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Our Food Future Guelph-Wellington – Canada’s first circular food economy

To create Canada's first circular food economy, a sustainable regional food ecosystem, supported by data and technology.

Photo of Barbara Swartzentruber
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

City of Guelph

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Government (City, State, National, etc.)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

To date we’ve engaged the following diverse groups as partners in this vision:  Residents from 13 distinct urban neighbourhoods and seven towns and townships, representing a diversity of demographics, including age, gender, culture, socioeconomics, levels of food insecurity and more  Farmers and food producers  Food businesses and social enterprises  Business and innovation support organizations  Funders and investors  Community collaborators (e.g., Yorklands Green Hub, Guelph & Wellington Task Force for Poverty Elimination, etc.)  Social service providers and agencies (e.g., YMCA-YWCA, library systems, Guelph Community Health Centre)  Educational institutions (public and separate schools, universities and colleges)  National and international innovation institutes and think tanks  Indigenous leaders and community experts  Regulators and three levels of government

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

City of Guelph/County of Wellington

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?


Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Guelph-Wellington covers an approximate total area of 2,748 km2 and is approximately 100 km west of downtown Toronto, Ontario, Canada

What country is your selected Place located in?


Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

City and County staff are leading this initiative- we believe cities and local government have an important role to play in creating a better vision for the food system of the future. The City of Guelph is a mid-sized city surrounded by Wellington County a peri-urban rural community and farmland. Together, Guelph-Wellington County is home to 1,600 food businesses and entrepreneurs in the areas of bio-tech, clean-tech, agri-tech and food processing; 40 agri-food research centres; the University of Guelph, Canada’s top agriculture and food university and a world-renowned centre of research and innovation in agriculture, agri-tech and food; Conestoga College, a Canadian leader in polytechnic education with specific strength in food processing technology; plus many provincial agricultural and food organizations. 

We have some of the greatest minds when it comes to food. From farmers and producers, to processors and distributors, to researchers and scientists—this is where food innovation can happen. Guelph-Wellington is located in the heart of the 112-kilometre Innovation Corridor that stretches from Toronto to Kitchener-Waterloo, encompassing seven universities, 15,000 high-tech companies, a critical mass of incubators, a high-quality talent pool and access to significant capital. 

But we are more than that. We are a community dedicated to agriculture, food and sustainability innovation. We have close to 400,000 acres of agricultural land and over 2,500 farms, host 10 farmers’ markets, commercial test kitchens, and an award-winning local food program (Taste Real) made up of more than 150 local farms, retailers, restaurants, wholesalers and other partners. Our desire to ensure we feel well and have a sense of home, to ensure that our neighoubours are taken care of and have access to affordable, nutritious food, positions us to capitalize on a natural rural-urban partnership and approach to create a sustainable regional food ecosystem.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Guelph is situated on treaty land that is steeped in rich indigenous history and home to many First Nations, Inuit and Métis people today. As a City we have a responsibility for the stewardship of the land on which we live and work. We acknowledge the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation of the Anishinabek Peoples on whose traditional territory we gather on.

The City of Guelph and County of Wellington are the food centre of Canada and are also at the heart of the Innovation Corridor. We’re rich in culture and history, architectural heritage and natural, open spaces. Our residents enjoy a combination of big-city amenities and small-town ambience. With abundant parklands and miles of trails to explore, no matter where you live in Guelph-Wellington, nature is right outside your door. The region’s thriving cultural scene features renowned music and food festivals, art galleries, theatre and fine restaurants — there’s something for everyone just about every day of the week.

The County of Wellington is made up of seven member municipalities including the Town of Erin, Town of Minto, Township of Wellington North, Township of Mapleton, Township of Centre Wellington, Township of Guelph/Eramosa and the Township of Puslinch.

The City of Guelph and County of Wellington are responsible for providing a number of services including operating a long-term care home, libraries, the museum and archives, maintaining roads and facilities, providing solid waste, water and wastewater, and recreation services, providing emergency first response and fire services, and supporting planning, development and engineering. In addition, the County of Wellington provides a number of social services to the residents of Wellington County and the City of Guelph such as childcare, subsidized housing, and income support programmes.

Guelph is a growing urban community with deep agricultural roots. The city is home to the University of Guelph and supports almost 1500 businesses/entrepreneurs in the Agri-Innovation sector and more than 1350 businesses in Advanced Manufacturing, Information and Communication Technology and Cleantech combined. The City of Guelph also provides a dedicated space for a year-round farmers’ market in the city’s downtown area.

