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Envisioning a food system based on truly integrative agricultural practices for 2050

To develop a framework outlining a set of practices that will maximize food production and minimize environmental footprints

Photo of Rene Shahmohamadloo
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

University of Guelph

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Researcher Institution

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?


Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?


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

Southwestern Ontario is a sub-region in the Canadian province of Ontario, and covers approximately 75,000 km^2.

What country is your selected Place located in?


Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

The applicants live, recreate and work in the heart of Southwestern Ontario. Southwestern Ontario is situated west of Toronto and occupies most of the Ontario Peninsula, which is bounded by Lake Huron to the north and northwest; the St. Clair River, Lake St. Clair, and Detroit River, to the west; and Lake Erie to the south. The area also includes the Grand River watershed, which consists of all the land that drains into the Grand River through tributary creeks and rivers. The landscape is a prosperous agricultural region with crop, vegetable and fruit production as well as domestic livestock operations.

As with many agricultural landscapes, the long history and dominant presence of agriculture in Southwestern Ontario has led to a number of environmental concerns including deteriorating soil health and water quality and reduced biodiversity due to loss of habitat and a changing climate. Surrounded by three Great Lakes, the intimate and precarious connection between land and water is perhaps more obvious here than in other areas of intense agricultural activity. This is clearly manifest, for example, by the increasing frequency and intensity of nuisance and harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie, the recipient of most streams draining southwestern Ontario watersheds. This region therefore presents an excellent test case for the application of the framework that forms the foundation of our vision. Moreover, the University of Guelph and the Ontario Agricultural College (OAC), the home institution of the lead applicants, has a 150-year legacy of fostering and applying agricultural technology, engaging the farming community, and collaborating with provincial agencies in developing policy. The reputation of the University of Guelph in the field of agriculture and food security is the best in Canada and among the top 10 globally. Indeed, our longstanding partnership with government, industry, and other stakeholders has helped make us Canada’s Food University.

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.

Ontario is Canada’s most culturally diverse province with over 200 countries represented from across the globe. With such a rich diversity in culture comes a reshaping in what Ontarians eat, and many have developed a taste for a more diverse consumer palate. Ontario’s agri-food sector contributes over $37 billion to the province’s gross domestic product, employs over 800,000 people, and produces more than 200 types of foods. Ontarians can increasingly enjoy locally grown and produced foods that were once imported from abroad, such as okra, lassi, Asian eggplant, and shrimp. Newcomers to the province have created new opportunities to market locally grown and processed world foods. Recent studies have shown that Canadians of Chinese, South Asian, and Afro-Caribbean backgrounds tend to consume more fresh vegetables and spend more of their household income on fresh produce. In fact, most of Ontario’s consumers have indicated that they would cook international recipes if the necessary ingredients were offered at their local supermarket. In response to this growing demand, farmers and processors have diversified the types of foods they offer.

Southwestern Ontario experiences some of the mildest climate in the country. Although winter experiences brief periods of severe weather, summers are usually hot and humid with a longer growing season than in most areas of Canada. It is not surprising then that Ontario contributes over one-quarter (49,600) of all farms in Canada and employs 82,058 people. Over 9.0 million acres of land is used to grow major field crops including soybeans (1,126,419 ha), grain corn (874,931 ha), and winter wheat (437,213 ha); vegetables including potatoes (14,037 ha), sweet corn (9,271 ha), and green peas (6,583 ha); fruits including grapes (7,575 ha), apples (6,432 ha), and peaches (2,117 ha); and raising domestic livestock including dairy and beef cows (548,000), broilers and roasters (33,818,000), and pigs (3,534,000). Although gross farm receipts total near $15.1 billion, operating expenses total approximately $12.8 billion. On average, for every dollar in receipts, farms incurred an expense-to-receipt ratio of 0.85 (;

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.

Imagine a food production system in which food security, ecosystem health, and human health are explicitly integrated. In Southwestern Ontario, as in many parts of the world, the current approach to food production is dominated by a desire to maximize production through intensification. In part, this is achieved through the prophylactic application of fertilizers and pesticides and increasing emphasis on large-scale farming operations. This approach, while helping to ensure an adequate food supply for Southwestern Ontario residents, comes with a number of significant challenges. A key challenge [Challenge 1] is managing the environmental footprint that intensive production systems have on the landscape. Our current approach often comes at the expense environmental health which many recent studies have shown is declining globally in agricultural landscapes as indicated by biodiversity losses, including beneficial insects such as natural predators and pollinators, declining soil health, poor water quality and the associated loss of ecosystem services. Another key challenge [Challenge 2] is the changing climate. Recent estimates suggest a temperature increase of 3.6°C by 2050 in Ontario. Overall, temperatures are expected to increase “by 2.4°C in summer and 5.3°C in winter.” Currently, Southern Ontario experiences 8 days of >30°C weather during summer. By 2050, it is expected to rise to 16 days of >30°C weather. Precipitation patterns are predicted to increase by 24% in winter and 12% in spring, with summer and fall remaining approximately the same. This translates to more intense and localized rainstorm events (e.g. flash flooding in urban areas) during wet seasons. Extreme rainfall events are more likely to drain off field rather than percolate into the ground; the increased run-off will carry stored nutrients (particularly soil-bound phosphorus) and agrichemicals to recipient waterbodies. Extreme weather events are more unpredictable in time and variable in space affecting the capacity for planning for crop production and weed and insect pest control, and predicted increases in temperature will increase the likelihood of new plant diseases and invasive weed and insect species entering Southwestern Ontario. A final challenge [Challenge 3] is the existence of outdated regulatory policies and/or agricultural practices and an intransigence to change among the agricultural community.

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

Our vision is to develop a framework that can be applied in Southwestern Ontario (and elsewhere) that emphasizes an integrative approach; one in which agriculture can be practised in harmony with the objective of preserving (and even enhancing) ecological integrity in intensively managed agricultural landscapes. The framework will incorporate recommendations for regulatory and policy changes governing agricultural practice [Challenge 3]. This will require subscription and participation by governments at all levels and the agricultural community. A key requirement for success in addressing this challenge are government incentive programs, such as those currently being offered in the State of Ohio in the United States, aimed at reducing fertilizer inputs to Lake Erie. In Ontario, the government recently (2016) implemented a "use-as-needed" program for Class 12 pesticides (neonicotinoids) to mitigate the amount of these chemicals being used in agriculture and reduce risks to aquatic organisms and pollinators [Challenges 1,3]. While refinement of the latter program is needed to enhance its effectiveness, it serves as an example of the creative programs/policies that will be needed to advance the objectives of the framework. Incorporation of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) principles and increased development of and subscription to Beneficial Management Practices (BMP’s) by the agricultural community is also a key component of the framework. IPM, by its very definition is integrative with the goal of reducing pesticide use. BMP’s, of which there are many but which are often voluntary in Southwestern Ontario, can mitigate soil loss, fertilizer and pesticide run-off, and promote greater diversity on the landscape through implementation of enhanced habitat features (e.g., riparian buffers; edge-of-field habitat). These will need to be promoted in conjunction with government incentive programs but would, in part, address all three of the above-listed challenges. The framework also argues, uniquely we believe, for the adoption of “landscape by design” which emphasizes a land sharing approach to promote enhanced ecological integrity. Riparian buffers and enhanced edge-of-field habitat are two examples; the key is to incentivize farmers to set aside marginal agricultural land to create and connect habitat, particularly hotspots such as wet areas, on the landscape to promote increased biodiversity. The latter would increase the resilience of the landscape and its features to the predicted increased disturbances brought about by a changing climate [Challenge 2]. Overall, implementing the framework would lead to reductions in the amount of fertilizers and pesticides used, promoting healthier soil and aquatic environments; government-incentivized land sharing programs would promote increased biodiversity, the positive feedback of which could ensure comparable or even improved food production.

