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Pathfinder project #5

New Food Economy Skills and Training

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Project overview

Capitalizing on the institutional resources, skills and talent in our community, we aim to provide food innovation education and training, as well as public learning labs to develop and promote innovative food policies and ideas.

At the elementary and high school level, this includes expanding existing models for sustainable food education programs such as the Centre Wellington Food School. 

At the post-secondary level, the University of Guelph has evolved its “Food from Thought”  program with the Arrell Food Institute into a graduate-level course that sees student teams working on projects with Our Food Future collaborators. Meanwhile, Conestoga College is developing a new post-graduate program focusing on the circular food economy. 


Develop a post-graduate program at Conestoga College that prepares graduates to work in a tech-enabled circular food economy 

  1. Conduct an environmental scan 
    Our research reveals no similar programs exist in Canada. Internationally, we found only a few standalone courses about circular economy principles aimed at executives and senior managers and nothing focused specifically on circularity within the agri-food system. 

  2. Consult with industry to determine their needs 
    In keeping with the requirements of the Ontario Ministry of Colleges and Universities, we’re establishing a Program Advisory Committee of industry experts from companies that represent potential employers. We are also conducting a series of one-on-one meetings with industry to discuss the skills and knowledge they’ll need from graduates of this program.
  3. Finalize a program description In fall 2020, we plan to submit our finalized program description to the Ontario Ministry of Colleges and Universities for approval.

Next steps:

  • Obtain academic approval from the Ontario Ministry of Colleges and Universities (December 2020 – January 2021), 
  • Obtain funding approval from the Ministry (March–April 2021), 
  • Promote the program to potential students (Spring/Summer 2021), and
  • Launch the program (September 2021 or January 2022).

Create a University of Guelph course for graduate students interested in the circular economy 

Recently, the University of Guelph developed an innovative and interdisciplinary training program in conjunction with the Arrell Food Institute and the Food from Thought initiative, a $76.6 million program funded by the federal government to advance research and application in the broad area of digital agriculture. It placed selected graduate students in interdisciplinary teams to work on food and sustainability projects identified by external organizations in the community. 

In 2019/2020, this evolved into a formal course for graduate students with an interest in the circular economy. UNIV  6050: Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Agri-Food Systems is designed for students in the OMAFRA/UoG HQP Scholarship program, scholars from the Arrell Food Institute and scholars from Food from Thought. Space permitting, it is also open to any graduate student working on a thesis topic related to agri-food. 

In this course, students work in groups to collaborate with NGOs, government agencies, or businesses on agri-food projects. Through these projects and a series of modules, students build knowledge and competencies in business development, communication, social innovation, project  management and entrepreneurship. 

It is delivered in four parts:

  • Part 1—Students participate in a two-day workshop that provides an introduction to the program and expected learning outcomes and establishes expectations. 
  • Part 2—Students undertake an eight-month group challenge project in interdisciplinary teams of four or five, working with an external partner on a project related to food security and/or agriculture.
  • Part 3—This phase focuses on mentorship and skills development. Students meet with the course coordinators to update them on progress and to enable skills development around media training, project management, design thinking and conflict resolution. In some instances, these skills are cultivated through direct engagement with industry partners on site.
  • Part 4—Students present their final work and reflect on the year.

In 2019/2020, 26 students engaged in a total of six projects with NGOs, private start-up companies and larger industry organizations. These included developing an inventory of criteria for circular food businesses, testing the feasibility of a food waste reduction toolkit for families and mapping food waste streams in Guelph-Wellington. Each year, the University of Guelph’s Arrell Food Institute invites local partners to provide a proposal for a student project that aligns with the course objectives and is scoped to fully address the students’ needs and learning outcomes. Proposals for group projects are accepted on an ongoing basis, and more information can be found at

Challenges and lessons learned

Anticipating industry needs: College programs are intended to meet industry needs. Conestoga’s biggest challenge, therefore, is developing a curriculum to train students for tech-enabled circular food economy jobs that don’t yet exist. Nor do we have examples elsewhere that we can adapt. To our knowledge, this will be the first program of its kind in the world. The only circular economy courses ;we’ve found are standalone courses aimed at senior managers and leaders. They don’t lead to credentials, and they focus on the circular economy in general, not specifically on food.

To address these challenges, we’ve consulted extensively with food industry experts to get input on courses and topics, and we’ve established a program advisory committee made up of potential employers.

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