Wellington County is predominantly agriculture and manufacturing and has an active economic development office that promotes the dynamic industries of the County. Additional activities include Taste Real Guelph-Wellington Local Food, RIDE WELL rural transportation pilot project and Invest Well Community Improvement Programme.

Vision, innovation and experimentation are in our blood. Led by potato breeder Dr. Gary Johnston, a research team at the University of Guelph created the Yukon Gold, the first Canadian-bred potato to be marketed and promoted by name. It received a Canadian license in 1980. Guelph’s Collegiate Vocational Institute (high school) had Canada’s first high school lunch cafeteria.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)


What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Around the world, 821 million people do not have enough food to live a healthy active life, and one in nine people are food insecure. Despite those staggering numbers we throw away approximately one third of all of the food we produce. Much of that ends up in landfill, where it creates methane: a greenhouse gas 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. 

If consumption and population growth trends continue, as anticipated, the global population will increase to 9.7 billion by 2050 and caloric demand will increase by 70 per cent.

The demand for innovation in food production, waste reduction and sustainable management is greater than it’s ever been. Global investment in agri-food/agri-tech reached $10.1 billion in 2017, up 29 per cent from the year before. These investments reflect a growing market for start-ups and innovators aimed at solving food challenges, offering more opportunities to incorporate circular food ideas into a sector that’s undergoing transformation.

Looking closer to home, in Guelph-Wellington, one in six families experience food insecurity, while the cost of healthy food has increased 27 per cent in the last eight years.The current work in our food system includes removing systemic barriers for Indigenous communities, New Canadians, and marginalized groups to access the type and quantity of food they need.  

Our current community’s challenges mirror global barriers in access to healthy foods as well as food loss in processing, retail and consumption. With the added environmental pressures from global warming, our region will be challenged to mitigate, innovate and adapt our social, environmental and economic practices. In order to meet the challenges before us, our agri-food industry must be able to compete in the global digital economy in order to thrive. Many established companies across multiple sectors have been disrupted by new business models and newly merged digital challengers. The transformative opportunities for agri-food certainly lie in leveraging data and developing digital strategies for market growth and innovation in existing and emerging markets. One of the challenges as we move towards 2050, will be to ensure that changing technological innovation is harnessed, and access to public data is maintained to ensure we can learn from the collective knowledge of our community locally and globally.  

We believe that our food system challenges are a microcosm of those faced nationally and internationally.  We see a great opportunity to utilize our urban-rural partnership to create a sustainable city-region food system that demonstrates the art of the possible for 2050.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Guelph-Wellington will become Canada’s first circular food economy, reimagining an inclusive food-secure ecosystem that increases access to affordable, nutritious food, where “waste” becomes a resource, new circular businesses and collaborations are created, and circular economic revenues power a green, sustainable economy. We will use the data revolution, technology, community collaboration and passion as the catalysts to propel our food economy. Within our local governments, we will look at our process and policies that enable system-wide changes.

Our Food Future is a rural/urban partnership, initially supported by funding through Infrastructure Canada’s Smart Cities Challenge. Technology and data are already are already impacting every aspect of our agri-food system and can help us innovate, but only if we have a clear vision for the future shaped by informed and engaged residents. That is why we are utilizing the framework of the circular economy, learning from smart city concepts, and engaging our entire community to create the needed system level change.

Our vision is driven by a balanced quadruple bottom line- purpose, people, planet and shared prosperity.

To realize a vision that is greater than our community, our initiative is replicable and scalable. We are committed to working in an open source format, creating interoperable and portable data-driven solutions that can be broadly adapted and replicated by other communities. The social innovation, community capacity building and intervention strategies we develop through Our Food Future can be applied well beyond our local food system. Our knowledge dissemination strategy includes the production of a circular food economy roadmap, so other jurisdictions can create their own sustainable food economies.

We aim to create self-sustaining model that will live well past the end of the initiative. Leaders from every sector are engaged in leading our projects supported by cross-sectorial round tables to ensure that change happens throughout the system. We are creating a Harve$t Impact Fund and coordinating a funding and financing ecosystem that will fuel the economic and social transition by investing in new circular food business and collaborations.

Finally, our initiative is truly transformative. We intend to leverage the funding and prize money not just to complete a series of projects but to create critically needed system-level change, first locally, then nationally and globally. We have established collaborations with national and international organizations to ensure we are contributing to a global knowledge base. We are also working closely with a range of food businesses, federations of farmers/agriculture and the Circular Economy Leadership Coalition with international members such as Unilever and Walmart.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

Today’s linear “take-make-dispose” food system is unsustainable—economically, socially and environmentally.  We believe that if we rethink the model of this food system, we will be able to help remake the world.