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.

We expect that successful implementation of our vision will in time lead to more sustainable agricultural practices without sacrificing the economic viability of farmers. We recognize that our vision will not be achievable if it means that the farming community, which often operates at marginal profitability, must sacrifice income due to reduced production. The absence of government participation (e.g., incentive programs) may be the greatest challenge we face in implementing our framework. We envision that food production will continue to adapt and change to shifting demographic demands (e.g., food varieties grown), technological innovation, and be profitable for the agricultural community but that this will occur within an enhanced commitment to environmental sustainability. With the implementation of the framework that lies at the heart of our vision in agricultural landscapes, we expect to see reductions in the amount of fertilizers and chemicals required to grow food and combat pests and commensurate reductions in the occurrence and levels of fertilizers and chemicals entering soils and waterways. Increased habitat will beget enhanced biodiversity on the landscape. With a healthier, more diverse and resilient environment, people living in the region will benefit from enhanced ecosystem services such as cleaner water; enhanced recreational opportunities (e.g., swimming, fishing, canoeing); and greater connection to the landscape (e.g., physical and spiritual experiences from interacting with nature). With a greater variety of products grown in Southwestern Ontario, food —a uniting factor in most social gatherings— will reflect the rich cultural diversity of the province.

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

The twenty-first century will present some of the greatest challenges in human history to feed the world’s growing population. Southern Ontario is well positioned to lead the intensification of agriculture that will be needed to meet the growing and changing demands of food supply for 2050, not only for its residents but also for export to global markets. Indeed, the problem in places like Southern Ontario is not so much producing food (we do that well) but rather how we produce it. Intensification to meet growing demands will be necessary but it can no longer come at the expense of environmental health. Our vision of an integrative approach to agriculture in southwestern Ontario is that food production must better and more explicitly recognize the importance of enhancing the health of the ecosystems in which it takes place. Fortunately, there is enormous potential over the next 30 years for advanced technological innovations in food production on the landscape which, when coupled with rapidly growing environmental awareness and an increasing desire to address the world’s environmental issues (e.g., Green New Deals) portends well for truly sustainable agriculture. In this context of greater public awareness, we believe that our vision and the framework articulated therein will provide the foundation for a future featuring more sustainable food production systems.  Below, we outline how we believe our framework addresses the six interconnected themes (Environment, Diets, Economics, Culture, Technology, and Policy) listed in the Vision document.

Environment. Greater biodiversity on the landscape imparts greater resiliency of its systems to stressors, including climate change. One strategy alone cannot address the multiple stressors imposed on the agricultural landscape through its practices. Multiple strategies are required and these must be integrated in a system of approaches (e.g., framework) to be able to respond to an increasingly dynamic environment. Integrative approaches like IPM, which make use of cultural, physical, biological and chemical methods, can suppress pest populations below the economic injury level using fewer fertilizers and chemicals, thus reducing the waste that typically accompanies the prophylactic application of these agents. Integrated Crop Management (ICM), a system of crop management that incorporates BMP’s and (often) indigenous knowledge, is designed to conserve and enhance natural resources while producing food on an economically viable and sustainable foundation, shares many goals with IPM. Together, IPM and ICM are powerful tools for farmers who already understand their land, and who are willing to adapt these methods meet the emerging environmental challenges due to climate change (e.g., unpredictability of rainfall). IPM and ICM methods will be supported by BMP’s promoted by governments and farming organizations to further reduce environmental risks. This integrated approach enables systems to be more resilient. For example, the greater diversity in agricultural landscapes that would be expected through land sharing programs could promote greater resilience to the unpredictable changes expected from climate change. The greater resilience afforded by the application of the sustainable framework that we envision will enhance the many ecosystem services provided by healthier soils and waterbodies (e.g., reduced instances of harmful algal blooms in Southwestern Ontario and Great Lakes waters).

Diets. The relationship between a healthy environment and human health has been well documented through history. However, our vision is not one that is focused specifically on nutritional/dietary aspects of food. Rather, ours is a broader perspective on the overall health of the environment in food production systems (e.g., pollutant reduction; increased biodiversity leading to greater ecosystem resilience in the face of climate change).  Weak policies, entrenched agricultural practices (“we have always done it this way”), and the prevailing economic climate can lead to intransigence and resistance to change. This will be a significant challenge that we will face in attempting to implement our framework, but we believe firmly that more diverse agricultural landscapes will be more resilient ecologically (to climate change), healthier (less fertilizers and chemicals), and could promote improved human health through more sustainable food production practices. For example, a reduction in the use of pesticides, as would be expected with stronger adoption of IPM/ICM practices and "use-as-needed" programs, would be expected to reduce the occurrence and/or amount of pesticide residues on food prodcued in Southwestern Ontario. 

Economics. The 2016 Census of Agriculture found fewer than 1% of Canadians are farm operators. Yet, all Canadians participate in the agri-food sector when they go grocery shopping and make food choices. The 2011 Census of Agriculture counted the highest number of farms in Ontario with 25.3%. According to the 2011 Census of Agriculture, the number of farms with $500,000 or more (at 2010 constant prices) of 2010 gross farm receipts increased by 5.8% between censuses, and those with less than $500,000 decreased by 10.7%. There were 5,609 of these larger farms in Ontario in 2011, and while they represented 10.8% of all farms in the province, they accounted for 68.1% of total provincial gross farm receipts reported for the year 2010 (

We do not envision that implementation of our vision will yield reductions in productivity and profitability to farmers, although, in order to increase the amount of land in agricultural landscapes dedicated to biodiversity promotion, it is likely that trade-offs will be needed. That is, some agricultural land (ideally, marginal land with low economic value in terms of production) will need to be taken out of production. This land sharing approach will represent a potential revenue loss to farmers, which is why government-based incentive programs are critical. Most farming operations, particularly smaller farms, live close to the economic profit line; giving up marginal land as part of a land sharing program is a significant commitment. Government-based incentive programs will be needed to compensate farmers for lost revenues. We see this as one of the key vulnerabilities of our framework.

