OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign Up / Login or Learn more

A Circular Food System in Southern British Columbia

A just food system that is beneficial to people, and the planet - a blueprint for the future.

Photo of Zack Shoom
5 0

Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Nada Grocery Inc.

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small company (under 50 employees)

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

Just Food Foundation - a not for profit organization which aims to create a food system thats beneficial to people and the planet. Consists of a fund, supported by food businesses, and a programming arm. Pure Earth Superfoods - A small scale food producer focused on traditional healing foods to connect you to the Earth's restorative energy. Dawn Morrison - Indigenous Food Sovereignty, her insight was provided on a soverign food system, supporting First Nations communities. Christopher Bush / ACES - "We are addressing the future of food through systemic solutions. We are a group of pioneers that have come together to overcome the global challenges." Kevin Hua - The founder of the Hua Foundation in Vancouver, and member of Vancouver's Food Policy Council.

Website of Legally Registered Entity

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

  • 3-10 years

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

Vancouver, British Columbia - Canada

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?


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

The GVA is the third most populated metro area in Canada, and Fraser Valley - the agricultural capital of Canada - 3,000 km2

What country is your selected Place located in?


Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Vancouver, Canada is our home. It's where we opened up our business, where our community lives, and plays, and is home to a great opportunity in proving that a circular food system is more than just a far off pipe-dream.

Our role, as a grocery store in this community is to see through our vision of "An unpackaged future" 


The Greater Vancouver Area is the third most populated metro area in the country. Comprised of 23 municipalities, and the largest port in the country. Vancouver's downtown core is a mere 70km away from Abbotsford - Canada's agricultural self-proclaimed Agricultural Capital. This is one of the largest urban & high density dwelling populations less than 100km away from an agricultural hub in the world. Combined with a very long growing season, and community interested in change this can surely be ground zero for a shift to the prized circular food system.


Uniquely positioned as a progressive hot spot, Vancouver has long time been at the forefront of social and environmental progress. This is largely because of a devoted community of change makers. In a recent Vital Signs report, (Via Vancouver Foundation), there were three important findings about Vancouver residents; 

1. British Columbians are actively contributing to their communities in a range of ways.

2. Many people, regardless of age, feel there are barriers preventing them from doing more.

3. Most British Columbians feel welcome in their community and believe in their capacity to contribute to positive change.

Needless to say, the local population is a valuable starting point, with clear interest in a circular food system.

In our immediate circle, we have a great insight into this community through Nada (@bri - Can we inject some Nada #'s that show support for sustainable food systems? (typical event attendance, growth in first year, specifically)

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.

Often referred to as a 'City of neighbourhoods', the city of Vancouver is the lifeline for the greater area (third most populated metro area in Canada), and the lower mainland of British Columbia. It is the most densely populated municipality in the country, and has significant cultural diversity in First Nations communities, and a large South Asian population in the city. 

With growth being dramatically increased, and population growing rapidly (approx. 14%) rate since 1991, our demand on environmental resources increases. The greatest opportunity we see in being stewards to our environment is through correcting the flaws in our food system. 

As stated above, "Vancouverites" are notably progressive, and supportive of sustainable food systems / furthering environmental health. As such, it's a hub for environmental organizations in Canada.

Southern British Columbia benefits from a temperate climate, with a long and wet growing season. 

The topography of the Fraser Valley uniquely positions this belt of farmland to push out cold air to the West, and low pressure systems ideal for growing to the valley floor. To the south, the Cascade and Olympic mountain ranges create a very wet climate.

Vancouver is incredibly socially diverse, with 48.9% of the population being of a visible minority. Remarkably, these communities are celebrated and showcased in urban areas. China town for instance in right in the heart of downtown Vancouver, and features traditional Chinese architecture, and locally owned businesses.

The Vancouver area is also located on the unceeded Coast Salish territory - home of the Tseliel-Watuth, Squamish, and Musqueam people. These Indigenous communities have been stewards of the land for time immemorial, an often overlooked nuance in 2020. Many of the producers we work with as a business supports ancestral knowledge, and our proposed circular model is based upon these principles. 