Close your eyes and imagine a community where every resident has access to the healthy, nutritious food they need and a food system where there’s no such thing as waste. Imagine a living lab that promotes collaboration between food entrepreneurs, farmers, researchers and social innovators—and a rural-urban partnership that leverages smart technology to make it all possible. Now open your eyes and welcome to Guelph-Wellington, home to Canada’s first circular food economy.

Guelph-Wellington aims to reimagine how we produce, distribute, sell and consume food by bringing people, data and technology together to allow ideas to spark and grow.

Instead of relying on today’s linear model, we will minimize waste and extract more value by keeping as much energy, nutrients and materials as possible cycling through the system. This rural-urban partnership will enhance access to nutritious food, reduce our carbon footprint, turn “waste” into valuable resources and create new economic opportunities.

We call this initiative “Our Food Future.” Our goals are to increase access to affordable, nutritious food, create new circular businesses and collaborations and increase circular economic revenues by recognizing the value of “waste”.  But it doesn’t end there. We know that to achieve this we need to engage and empower the entire community, including youth in elementary school through post-secondary. By integrating people from all corners of the community, we will ensure that innovation is inclusive and linked to the needs of our community. We will rely on building the capacity throughout the community so that together we can continue to adapt and realize Our Food Future well into 2050. 

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Imagine a food system where there’s no such thing as waste and where every resident has access to the healthy, nutritious food they need. Imagine a living lab that promotes collaboration between food entrepreneurs, farmers, researchers and social innovators—and a rural-urban partnership that leverages smart technology to make it all possible. A global transformation has begun—and Guelph-Wellington aims to lead the way.

The structure of today’s linear “take-make-dispose” food system is unsustainable—economically, socially and environmentally. Guelph-Wellington aims to address these issues by creating Canada’s first circular food economy, reimagining how we produce, distribute, sell and consume food.

We’d like to introduce you to the Bahars. The Bahars immigrated to Guelph from Syria in 2020. When they landed in Guelph, the family had limited resources. They were introduced to sliding scale markets which allowed them to access healthy, nutritious food. While Fatima wanted to remain close to home to care for Yara, their three-year-old daughter, she also wanted to contribute to her new community. Fatima was one of the first volunteers at the Our Food Future Newcomer Farm project sharing her knowledge of farming helping to grow fruits, vegetables and herbs from her home country. This enabled her and her family to maintain their cultural values and diet in their new home.

Over the next 30 years, Yara grew up knowing that food was not waste; that what older generations threw away could still be used. She benefited from access to fresh, local food, not knowing that this was once a challenge for her community. Since graduating with certificate in Circular Food Systems from a local post-secondary institution, Yara has taken on a job with a newly formed agri-tech firm that accesses open data on food and waste flows. She helps to monitor and refine the firms systems to ensure they are minimizing food waste.

Fatima took the skills she came to Guelph with and teamed up with local organizations to learn new business skills. She took her skills and built a farm producing many of the vegetables she enjoyed in her home country. With the help of Provision Collision she was able to ensure her farm was part of the circular food economy and sell carbon credits on the market to improve the quality of life and environment for those she now calls friends.

Each summer, Yara and Fatima join in local celebrations of food in Guelph and Wellington County. They celebrate their collective successes – over 75 per cent of the food generated in Guelph-Wellington, stays in the region – and toast to a future that will continue to benefit them, their neighbours, and other communities who have learned from the Our Food Future example.

The world that Fatima helped to create, and that Yara grew up knowing, was possible because of the Our Food Future initiative.

Leveraging local expertise, big data and the latest in digital agriculture and other smart technologies, we will transform our food ecosystem. The result will be a connected “living lab” where researchers, social innovators, farmers, entrepreneurs and other community partners collaborate to solve complex food problems. We will focus on the environment and technology, economics, culture and diet, and policy, together.

Environment and Technology
Our vision is to reimagine, reuse and revalue the input and outputs of our food ecosystem—maximizing their use, eliminating waste, optimizing economic value and reducing negative environmental impacts.

Project: Circularity in Municipal Waste Systems
How could we make better use of food production by-products, normally considered “waste”? We’ll work with local partners to identify opportunities for synergies to divert as much organic material from landfill as possible. Through a Value Stream Mapping lab, stakeholders can will come together to pinpoint where we can reduce food loss and waste at each stage of the food value chain, from raw inputs to the final consumer, and design opportunities for appropriate reuse.