Culture. Farmers often view themselves as the stewards of the land, because of the intimate connection that they have to the land they cultivate. Therefore, capacity building with Southwestern Ontario farmers is a key component of the process. It will be important understand the how the knowledge that farmers have about their land can be integrated within the proposed framework. To achieve this, identifying what techniques are commonly used in Southwestern Ontario farming, notably in the context of IPM, ICM and BMP’s, will be need to be established. A key question is how we can develop a culture where farmers apply fertilizers and pesticides on as as-needed basis at appropriate levels? How can we develop a shared learning model where farmers can ply their trade under a common framework that emphasizes the harmony of practising agriculture and preserving the ecological integrity of landscapes but not sacrifice economic profitability

Youth involvement is of special importance in developing a framework that emphasizes the new approach to agriculture we are promoting. In 2016, the average age of the farmer was 55.0 years old, and 9.1% of farmers were under the age of 35. We envision educating a new generation of farmers in Southwestern Ontario with a greater understanding of climate change, its associated impacts on systems, and IPM methods and BMP’s that can be implemented to adapt to a dynamic environment (e.g. in-class and experiential learning opportunities).

Technology. Our vision will incorporate advances in technology but will not require or necessarily lead to the development of new technologies (though we cannot discount this possibility given the time horizon of 2050 and the exponential rates of technological advances in most industries, including agriculture). For example, advances in remote sensing and satellite technologies could prove very helpful to identify landscape features and marginal crop production land in agricultural areas that could be set aside as part of the land sharing component of the framework. Ideally, we envision farmers accepting and adapting technology as needed to suit their purposes but not to be forced into new approaches if not desired.

Policy. Pesticide monitoring programs are generally weak and piecemeal in Southwestern Ontario and Canada at large. There is a need for a coordinated, government-directed monitoring system. An integral component of our Vision sees farmers (whether small- or large-scale) at the forefront of applying BMP’s and IPM/ICM principles within diverse agricultural landscapes. In order to make this Vision a reality, government policies can be implemented to: promote financial incentive programs; promote set-back programs (e.g., land sharing); promote a more rational approach to pesticide management in Canada (e.g. pesticide monitoring); promote ecologically diverse agricultural landscapes; stronger adherence to IPM/ICM methods and BMP’s; and, enhanced monitoring (i.e. biological, chemical) in agricultural landscapes and nearby streams to support the decision-making process. Our vision is based on the premise that current government policies in Southwestern Ontario are failing to promote a more holistic approach to agriculture; one that incorporates incentives to promote environmental and human health, culture, financial well-being, and economic prosperity.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Email
  • Website

Describe how your Vision developed over the course of the Refinement Phase.

In the first round, our Vision for agricultural change in Southwestern Ontario focused on environmental sustainability. In the Refinement Phase, we used systems thinking to integrate environment, diet, economy, culture and technology. The result is a Vision that truly articulates an integrated and transformed food production system: An agrosystem. We engaged local agencies and experts in the region. We learned about the growing passion for regenerative agriculture; that nourishing foods can be produced, and economic security enhanced, as part of circular economies based on regenerative principles; that technology must play an important role but integration must be measured and inclusive of the knowledge accrued by farmers over decades of farming. Sustainability lies at the core of our Vision and we believe we will achieve this for our region by adopting an agrosystems approach. Our refined Vision for Southwestern Ontario in 2050 will be the gold standard in regenerative agriculture.

Please provide the names of all organizations you meaningfully partnered with to develop this latest version of your Vision (they contributed at least 10 hours of time to the Vision development during the Refinement Phase).

During the Refinement Phase, we meaningfully partnered with the following organizations. All are firmly rooted in Southwestern Ontario.

  1. Arrell Food Institute of the University of Guelph (AFI) — Research institution

  2. Ontario Agricultural College of the University of Guelph (OAC) — Research institution

  3. Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario (EFAO) — NGO

  4. Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (OSCIA) — NGO

  5. Alternative Land Use Systems for Canada (ALUS) — NGO

  6. Guelph-Wellington Our Food Future Initiative (GWOFFI) — Government

  7. Dr. Catherine Febria Canada Research Chair in Freshwater Restoration Ecology, Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research, University of Windsor — Research institution

  8. Dr. Thorston Arnold from the Grey Bruce Centre for Agroecology (GBCA) — Senior Analyst and Farmer

  9. Blair Cameron from Ward1 Studios — Film Director

Describe the specific steps you took during the Refinement phase to include different stakeholders to develop your Vision, including a description (age, profile, and total number) of the stakeholders engaged, and how you engaged with each.

We facilitated meetings with each stakeholder to integrate their ideas into our Vision. We also created an engaging film. Due to the pandemic, development/writing/editing occurred remotely which presented challenges for engaging partners.

  1. AFI (4 years): Conducts research, trains the next generation of food leaders and shapes social, industrial and government decision-making, with regional and global food security as the central priority.

  1. OAC (146 years): internationally renowned for its research, teaching and knowledge extension in the areas of food, agriculture, communities and environment.

  1. EFAO (41 years): Focuses on farmer-led education, research and community building by bringing farmers together to learn from each other and improve the economic and environmental health of their systems.

  1. OSCIA (81 years): Facilitates responsible management of soil, water, air and crops through development and communication of innovative farming practices (e.g., Environmental Farm Plans).

  1. ALUS (13 years): Enable Canadians to provide direct support to a national network of farmers and ranchers delivering ecosystem services in their communities.

  1. GWOFFI (1 year): Creating Canada’s first circular food economy by increasing access to affordable, nutritious food; creating new collaborations and social enterprises; and increasing economic revenues by reducing food waste.

  1. Catherine Febria (35-40 years): Specializes in transformational change related to farm and freshwater sustainability in the Great Lakes basin taking a co-production approach centering on farming communities & Indigenous rights-holders in agricultural freshwater restoration.

  1. Thorsten Arnold (40-45 years): Their mission is to create a resilient and fair food system that is rooted in healthy soils and thrives on diversity, local knowledge and the sharing of experience.

  2. Blair Cameron (34 years): Extensive experience in corporate communications that helps to effectively and creatively communicate visions through film.

What signals and trends did you draw from to inform your Vision? Please provide data or examples that back up each signal or trend.

Economics. Small-scale farms have declined ~2.5% over the past 5 years [1]; farmers applying regenerative principles and participating in circular food economies comprise a small fraction (<15%) of food production in Ontario [1] and many struggle to remain economically competitive in an era favoring industrial agriculture and food production conglomerates; COVID-19 has exposed vulnerability in a food system heavily dependent on access to limited processors and migrant workers to sustain farm/greenhouse operations.

Environment. Soil health in Ontario is declining [2] and soil loss is increasing due to climate-driven increases in the intensity/frequency of rain events; perennial land is being rapidly converted into monocultures [17]; habitat loss has resulted in declining biodiversity [3,4]; severe harmful algal blooms in the Great Lakes are more frequent due to increased leaching of nutrients; and some pesticides occur at levels exceeding risk thresholds.

Policy. Ontario policies are progressive compared to some jurisdictions but promotion and enforcement varies in relation to political incumbents, farm plans are voluntary with moderate subscription rates, and government monitoring programs are poor. Grass roots organizations (OSCIA, ALUS, EFAO, GBCA) are increasingly successful in convincing small-scale farmers to adopt more sustainable practices but lack of government incentive programs constrains farmer uptake.

Diets. In Ontario, 595,000 households are food insecure [5]; 1/6 families are food insecure in the Guelph-Wellington region due to high costs of purchasing safe, nutritious food [6]; 33% of food products are wasted — $12 billion worth of food annually in the province; rates of type II diabetes and coronary heart disease are increasing due to dietary choices; these are countered by the emergence of plant-based “meat” products driven by consumer desire for sustainable alternative protein sources.

