A food smart city

Guelph is ideally positioned to create Canada’s first circular food economy

The city of Guelph, Ont. and its surrounding county of Wellington are undertaking a major initiative to transform the area into Canada’s first circular food economy. The goal? To achieve a 50% increase in access to affordable, nutritious food; 50 new circular food business and collaboration opportunities; and a 50% increase in revenues by reducing or transforming food waste. As the city’s website explains, the aim is to create “a food system where there’s no such thing as waste, every citizen has access to healthy food, and new businesses are created as a result.”

Under the headline of “Our Food Future,” the region is putting its vision at the heart of the joint proposal for Infrastructure Canada’s Smart Cities Challenge, and was selected to be awarded $250,000 to further develop its bid with a chance to win a $10-million prize next March. To clarify their bid and define the Our Food Future vision, county and city food leaders have engaged with members of their communities’ agri-food, business, academic and social sectors, as well as members of the public, in order to identify challenges and opportunities.

If any region is set up for success in this initiative, it’s Guelph-Wellington. For years, Guelph has been quietly establishing itself as a Canadian centre for agriculture, food research and innovation. According to the City of Guelph website, Guelph-Wellington is home to more than 1,600 food businesses and entrepreneurs and more than 40 research institutes and centres related to agri-food. The region has representation across the entire food system value chain, from agricultural production and research through to commercialization, food and beverage manufacturing and retail markets, according to Barbara Maly, manager, economic development for the City of Guelph.

READ: University of Guelph launches food research labs

“Guelph-Wellington is recognized as a global leader in solving food problems,” said Derrick Thomson, chief administrative officer, City of Guelph, in a release. “We are excited to embark on this new stage of innovation together with our community. Simply put, there’s no better place to re-invent the food system than Guelph-Wellington: agri-food innovation is in the community DNA.”

Most Canadians are aware of the renowned food and agriculture programs at the University of Guelph, but may not be familiar with specific programs at the university like Accelerator Guelph, which is focused on commercializing discoveries from academic research specializing in food and agriculture.

Then there’s the university’s Arrell Food Institute, which has the lofty goal of “transforming global food systems and elevating Canada’s place within the global food economy” through its world- class food research and education.

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The city is also home to the non-profit Ontario Agri-Food Technologies, providing services to ag businesses including funding for research, export and international sales opportunities; as well as Provision Coalition, an organization that provides tools, assessments and services to help companies reduce food waste and decrease their environmental impact.

Some of the food-related government agencies with offices in Guelph include the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Agriculture and Agri-food Canada, and the Ontario Ministry of Food and Agriculture. And on the manufacturing side, the city is home to countless notable facilities including a beef processing facility operated by Cargill, two Maple Leaf Foods facilities, a dairy product processing facility operated by Gay Lea Foods, and many, many more.

With all this momentum in the food research, innovation and production/manufacturing space behind it, Guelph-Wellington seems perfectly positioned to create what it is calling “Canada’s first food smart community”—and the impact of this work is sure to go well beyond just winning the big prize in Infrastructure Canada’s challenge.

This article appeared in Canadian Grocer’s December/January issue.