Project: Circular Carbon Credits
The City of Guelph already produces carbon offset credits by capturing methane from its landfill. To leverage those credits, we’re exploring the possibility of developing a carbon-backed digital social currency. Using block chain technology or a similar distributed ledger technology, we’ll create a currency that can be traded at the local level to increase awareness and reward sustainable food choices. We’re also examining the feasibility of aggregating carbon credits from food and beverage companies. Our vision is to sell those credits and then use the proceeds to fund further waste-reduction initiatives within the processing sector.

Project: Business Tools and Services
In this project, we’ll develop, curate and share a suite of circular economy tools and diagnostics. The results will include: baseline data and interventions for the processing sector, utilizing measurement and sensor technology, a key performance indicators dashboard for waste, and best practices for reducing municipal food waste.

One of those tools is the Food Loss + Waste resource created by the Provision Coalition, a national non‐profit organization in Guelph that helps food and beverage companies become more sustainable. Already, through Our Food Future, this toolkit helped a local brewery reduce $368,000 in food waste and avoid 275 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.

Solutions happen faster through collaboration. Together, we’ll use data, technology and innovative thinking to solve food system challenges and create new circular businesses, jobs and social enterprises. We’ll also create new training opportunities (particularly for women, youth and marginalized populations) to prepare local residents to work in the new food economy.

Project: Circular Food Economy Innovation Hub (iHub)
Powered by the iHub, Guelph-Wellington will become a rural-urban living lab where social innovators, researchers, industry, technology developers and the community converge to solve complex, challenging problems. As the innovation engine of Our Food Future, the iHub will drive the use of data and build the necessary technological capacity to support a sustainable regional food economy.

Project: The Harve$t Impact Fund
Great ideas need funding to become reality. This project will help circular food businesses and collaborations attract financial support. The Harve$t Impact Project will act as a matchmaker, connecting investors with change-makers who are applying circular ideas, data and technology to food problems. The Harve$t Impact Fund will also provide non-repayable start-up capital to high-potential projects.

Project: New Food Economy Skills and Training
Capitalizing on the institutional resources, skills and talent in our community, we will provide food innovation education and training, as well as public learning labs to develop and promote innovative food policies and ideas.

Culture and Diet
We want to reimagine a “smart” food system that better ensures food security and healthier outcomes—a system that also recognizes equity and dignity for all, better manages food resources to serve a diverse and vibrant community and celebrates the importance of good food in our everyday lives.

Project: “Reimagine Food” Awareness Campaign
Through a public awareness campaign, we will educate Guelph-Wellington residents on the real costs of food waste, boost demand for the products of a circular economy and build stronger relationships between regional food producers and consumers.

Project: Assess the Guelph-Wellington Food Environment
This project will provide baseline data by mapping the state of access to nutritious food and community food assets in Guelph-Wellington. We’ll incorporate on‐the‐ground research, surveys and GIS mapping. By using big-data techniques to analyze all this information, we’ll be able to understand what we have and where the gaps lie—and we’ll make that information freely available through a public dashboard.

Population growth in urban centres means more waste from the entire food system ends up in urban landfills. Food insecurity, unhealthy diets and obesity are all contributing to rising health care costs, and affecting overall community resilience. Long distance food distribution chains, delivery systems, food waste and the resulting impact of climate change from these and other practices are impacting municipal infrastructure and services.

We will work with partners to integrate agri-food and climate mitigation and adaptation strategies, educate residents on ways to limit food loss and waste, modernize bylaws to support urban agriculture, return organic materials as compost to local farms, utilize procurement powers to encourage circular economy approaches, create connections to local rural food producers to shorten supply chains, support rural economies, and more.

Project: Circular Food Security and Health Action Plan
We’ll use the insights from our mapping project to develop a Food Security and Health Action Plan in collaboration with local agencies and community groups. This plan will establish new intervention models and evidence-based policies to create effective investments in community‐based programs and policies, greater physical and economic access to nutritious foods, well-informed and empowered residents, and ultimately, improved population health outcomes.


Through Our Food Future, we’re going to ramp up and amplify our community’s passion and dedication to envision regenerative and nourishing food for our future. Our vision is one of bold partnerships including all levels of government, the for-profit and non-profit sectors as well as community leadership.

But the benefits won’t be limited to Guelph-Wellington. We’ll also create resources and best practices that we can share across the country and around the world, helping other communities move towards a circular food economy.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Prize partners


Join the conversation:

Photo of Rene Shahmohamadloo

Looking forward to the possibility of collaborating if our Visions align. I will send an email to Ashlee.

Photo of Barbara Swartzentruber

Yes - please connect with us!