Culture. Competitive disadvantage and high cost of farmland/equipment have driven many small farms out of business and agriculture is an unattractive career choice for younger individuals. Older, multi-generational, young progressive farmers and Indigenous rights-holders alike share visions of farming to benefit future generations, but support for investing in sustainable farming practices is limited. But, interest in locally-produced and ethnic foods is increasing to meet the demands of the province’s growing cultural diversity.

Technology. Technology is advancing at rates not accessible or affordable to many farmers. New technologies are replaced before they can be put into full practice and poor rural internet connectivity means farmers cannot keep pace with technological innovation and its costs; yet, some farmers are adopting technologies (e.g., sensor technology, precision agriculture) that increase yields and decrease inputs, increasing prosperity; technology is a gateway to attract and retain young people in agriculture.

Describe a “Day in the Life” of a key food system actor within your food system in 2050 (e.g., farmer, chef, supply chain actor, food policy actor, etc.).

Here we present a “Day in the Life” of Sierra, a 45-year old farmer who adopted regenerative agricultural practices many years ago. The storyline of Sierra continues in the Fully Refined Vision.

Tuesday, June 21, 2050

Dear Diary:

Today was gorgeous weather! Two days in a row of brilliant sunshine and a cool breeze. After a week of heavy rain and heat warnings, the fields have come alive, verdant and flourishing. With all the rain, the strawberries have exploded although it looks like some are developing mould. This isn’t the case for the cucumbers, which seem to be adapting well to the recent weather patterns. I should consult with Liam at our next board meeting about bringing a hydroponics system to the farm. He mentioned there are some wonderful infrastructure programs being offered by the provincial government that might help solve our strawberry issues. Which reminds me! While I was delivering cucumbers to the cooperative, I ran into Imani. She received funding to bring on two undergraduates to research the effect of regenerative farming practices on biodiversity in Southwestern Ontario. I will be sure to follow up with her on my invitation to have the students do their research on the farm. They need to get their hands dirty (so much of what they learn today is taught online). But even more, (selfish mother, maybe?), I want this opportunity for my daughter to interact with older youth. Jade turned 15 last week and mentioned she wants to pursue a career in agriculture. My father taught me, and I truly believe, that it takes a community to raise a child. Thank goodness for Liam and Imani, as well as my dear Anishinaabe friends and coworkers, who all bring opportunities to the farm that Jade can learn from.

Tomorrow I’ll show Jade our new Malaise trap and speak with Imani about my invitation. Oh yes, I will need to check the mini-sensors again. The ones in the front field seem to be off-line. Probably just a faulty connection.

Bye for now.


Environment | How will your food system of 2050 adapt to climate change and remain resilient?

The development of modern, industrial agriculture and its high input, high output energy model has rendered agricultural landscapes less resilient to climate change [7-11]. By 2050, the average temperature in Southwestern Ontario is projected to increase between 2.5 and 3.7°C [12]. The frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, already changing in 2020, is expected to increase significantly by 2050, potentially making food more expensive through crop damage due to drought and flooding. In order to meet the Federal government’s commitment to the Paris Agreement and the United Nations Sustainability Goals [13], Ontario agriculture, and the Southwestern Ontario agricultural sector, can play an important role in reversing the many negative environmental trends so apparent today: Declining biodiversity which has been trending negatively for decades, particularly for wild pollinators, due to loss of habitat (insufficient food and living space), pests and disease (mite infestations, introduction of exotic competitors) [3-5,14,15]; loss of ecosystem services and stability of agroecosystems to sustain functioning and productivity in the face of stresses and shocks [10,17]; declining soil health due to loss of organic matter, reduced water holding capacity; and dependence on synthetic fertilizers to maintain high productivity [9].

Ensuring that Southwestern Ontario agricultural landscapes will adapt and be resilient to climate change in 2050 will demand fundamental changes in how we practice agriculture from an environmental standpoint. Our Vision endorses the adoption of regenerative agriculture, an integrative approach that can buffer against a changing climate and improve soil health. It honors Indigenous ways of knowing when it comes to working with nature and embracing a holistic approach to living off and learning from the land. Addressing the environmental challenges resulting from climate change require approaches that integrate biodiversity conservation, food production, and livelihoods at landscape scales - a true agrosystems approach. One of the greatest strengths of our vision is its focus on feasible practices, technologies, and policies that are designed to produce robust and resilient agricultural landscapes in 2050. Specifically, resilience to climate change in Southwestern Ontario agricultural landscapes will be achieved by adopting climate-smart and habitat-friendly strategies, aided by government policies to incentivize farmers to adopt them. For example, climate resilience will be achieved by consistent and wide-spread adoption of regenerative agriculture by Southwestern Ontario farmers across economic scales. Universal application of Integrated crop management (ICM) techniques including conservation-based Beneficial Management Practices ((BMPs (e.g., conservation or no-till practices)), application of ecologically-based principles (e.g., fungal-friendly cultivation techniques), and more diverse crop rotations, particularly those designed to retain and return nutrients to the soil [17-20], will promote retention and build-up of organic matter, geater water holding capacity, more diverse and functional microbial communities to process (cycle) and retain nutrients, and enhanced carbon sequestration. Climate resilience in Southwestern Ontario in 2050 will also be achieved via land conversion programs such as switching from monocultures to perennial systems which are more efficient at sequestering carbon and retaining and cycling soil nutrients [17,21,22]. Perennial grassland systems are more sustainable for raising beef and dairy cattle compared to intensive livestock operations and, in 2050, the latter no longer exist. Targeted land allocation programs based on profit mapping [23] will identify low-profit agricultural land which can be converted to co-create habitat for production and biodiversity using ecological design principles [24]. Incorporation of Integrated Pest Management (IPM), in combination with regenerative principles and technological advances in remote sensing and sensor technology, have significantly reduced, and in some cases eliminated, the use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers required to maximize crop yields. In 2050, the greenhouse industry, already growing in Southwestern Ontario in 2020, will become a critical component of sustainable food production. Past issues associated with localized pesticide contamination of waterways has been addressed by tightening the closed loop systems practiced by most greenhouses, and the greenhouse industry now leads the agricultural industry in the implementation of IPM practices resulting in lower use of pesticides and nutrients (via recycling). Vertically stacked greenhouses, many of which operate on a soilless basis and which have a significantly reduced land area footprint, are now prominent, freeing up land for conversion to habitat.

Diets | How will your food system of 2050 address malnutrition in all its forms (undernutrition, micronutrient deficiency, metabolic disease) for the people living there?