Agriculture plays a vital role in our community as an economic driver, and support system which we all thrive on. British Columbians are proud of the over 200 agriculture commodities and 100 seafood species we harvest. In addition, B.C. has more than 1,500 businesses that produce foods and beverages ranging from breakfast cereal to wine to nutraceuticals.

Abbotsford, British Columbia is the self-proclaimed agricultural capital of Canada, and a major artery in our national food system. It is a community growing nearly 6% a year since 2011, and hosts several progressive farming operations. 

Due to recent scientific evidence against the viability of open-pen aquaculture, it will not be included in our vision. 

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.

In a big way, the food industry is based on efficiencies, profits, and value. The true cost of food is no longer a necessary expense to pay, but its impacts will be a debt we must pay as a collective society. 

The challenge we face is as a global population is that food is seen as a commodity. It is thought of as a singular, and necessary resource. Thinking about lunch - do we think about the meal, or how it got there? Amazingly, food is something we interact with several times a day, whether or not we like it or not. As a global society, we think of food, energy, water and health individually, without considering their dynamic interactions. 

As a product of this system, the food industry across North America has almost successfully done away with the true cost of food by offering highly GMO’d, nutrition-poor, but very cost effective foods. Obviously, this poses a massive threat to responsible producers who are working on regenerative, or biodynamic farms for instance who have to charge a much higher price for their products. The way we see it, this is for one reason; the free market. 

The free market provides those who can offer the cheapest product, with the most opportunity to sell the most success. This means that large scale food producers who can pass the lowest financial cost onto their customer, and the largest environmental and social costs to the planet come away as the short term winners. Conversely, it means that these responsible producers have to compete with dollar store food items. This is because there are far more big box grocery stores, dollar stores, and fast food restaurants in the world than package free, responsibly sourced grocery stores like Nada.

Unfortunately, public policy also favours the free market, and big businesses ability to feed many for so little. It allows for more tax dollars to feed back into municipalities, and for waste to exist ‘elsewhere’. For example, our store has no packaging on any of our products - produce, bulk foods, soaps, frozen goods. This was a regulatory nightmare, and still is an ongoing process to ensure we are in line with the stringent standards of Vancouver Coastal Health.This being said, we have worked closely with policy makers in building the first package free grocery store in the city, and have certainly made great progress with their regulations, and support for progressive businesses like ours.

Even with much public support for businesses like Nada, we feel policy makers are quite removed from the issue at hand. For instance, the plastic ban allows for other containers to be sold, like ‘biodegradable’ plastics. While given to individuals by fast food restaurants and food trucks, they cannot be composted at home, or even recycled - which at least plastic could. This leaves us in a state of disarray, and a clear path forward.

By 2050, we see the biggest challenge being a scaled up version of what we are starting to see in 2020. The negated true cost of food will be a debt we have to pay - likely in the form of environmental degradation, and social problems like rampant poverty, and non-existent labour laws on the factory farms producing our food.

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

Our vision of a circular food system provides a living, breathing example of a concept that many food systems advocates strive for, but does not exist in the real world at scale. Perhaps this is best categorized by stakeholders. 

Consumer: The consumer in a circular food system is educated, and informed, as well as able. Through the programming, and fundraising of Just Food Foundation (more in depth below), this can and will become a reality. 

Producer: Our vision sees small scale, or environmentally sensitive producers existing in a more economically viable world. This is based on an increased availability through retailers like Nada, focusing on locally and sensibly produced products. It also relies on a more educated, and motivated consumer, a growing trend in Vancouver(see notes on Vital Signs 2020, noted below).

Retailers: By and large, North Americans see a grocery store visit as a ‘task’, and a means to an end. This is obvious through value packages in big box retailers, and door delivery service. However, we see retailers as the connection piece between the ‘farm’, and the ‘table’ - an opportunity to bring these sensible producers into the homes of conscious consumers. Without these retailers, we fail to create the economic engine. 

