Happy New Year from the Our Food Future team. We have been reflecting on 2020 with gratitude, empathy, and optimism for the year before us. I am confident that support we showed for one another throughout 2020 will remain strong as we continue with our recovery efforts.
The Smart Cities Office has a busy year ahead as we move forward with key initiatives which are helping us to build Canada’s first circular food economy while supporting Guelph-Wellington to recover from COVID-19. We look forward to working alongside you and sharing our collective progress in the months ahead.
Sharing what we've learned
In December, Our Food Future released Cultivating community and connection. It is the first in a series of annual updates that has been prepared for our funding partners, political leaders, national and local stakeholders, and the public. The booklet reintroduces our vision and goals, shares stories and provides updates on Our Food Future’s response to COVID-19, our nine pathfinder projects and numerous living lab initiatives.
The report also highlights some of the lessons we are learning along the way that will further guide our next actions. These include the need for common language and definitions in the complex food sector, appreciating that businesses need a ‘go slow’ approach to introducing circularity in their systems and understanding those steps, and to carefully examine how we measure incremental change in areas such as food waste prevention.
The report offers a robust picture of our communities’ unprecedented efforts to realize transformative change and the progress we are making together. I hope you will find time to review and share it with the people in your professional network who will be interested in this progress.
Celebrating the people behind the projects
There are hundreds of interesting individuals contributing their passions, talents, and resources to the Our Food Future project. As we explore rich data and complex circularity concepts, we think it’s just as important that our community gets to know the people behind these important initiatives.
This month we launched Faces of Our Food Future, a story series of short, fun profiles of the staff, community leaders and volunteers who all play a role in steering us towards our vision of a circular food economy. Get to know the people behind the movement: watch for a new feature every three to four weeks.
Building new partnerships to broaden our impact
For Our Food Future to transform the food system in our region and beyond we know it will take more than five years and $10 million in federal funding. Our vision needs to be a movement that will build on the knowledge and passion of our local collaborators with support from a wider network of government, community, corporate and philanthropic partners. We also know that we’re on the leading edge of something big given the increasingly diverse and interesting range of organizations that reach out wanting to get involved.
This quarter we will launch a strategy to bring more participants into the Our Food Future initiative to help us broaden our impact and accelerate our circular food vision. We will be looking for new funders and strategic partners who believe in the need to transition towards a more sustainable, equitable and innovative food system, and look forward to working with them to help take Our Food Future to the next level.
If your organization is interested in discussing a strategic partnership or you are connected with well aligned sponsor organizations, please reach out to David Messer to start the conversation.
Sharing stories through data
Data collaboration has been a central pillar of our smart cities vision from the start. By connecting data elements from across the food system, we will better identify gaps, alignments and opportunities for food system innovation. In October we launched the Food Future Data Hub. Built on ESRI’s Premium Hub platform, this site houses over 50 food related open data sets from across our collaborator organizations. It also features maps, dashboards and rich media stories that detail many of the pressing food issues impacting our community.
- The SEED’s Home Delivery Food Program: An interactive story map detailing how The SEED and other food relief organizations adapted to COVID to meet urgent community needs. The story includes maps highlighting where there has been the greatest demand for emergency food delivery across our region.
- Map of Guelph and Wellington Food Access Points and Walk Times: An interactive map highlights every retail food outlet across Guelph and Wellington County overlaid with walk times to highlight the places in our region where cars are required to access food.
This year we look forward to expanding this important resource and welcome your input about the data and content that would be most useful to you and your organization.
Fantastic ideas are coming to life
Seeding Our Food Future was launched in response to the impact of COVID-19 on food related businesses. Of 76 applicants including businesses, non-profits and social enterprises in Guelph and Wellington County, 40 were selected to receive a grant, mentoring through the CFE iHub and resources valued at more than $10,000.
The project is rich with interesting ideas that are now being further developed. We can’t wait to share these stories in the coming year. Here are just a few examples:
A business that is adapting its living wall technology for indoor residential use so that more people can grow their own produce.
- A program to help local youth learn how to cook while also supporting better mental health.
- A project that aims to build a movement around reusable take-out food containers.
- A start-up creating soy liqueur from tofu run-off, thus using an otherwise disposed of by-product as the primary ingredient.
- A business/non-profit collaboration with one company using its organic food waste to “feed” hydroponic systems that then grow food for the local food bank.
- A company developing an online platform to connect growers and buyers to help producers determine demand for products before growing/producing them, with a goal of reducing food waste through better demand prediction.
This first intake will have notable and immediate economic impact by actively developing 10 new circular companies and five circular collaborations, safeguarding the survival of 25 food system companies hit hardest by COVID-19, and supporting an additional 42 new or existing businesses and collaborations with programming peripheral to the seed fund.
Perhaps most exciting, nearly three-quarters of the participants include a clearly expressed social purpose as an integral part of their mission or business model. With this concentrated focus on increasing access to nutritious food, reducing food waste, and mitigating environmental impact, the social benefits of this program will serve as a template for communities across Canada and beyond.
County-led resource and data gathering projects set for this Spring
Several initiatives will be underway in Wellington County in the first quarter of 2021, including:
- Navigating technology and connectivity: County farms and food businesses rely on Internet for everything from accounting to Zoom – especially over the past year. The need for strong rural broadband has never been greater. To help residents and businesses, the County of Wellington will be adding a new document to its Internet resource page. This guidebook is intended to help people navigate common technology solutions for farm properties.
- Engaging with local farms: Some key data-driven pilot projects are starting up this winter to explore usability and privacy issues from the farmers’ perspective. A tool for easier navigation of agricultural data privacy agreements will be developed, and a safe data-sharing network will be tested. These studies will be done in partnership with the University of Guelph, among others, and will be important pieces of building our connected circular economy. Project coordinators are still recruiting host farms to participate. Email Justine Dainard at the County Smart Cities office to learn more.
- Understanding resources for farm and food businesses: Regional food hubs can play an important role in supporting local producers, so the County will be undertaking a Food Hub Feasibility study this spring. The goal is to identify the services and infrastructure that our local agrifood industry needs, and to better understand where the gaps are. Does our area have the processing space and equipment that food businesses require? Is there a need for more distribution infrastructure? Your feedback will be welcomed as this information is collected.
Get to know our revitalized website
With the introduction of our Kitchen Table engagement platform last fall, and our new data hub site this month, and with the legacy website developed during the Smart Cities application process, Our Food Future had several different Internet sites to support the project. It was high time we did a little reorganizing!
A newly refurbished foodfuture.ca offers visitors a centralized, more seamless and dynamic experience as they navigate the site to find the information that matters to them.
From this new central landing page, you can easily pull up a seat at the Kitchen Table to participate in discussions or challenges, connect into the data hub, or access our growing list of stories, news and progress updates. A rich repository of the project’s applications and research is also accessible. I invite you to pop in for a tour and share the link with other in your network.
And finally… tune in soon to the new
Our Food Future podcast!
We have learned how important connecting, collaboration and sharing is to this project. This spring, we will launch an informative and interesting monthly podcast that will feature discussions with inspiring leaders in the circular economy, both locally and far beyond. It’s a great chance to have a deeper discussion on key issues. Watch our social media channel for details, and plan to tune in.
Thank you for your continuing support as we navigate the year ahead. I am confident we will have an opportunity to come together face-to-face this year to celebrate our achievements so far and continue to develop the exciting, important work before us.
In the meantime, stay safe and warm!
Smart Cities Office