“Diets are one of the most profound, intimate connections humans have to their external environment” [25]. The dietary choices we make are shaped by our culture, nutritional knowledge, as well as food’s price, availability, and flavor [26,27]. Today’s food systems are predicated on anthropocentric human behaviors, often defined by excessive consumption and an irrational separation of actions from consequences [28]. Despite increased global agricultural productivity and receding famine in some locations, malnutrition in all its forms affects one in three people worldwide [28]; the current global food system leaves 3 billion people malnourished [29]. Today’s food systems are primarily focused on generating quantity over quality, inadvertently distancing producers from consumers. Fewer individuals are producing their own food and instead buying from large retailers [28]. This, in combination with a global transition toward diets high in processed foods, refined sugars, refined fats, oils and meats has led to an obesity epidemic of over 2 billion people [26]. Such dietary shifts have further led to a worldwide increase in the incidence of chronic diseases including type II diabetes, coronary heart disease and some cancers [26]. Estimates suggest the global burden of disease will reach two-thirds of the world’s population if these dietary trends continue [26]. These dietary choices have led to a spatial and temporal disconnect between humans and their surroundings, the so-called diet–environment–health trilemma [26,28]. Developing strategies to address this trilemma will not be easily achieved. Yet, there is hope and conviction in humanity to develop solutions that will address malnutrition in all its forms in a sustainable, equitable, profitable, and nutritious manner [30]. Indeed, developing these strategies represents a formidable challenge that will define humanity’s efforts in the twenty-first century [31] and test, in part, the success of the framework at the heart of our Vision.

Our food system in 2050 is no longer solely anthropocentric but is inclusive of other natural elements (e.g., animals, plants, etc.) [28] and which possess firmly entrenched pathways for transformation in diverse regional social-ecological contexts [32]: Again, resilient agrosystems. Our vision creates and promotes “sustainable relations among humans and non-humans and internalization of the effects of anthropogenic influences” [28]. In 2050, humanity has fostered interdisciplinary understandings and approaches to creating vibrant and inclusive food systems that go beyond any one prevailing paradigm [27]. These were made possible by the devoted efforts early on in 2020 of nutritionists, agriculturists, public health professionals, educators, policy makers, and food industries that, together, meaningfully analyzed the linkages between diets, the environment and human health [26]. Together with our strategic partners —Guelph-Wellington Our Food Future Initiative, Arrell Food Institute, and the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario— our food system for Southwestern Ontario will: 1) support the inevitable achievement of Guelph-Wellington Our Food Future’s object to increase resident’s access to affordable, nutritious, culturally appropriate, local food by 50% by 2025 [33] and reduce to zero the number of food insecure families; 2) attract, retain and specially train scores of youth, women, Indigenous people, and new Canadians to “conduct research, train the next generation of food leaders and shape social, industrial, and governmental decisions, always ensuring food is the central priority” [34]; and 3) increase resilience by creating thriving ecological farms that are the foundation of our 2050 food system, where “agriculture protects our resources, increases biodiversity, mitigates climate change, and fosters healthy, vibrant communities” [35]. Community-centered approaches to research that bridge farming and freshwater ecology through establishment of collaborative networks and communities of practice among dozens and dozens of willing farmers will also ensure that locally-tested solutions are scalable across the region [36]. These approaches, we confidently believe, will enable our food system of 2050 to effectively address malnutrition in all its forms (undernutrition, micronutrient deficiency, metabolic disease) for the people of Southwestern Ontario.

Economics | Where and what will the jobs be that support living wages in your future food system of 2050, and how will these jobs impact gender equality?

Ontario has 49,600 census farms, the highest number in Canada and about one-quarter of all Canadian farms, and employs 77,700 people in primary agriculture [37]. In 2020, productivity gains, farm consolidation, and ongoing difficulties to attract and retain labor limited employment growth in the Ontario agricultural industry. The vulnerability of the labor supply chain was clearly exposed in 2020 with the impact that COVID-19 had on securing migrant workers and disease rates among processors, especially in the meat industry. The agricultural industry faced annual challenges securing a general labour force from within Ontario due to “strenuous working conditions, seasonality, rural locations, competition from other industries, and a lack of awareness or negative views on agriculture” [37] yet many positions that required post-secondary education remained unfilled [38]. In 2020, greater than 50% of farmers are older than 50 and many have no succession plan in place [37]. Nationally, women accounted for only 28% of farm operators, new Canadians represented 1 in 14 of the agricultural population, and a mere 1.9% of farm operators were Indigenous, despite approximately 9 million acres of territorial land [39].

However, even in 2020, the seeds for economic change were evident and it began with youth. On a national level, the period between 2010 and 2025 marked the beginning of a fundamental shift from a jobs economy to a skills economy [39]. It was discovered that four million Canadian youth entering the workforce over the next decade would need a foundation of skills to prepare them for many different jobs and roles rather than the traditional approach of following a single career path. The youth needed “a portfolio of human skills such as critical thinking, social perceptiveness, and complex problem solving to remain competitive and resilient in the labour market.” [39]. Stimulated by the vulnerabilities exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, agriculture and food science became highly sought-after career choices for students concerned about local and global food security. The University of Guelph, Canada’s Food University, led the way with specialized education and training, and enrollment in post-secondary agriculture programs jumped 29% [36]. This trend continued to rise in subsequent decades, and agriculture became an engine for economic growth in 2050. In 2020, as many as four skilled positions were available for each student graduating from the University of Guelph. By 2050, agriculture in Southwestern Ontario boomed into an interdisciplinary powerhouse, training men and women at nearly equal rates, and significantly increasing the presence of Indigenous peoples and new Canadians in agricultural sectors. In 2020, initiatives were encouraged to bridge the financial gap between older farmers and prospective entrants through renting land or participating in crop sharing. By 2050, shortages in the agricultural industry are nearly nonexistent due to progressive labor policies pertaining to migrant workers, fair compensation for workers (including a fair minimum wage of $20/hr), and enhanced safety measures including unfettered access to healthcare.

Central to Southwestern Ontario’s agricultural industry of 2050 is a resilient food economy that is predominantly locally sourced. There are greater opportunities for farmers to locally source healthier foods, specialty products, and ethnic varieties. Whereas in 2020 approximately 15% of farms in the province sold goods directly to consumers through avenues such as farmer’s cooperatives, local markets and stands [37], in 2050 this number now stands at 30%, reflecting new models for producer-processor relationships that have increased direct-to-consumer accessibility for small-scale producers, consumer-driven demand for locally and sustainably-produced food, a desire for greater varieties of food driven by increasing ethnic demands, and increased establishment of urban and rooftop gardens [40,41] in response to perceptions of vulnerability to food insecurity in the face of COVID-19 and global heating [42]. By 2050, farmers have ventured into new crop varieties that served the growing ethnic market. Direct marketing between producer and consumer is widespread in a vibrant e-commerce environment whose stimulation can be traced back to the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting heightened concerns over secure and reduced-risk access to food, frustrations associated with limited market access, and consistently marginal profits [43]. In conjunction with the proliferation of farmer cooperatives and local circular economies, farmers now have much greater control over market access and enjoy higher profitability. This approach of focusing on supporting the next generation, we envision, will render the economy of farming more attractive and infuse the market with fresh ideas and creative solutions, and enhance the overall resilience of agrosystems.

Culture | How will your 2050 food system ensure that the cultural, spiritual and community traditions and/or practices in your Place flourish?

