches kids to grow, cook and compost.

How We Get to the 2020 Vision

The path to change is cross-jurisdictional and integrated.

At the federal level:

  • In 2013, the Growing Forward Policy Framework is renegotiated so that it balances export and domestic trade support, and increases agri-environmental programs, value-chain development and local-food marketing.
  • The Canada Health Act is renegotiated in 2014 to increase funds available for health promotion and disease prevention through healthy eating.

At the provincial level:

  • Policy and program shifts support regional food production.
  • Food literacy encourages all Ontarians to access healthy food.
  • Collaborative food-policy approaches cross ministries and jurisdictions.
  • Ontario's new "Food Act" links local food to health.

At the municipal level:

  • Municipalities support food-policy councils and roundtables, which adopt food charters and food strategies.
  • Municipalities enable food programs across departments.
  • Benchmarks are established to evaluate local food systems and healthy eating.


Lauren Baker was the founding director of Sustain Ontario, which takes a collaborative approach to food and agriculture, namely building bridges between issues, sectors, regions, and urban and rural communities. She has also picked up the rein at the Toronto Food Policy Council. 

If you liked this article, please subscribe or donate today to support our work.

A\J moderates comments to maintain a respectful and thoughtful discussion.
Comments may be considered for publication in the magazine.