Our vision sees a true symbiotic relationship between the above three stakeholder groups, which we call a “Circular Food System”. 

Environmentally we see a huge benefit in responsible agriculture, and carbon sequestration, as well as leveraging of local producers, which supports a local economy. 

We believe that our vision will see the creation of a circular food system - a model not currently being executed in the world. We feel confident that the development of our proposed project would be integral to developing policy around it in future places. 

Culturally and economically, this model provides a viable future for responsible producers and businesses to exist. Surely, its existence will prove to policy makers that it is possible, and will be a blueprint for the future. At scale, a circular food economy has the potential to negate or minimize any of the above mentioned challenges in the previous question.

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.

Our vision is a “Circular Food System”; one which provides a direct benefit to people and the planet and does away with the existing notion of food as a commodity, responsible for environmental and social harm.

Essentially, we wanted to create a real life example of the pipe-dream so many people in our food system speak of. Our model would see an economically viable path through producers like Pure Earth Superfood, and grocers like Nada who provide each other with product, and an opportunity to sell in nearby urban areas. It would also include a free education component for customers to better understand how their decisions impact their food system, and skills to use in preparing meals.

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

In developing our vision, we had started with smaller concepts - ideas that all fit into what already exists, with hopes of making it better. However, we thought it all fell short of what our end goal of a global shift in systems change. Like any large scale change, we realize it has to start somewhere. 

Our vision sees a food system much different than what we know today, and an ofter sought after model that has yet to exist in the real world. Our circular food system model creates a full symbiotic relationship between our economic structure, food producers, retailers, and participants of the food system (see above for interaction). It serves to benefit our planet, the global population, and support our local economy through retailers and local food producers. 

Environmentally sustainable: This will be a responsibility of the producer.

- Carbon emissions of food production are offset by sequestration in soil and crop beds

- Waste is eliminated; all organic material at the production level to be composted, and packaging to be avoided

- Nitrogen and phosphorous levels in the soil are to be used at maximum production efficiency

- In this case, we are partnering with a biodynamic farm, and a regenerative operation in British Columbia

Accessible and inclusive: We will be working with Just Food Foundation, as well as BC Farmers Markets to implement a food stamp - esque program which subsidizes food purchases on qualified products.

- Whole, nutritious foods available for those at any income level.

- Available food is culturally appropriate, and does not marginalize certain groups, or impede their ability to celebrate culture.

- Consuming these food products is economically viable for all stakeholders, including consumers. 

Transparent: This is a trait that will be intrinsic to the producer, and communicated by the retailer.

- The consumer, or retailer can easily understand where their food is coming from, and how it got to their plate. 

- The true cost of food is not negated; everyone along the supply chain is fairly compensated.

Education: Education components are executed by Just Food Foundation, and assisted by a community advisory committee and the Vancouver Food Policy Council.

- Consumers at all levels are keenly aware of the impacts that irresponsibly produced food comes with, and the benefits of a circular system.

- General nutritional knowledge and kitchen skills are free and accessible.

- As a byproduct, customers are much more likely to use their dollars to vote accordingly.

Policy: The living example of a circular food system will help dramatically to empower municipalities to make decisions on their food systems, as well as ours. Seeing the success of a circular food system would be groundbreaking for other policy makers, unsure of where to start and how to implement.

- Public policy takes stakeholder interests into account through active participation

- Zero waste programs, and city lead initiatives are better informed, and encouraged by public, as well as industry / expert demand

Our hope is that our circular food system model can be a proof statement that our planet, and society can actually support this type of paradigm shift. 

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Email


Join the conversation:

Photo of Ankur Shah

Hello - Thank you so much for selecting our vision of The Internet of Food - A Decentralized and Localized Food Network as your inspiration. It is an honor. I was actually born in Vancouver so your vision personally connects with me. I would love to hear more details about the educational and sustainability in food production. Looking forward to your vision becoming a reality!

View all comments