Farming has always had deep roots in Southwestern Ontario [6]. In 2020, the number of farms were declining, driven by drops in livestock and dairy farms, and reflecting wider trends throughout Ontario [37]. In 2050, this trend has reversed and farming is once again an attractive business venture for young farmers. Innovation in crop science, farming practices, and marketing opportunities (e.g., the aforementioned e-commerce environment) have opened the door for farmers to sell a wider range of goods driven, in part, by an increase in demand as Ontario’s ethnic diversity increased (one in four residents being born outside of Canada with roots in 200 countries). Indigenous rights-holders in Southwestern Ontario, too, operate farms on some of the most valuable land in the region. Embracing the seven-generation thinking on farming is a priority, with aspirations of rematriating native corn varieties to the region and engaging the next generation of land stewards in food production and land stewardship.

Each individual, whether newcomer or long-established, brings unique cultural, spiritual and community traditions that, collectively, contribute to a way of life in the province that embraces diversity. Food is an important part of our culture, and provides an intimate connection between Southwestern Ontario’s agricultural heritage and its increasingly urban residents. This heritage is defined by a spirit of service around the food we produce; a spirit that is effectively articulated in agricultural youth clubs such as 4-H whose vision is “to empower youth to be responsible, caring and contributing leaders that affect positive change in the world around them [45].” Our food system in 2050 fosters this spirit of service through active participation by young and old people alike, by diverse cultures and backgrounds, and by businesses and volunteers. Our Vision is one of thriving local food markets and farm cooperatives [46] offering a greater variety of nutritious, sustainably produced foods by Ontarians for Ontarians; urban agriculture and community gardens scattered in many areas across the province where neighbours can foster a sense of community that transcends the food we eat and provides opportunities for urban consumers to discover and/or reconnect with nature through urban gardening and a clear understanding of the provenance of their food.

At present, the food system in Ontario produces more than 200 types of foods, many of which were traditionally imported from around the world [47]. By encouraging regenerative, environmentally sustainable practices, our food system in 2050 has mastered the ability of welcoming diversities of peoples and their traditional foods, as a way of preserving their culture when they settle here. In 2050, small-to-middle-scale farmers have returned to their historical roots and are diversifying their crops. This has both increased profitability and created resilience against economic and environmental perturbations. Crop diversification has led to a thriving food system where Ontarians can get a delicious taste from their backyard and just about every corner of the world from the convenience of their plate.

Another defining characteristic of Ontarians is our intimate connection with the province’s natural resources. This relationship is rooted in Indigenous world views that considers nature as a harmoniously physical and spiritual experience (for example, our Place is otherwise known as Turtle Island to Indigenous peoples). Residents and tourists visiting Ontario benefit from a wide range of places that allow them to connect with nature (e.g., provincial parks). In 2020, however, the capacity to exercise this spiritual connection in agricultural landscapes was muted for many owing to reduced recreational and tourism opportunities in monoculture landscapes. However, at that time, the concept of “cultural landscapes” was emerging [48] along with a broader understanding about the role of tourism in sustaining the heritage and culture of agricultural landscapes. COVID-19 provided Ontarians with an opportunity to reevaluate their relationship with nature, and it was recognized that Indigenous food systems offered solutions to the challenges of maintaining natural resources, the environment, and biodiversity [29]. This inspired change in Ontario reflective of progressive policies and programs to restore the health of Indigenous peoples who were tragically impacted by the Indian Act of 1876. By 2050, this culture shift encouraged and embraced the participation of Indigenous peoples in farming and practices that have now restored parts of their traditional lands, foods, and economies [49]. Agricultural landscapes in 2050 are popular tourist destinations, where physical and spiritual dimensions of heritage and cultural aspects of our food systems are wed with greater aesthetic appeal (e.g., viewscapes) and enhanced ecosystem services such as hiking, camping, and fishing.

Technology | What technological advances are needed to transform your food system into one that meets your goals and embodies the values of your Vision in 2050?

Technology and innovation will play an essential role in transforming our food system by 2050. However, as emphasized in [50], the Digital Agricultural Revolution is not a panacea and technology-only approaches will be doomed to failure unless integrated with other equally important strategies for addressing the social and political aspects of food and farming systems. Greater promotion of gender empowerment, increased access to markets, and use of low-cost but accessible tools could be far more effective in promoting food security. Further, some technologies are too expensive, or advance too quickly for farmers. These may be difficult to implement due to a lack of training, and issues exist around intellectual property and data management. Technology will best serve agriculture in the future when it can be used in conjunction with regenerative agricultural practices and Indigenous knowledge rather than replace it.

However, if we are to meet societal food demands —at minimum, doubling food production by 2050 [50,51]— judiciously adopted technologies will and must play a key role. In particular, precision agriculture (PA) will greatly aid all sectors of agriculture in its quest to become sustainable and resilient [52,53]. PA, satellite farming or site-specific crop management is a farming management concept based on observing, measuring and responding to inter and intra-field variability in crops [53]. For example, in terms of food security, PA will provide farmers and stakeholders with better information and early warning on the status of crops via sensor-based monitoring systems and their associated Decision Support Systems (DSS). PA will contribute to sustainable food production because such technologies facilitate the production of ‘more with less’ and are ideal for meeting our Vision objective of low-input-high output agriculture in 2050. For example, PA will be used in conjunction with soil mapping and soil nutrient measurements to regulate the application of synthetic fertilizers based on nutrient content of soil [54,55] in accordance with the Nutrient Management Act (NMA) of Ontario. In 2050, this will be achieved using drones equipped with remote sensing (e.g., infrared cameras) equipment to look for variations in soil color or chlorophyll content to assess nutrient deficiencies. Drone technology in 2050 is both cheap and accessible, and links to satellites will facilitate quick uploading of information to government portals to aid in monitoring and regulation. In this way, areas that are low in soil nutrients receive greater amounts of synthetic fertilizers relative to areas richer in nutrients. The same may be possible with respect to manure/biosolids-based fertilizer applications: Areas with low soil nutrient content would receive manure at levels that bring it to the maximum nutrient load whereas less fertilizer is applied to areas that are already at the maximum allowable soil nutrient levels in accordance with the NMA). In 2050, drones are now widely applied in pest control and cheap, miniature sensors are dispersed in fields to assess microclimatic conditions and measure nutrient levels and pest pressures. Pests can be detected based on sensing capacity of insects secretions (e.g., pheromones) [56] and pesticide applications are delivered by drones with much greater precision, targeting only those areas in need of pesticides [57]; PA can also be used to conserve soil and water in agricultural and adjacent natural lands. For example, the term ‘precision conservation’, has emerged as a way of describing approaches based on a combination of spatial technologies (such as global positioning systems, remote sensing, or geographic information systems) and procedures (such as map analysis, surface modeling, spatial data mining) to target vulnerable areas for restoration [23,55]. Combined with profit mapping [23], this will become a powerful tool available to farmers to reduce inputs while maximizing outputs.

Southwestern Ontario is currently home to a vibrant greenhouse industry, contributing significantly to Ontario’s vegetable production. In 2050, the greenhouse industry has proliferated and become an integral component of food production in Southwestrn Ontario. Technological advances in vertically-stacked greenhouses, many of which operate on a soilless basis, have reduced the land area required to grow the equivalent quantity of food [58-61], freeing up marginal land for conversion to habitat to increase ecological resilience. Remote sensing technology plays an important role here too. Remote sensing of colour can indicate when harvesting is ready and drones with light-emitting diodes can detect the presence of larval and adult pests and kill them mechanically or deliver targeted pesticide applications if/when needed. Greenhouses will also play an important role in the production of exotic plant products and vegetables to meet the increased demands for ethnically diverse foods.

Policy | What types of policies are needed to enable your future food system?

Some Ontario policies are moderately progressive compared to many North American jurisdictions. For example, the Nutrient Management Act, including policies governing manure and biosolids applications, are considered model programs that other jurisdictions could adopt [61]. Yet, despite the excellent and growing work of many grassroots organizations, including those partnered in this Vision, many of the negative environmental, economic, and cultural signals and trends described above continue to afflict agriculture in Southwestern Ontario. The incentive for governments to ensure more robust environmental policies can be traced back to the negative trends that emerged in the early part of the 21st century: A growing realization that extensive monoculture-based agriculture was rendering agricultural landscapes increasingly vulnerable to the unpredictability of climate change [62]; the increasing frequency and intensity of harmful algal blooms in the lower Great Lakes and threats to human health and ecosystem services [58]; and indirectly by the COVID-19 pandemic which relegated concerns about the environment to a lower priority as producers were forced to cope with the now exposed vulnerability of markets and supply chains [64,65]. In 2050, these trends have been reversed and innovative and creative policies, borne from consultations between producers, consumers, and governments are in place. Many of the policies in Ontario are now the gold standard against which other jurisdictions are modeled. This was a hard-won battle as, first and foremost, it required convincing governments at all levels to programs incentivizing farmers to maximize participation in environmental programs would not only promote ecological resilience but also improve economic viability. 

In 2050, all farmers in Southwestern Ontario have adopted environmental farm plans (EFPs) through workshops offered by partner OSCIA. This yielded a greater understanding of a farm’s environmental strengths and areas of environmental concern and, in conjunction with government-based incentive programs and new policies over the past 30 years, farmers set realistic action plans with time tables to improve environmental conditions. Foremost among these was the adoption of ecologically-based ICM practices tailored to each farm based on the EFP. For example, conservation-based BMP’s matched to soil type and topography, aided by extensive in-field and remote sensing soil mapping are now widely adopted. IPM is now fully integrated in both land-based and greenhouse production, guided by updated and enforced use-as-needed policies for pesticides [66] and management of synthetic fertilizers and manures under the Ontario NMA. Based on their EFPs, farmers identified areas on their farms that could be allocated to conservation measures. Recognizing that the probability of adopting conservation measures by farmers is driven by economic conditions [67,68], incentive to convert low-yielding, low-profit land to enhance habitat (e.g., pollination strips, augmentation of edge-of-field habitat, enhanced stream-side vegetative buffers, strategic restoration of wetland areas) was aided by establishing special conservation programs to support land allocation, conversion and co-creation, thereby offsetting losses from yields on these lands. In conjunction with the application of landscape design principles focusing on connectivity [23,69,70] and conversion of monocultures to perennial grassland systems, the declining trends in biodiversity characteristic of the early part of the century has increased steadily over the past 10 years in the agricultural landscapes of Southwestern Ontario. Tax incentives encouraged farmers to rehabilitate drainage ditches using modernized engineering approaches such as two-stage ditches [71] and rehabilitation of agricultural headwaters streams [72]; in conjunction with  agricultural conservation efforts (land allocation and ICM initiatives alike) these efforts have collectively resulted in significantly improved water quality in streams and groundwater, and the occurrence of harmful algal blooms in Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie are now rare. In recognition of the important role that regenerative agriculture must play to ensure sustainability as the word necessarily moves toward intensification [73,74], governments offer tax incentives for farmers of all production scales who adopt accredited regenerative agricultural techniques and green labelling programs for consumers to identify farms using regenerative approaches are widespread. Finally, provincial and federal governments have once again recognized the importance of environmental monitoring and federal and provincial programs, centered on a bottom-up process led by farmers, have been in place for more than a decade.

Describe how these 6 Themes connect with and influence one another in your food system.

Our Vision for 2050 is founded on the recognition that agrosystems were threatened in the early part of the century by a number of interacting challenges, many of them outlined in the sections above. While agriculture was very successful in contributing food and fiber to the world’s (and Southern Ontario’s) population, ecological, economic, and cultural indicators unequivocally showed that continuing with the “business as usual” approach was not sustainable. In 2050, Southwestern Ontario is now a leader in sustainable agrosystems, providing nourishing food locally, as part of now commonplace circular economies and cooperatives, and globally to meet the demands of a world population that is approaching 10 billion people. At the core of our Vision for sustainable agrosystems is environmental resilience borne from the definition given by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) based on the Brundtland report: “sustainable agriculture is agricultural production that is economically viable and does not degrade the environment over the long run” [6]. In our food system of 2050, progressive and consistent (coordinated across governments at all levels) economic and environmental policies over the past 30 years have incentivized most farmers to adopt environmental initiatives that have increased habitat in agricultural landscapes creating ecological resilience. It started with a growing cultural shift within the farming community, driven by consumer preference for locally and sustainably produced foods and realization that the high-input-to-high-output economic model of agriculture prevalent in the early part of the century was not economically viable for many farm operations. This led to the increasing adoption of regenerative approaches, including crop diversification, which is now common among small-to-moderate scale farmers and is growing among large-scale producers. Coupled with greater processing capacity, direct access to local markets participating in circular economies and/or food cooperatives through e-commerce avenues (whose origins can be traced back to the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020), and advances in technology, farming is now an economically viable and an attractive career choice for younger individuals who are embracing agriculture's important cultural heritage. Technological advances have played an important role particularly in the areas of crop management by reducing pesticide and fertilizer use. Technology advances have been particularly effective in the greenhouse industry in Southwestern Ontario which now produces many food varieties desired by Ontario’s growing ethnic population.

Describe any trade-offs you may have to make within your system to attain your Vision by 2050.

Below we described three key trade-offs that must be considered in developing our Vision. 

Economy vs Environment. We envision more acres of agricultural land will be allocated for co-creation of agricultural (e.g., perennial grasslands) and non-agricultural habitat. This will increase vegetative habitats that promote biodiversity and ecological resilience. A decline in soil tillage and increase in crop diversity could decrease the need for chemicals and fertilizers but may require more variety in specialized equipment. For some crops, increased yields could result from more pollinators. Improved ecosystem services stemming from greater non-agricultural habitat and biodiversity will lead to increased tourism in agricultural landscapes. Alternatively, allocating more acres of agricultural land for habitat is often viewed negatively under a paradigm of industrial agriculture that attempts to maximize productivity by maximizing land under rotation. In the absence of incentive programs, farmers may be hit by loss of revenue from less land under rotation, and the rising costs to manage pests. In addition, non-agricultural land can create opportunities for pests to spread, potentially intensifying the use of pesticides. 

Environment vs Policy. New and progressive environmental policies play a key role in our food system of 2050 but policy development is challenging in light of changing political climates. Changes in political incumbents will always be a force affecting environmental policy but an important trend in 2020 potentially affecting subscription to our Vision is the rise of populism and anti-elitism. This may change in 2050 but the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly accentuated this tendency in some political jurisdictions; we are hopeful that the pandemic is viewed as an opportunity to develop made-in-Ontario environmental policies that incite farmers to adopt practices that build resilient agrosystems rather than continue with the unsustainable business-as-usual approach. 

Technology vs Economy/Culture. Technology will also play an important role in our 2050 food system but we must recognize that it can be both inclusive and exclusive. Some technologies (drones, passive miniature sensors) will be cheap and accessible to most farmers helping them to be better managers of the land by enabling more precise characterization of soil conditions and improving pest detection. In 2050, reliable rural internet connectivity is available to all farmers, ensuring easy access to data. However, the cost of some technologies render them inaccessible to some farmers potentially forcing them to consolidate farms to be profitable or exit the farming community. Consolidation may perpetuate the high input/high output model typical of industrial agriculture leading to increased carbon emissions. Governments may respond by enacting policies that are beneficial to large-scale operations, thereby diminishing opportunities for small-scale farmers.

3 Years | Describe 3 key milestones that you would need to achieve within the next three years for your Vision to be on track?

Charting a Path: Planting the seeds of change

From the outset of this journey, our path will be community-centric, involving participation and input from key groups in Southwestern Ontario. As we start the path, three milestones will need to be accomplished by 2023.

  1. Building momentum: Key groups actively engaged

    To create an inviting and feasible path, key groups will join in a collaborative process of learning, working and consulting together, and arranging activities that foster unity of vision through unity in action. Charting the path will be achieved by engaging the following in regional workshops: producers (of all farm sizes), processors, representatives of commodity boards, policy makers (local/provincial governments), Indigenous rights-holders, NGOs, and research institutions. We will use scenario planning and risk management to chart a feasible path for progress. Outcome: 3-fold increase in workshop participation from key groups.

  1. Government policy: A willingness to listen

    Successful implementation of our Vision depends, in part, on the creation of progressive policies to incentivize farmers, consumers and producers to take action. By 2023, we expect policy-makers will be receptive to offering fair and carefully implemented incentive programs whose objectives are commensurate with the prioritized objectives described earlier. Outcome: Develop policy briefs in plain language and deliver reports assessing creative incentive programs to policy-makers with recommendations for reaching 2030 and 2050 target goals.

  1. Bold campaigns: Galvanizing change

    Through bold campaigns that utilize educational media content paired with strategic social media outreach and information sessions, we attract and retain scores of youth, women, Indigenous people, and new Canadians in regenerative agriculture workshops and training programs. Outcome: Increase community of interest and participation in regenerative agriculture training programs by 25%.

10 Years | What progress will you need to make—by 2030—that would set your Vision up to become a reality by 2050?

Walking the Path: Agrosystems respond

In 2030, more land is converted to non-agricultural habitat through land allocation and land conversion programs. Increased edge-of-field habitat, riparian and wetland rehabilitation, pollinator strips, and conversion of land from monoculture to perennial grass systems have increased beneficial insect populations as indicated by improved environmental monitoring programs. These gains have been achieved, in part, by grassroots organizations including ALUS and EFAO, along with the introduction of progressive government policies and incentive programs (e.g., shifting commodity crop and insurance subsidies toward conservation and ecosystem service payments). With greater financial incentive, more farmers have converted low-yielding cropland to non-agricultural habitat, yielding measurable increases in biotic diversity. Greater crop diversity, coupled with growing demand for locally produced food, has increased farm profitability and led to a gradual influx of younger generation farmers. Regional food hubs and circular economies formulate an increasingly greater component of the food distribution system and farmers are enjoying greater and more consistent profits. Environmental farm plans have been developed by the majority of farmers and most are now guided by nutrient management plans. Farmers at all economic scales are increasingly embracing regenerative agriculture by incorporating ICM principles, including BMPs and IPM. Soil health is improving as indicated by increases in soil organic carbon, greater microbial diversity, and enhanced carbon sequestration. Farmers are spending less on synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, aided by advances in technology such as satellite-and-drone-based remote sensing to map soil nutrients and pests. Water quality monitoring confirms declines in nutrient leaching and pesticide concentrations in streams, and there is gradual return of sensitive biotic indicator species.

If awarded the $200,000 prize what would you do with it?

Funding from the Rockefeller Foundation will be used to ensure that our Vision gets off on the right foot — by ensuring that we meet the three key milestones that we have set out to achieve by 2023. These milestones revolve around engagement and will be designed to build unity of vision and illuminate a path forward for progress. Thematic workshops will be conducted in conjunction with the Arrell Food Institute and Ontario Agricultural College, and will engage all of the key groups that we have identified in articulating this Vision. One proposal is to conduct a series of scenario analyses (SA). Dr. Paul Sibley and Dr. Evan Fraser have participated in a number of long-term SA exercises and we view this as an excellent and participatory approach to even further refine and build consensus around our Vision. We may also apply a relatively new risk assessment approach as part of the SA: Bow-tie risk assessment (BtRA). BtRA is unique in that its starting point is to ask “What is the policy or management failure?” and then work through the scenarios that led to that point and identify solutions to the problem (e.g., a new policy or management approach).

To further our goal of increasing engagement and support for our Vision, a portion of funding will be used to coordinate strategic campaigns for outreach, education, training, and raising awareness to the key groups in Southwestern Ontario identified in the 3-year plan as well as the communities surrounding these key groups. These strategies will also include the creation of policy briefs that will explain the policy implications of our Vision for all stakeholders, as well as the creation of educational films that articulate elements of our Vision in an inspiring and accessible way. These films will serve as plain-language and knowledge translation tools for us and our partners to distribute to intended audiences and make our Vision more widely known, especially as we engage in the workshops and with government partners.

If you are chosen as a Top Visionary, The Rockefeller Foundation would like to share your Vision widely with a global audience. What would you like the world to learn from your Vision for 2050?

Should we be chosen as a Top Visionary, we want the world to know that building a transformative, regenerative food system by 2050 can only be achieved through a community-centric approach. Unity of vision requires unity in action. We are bold in our 2050 Vision for Southwestern Ontario; how could we ask anything less of this region given the future trends of our climate and the unsustainable manner in which we produce our food? COVID-19 has clearly exposed the vulnerability of our food production system and it is clear that failure to change this will only increase the many food security issues that we face locally, nationally, and internationally. We believe this Vision shows great promise to become the gold standard for transformational change, and provides a framework that can be applied almost anywhere around the world. Indeed, such changes will be absolutely essential if we intend to meet our obligations under the Paris Agreement for 2030, and address several of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals for 2050.

Please share a visual that communicates the structure and operation of your food system in 2050. Describe the visual.

We provide here the URLs to access our two visuals at high-quality:

Video (

Network diagram (

A detailed explanation of the network diagram is provided as an attachment with this application in Additional Materials.


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Photo of May Abhar

This is a beautiful vision, with a solid plan for achieving it. It brings to mind the call for a new agriculture from environmentalist Paul Hanley in his book "Eleven" (for the eleven billion people that this planet will need to
sustain by the year 2100). Bob and I believe your inclusion of the various parties and organizations, and their ability to consult and cooperate will be vital to your success. Congratulations on your work so far, Sahba. We look forward to the next 30 years!

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