Catching seafood up with the local and sustainable food movement

Justin Cantafio_Blog Author_En Susanna Fuller_Blog Author_ENGuest post by Justin Cantafio, Sustainable Fisheries Campaigner and Susanna Fuller, Marine Conservation Coordinator at Ecology Action Centre.

Consumer preferences and buying habits can be instrumental in sharping food systems. Over the past two decades, two seemingly deviating consumer trends have taken hold. On one hand, our growing on-demand society seeks convenient and easily identifiable foods, with discerning consumers looking to third-party certifications and eco-labels to inform them on health and sustainability claims. On the other hand, consumers are increasingly turning to food to slow down and reconnect to family and friends, community, and food producers.

Luckily, the latter trend of whole foods direct from producer has begun to inform the desire for convenient and quick food. Gradually, trends that start off in local chalkboard menu restaurants and farmers markets have been finding their way into institutions and supermarkets. And while an erosion of values often occurs in the globalized commodity marketplace of big box stores, broadline food service providers, and restaurant chains, the result of both trends is that consumers are increasingly scrutinizing where their food came from, who produced it, and how it was produced.

Two young fishers working a weir—an ancient low-impact fishing method—on the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia.

Two young fishers working a weir—an ancient low-impact fishing method—on the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia.

From the silver platter to the hospital dinner tray, local and sustainable foods are growing in popularity. Yet while universities and elementary school cafeterias are proclaiming their menus replete with local poultry or organic salad greens, more often than not, outside of catch of the day labels – a fish is still a fish— and a wild protein luxury we often take for granted.

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Cities in Transformation


Guest blog by Gorka Espiau, Director of Places and International Affairs, The Young Foundation. This blog originally appears on the Amplifier Montréal website. It is republished here with their permission.

Whilst there are huge amounts of innovative and creative work within urban areas, many of society’s most complex problems also manifest themselves here – unemployment, poverty, pollution and social mobility to name but a few. These problems, often described as ‘wicked’ problems for their complex, entrenched, and interconnected nature are too often addressed in a short-term or fragmented way.

Traditional interventions may often only address the symptoms rather than the root, or structural causes of the problem. They demand a comprehensive and interconnected series of interventions. A more holistic and large-scale transformation needs to take place. Even the most successful ones have always acknowledged that the challenges we are tackling are too complex and interrelated to be transformed applying a technical “project delivery” mentality.

Cities are also becoming the natural ecosystem for inequality. The wealthiest, the “squeezed middle” and the growing poorest couldn’t live physically closer to each other. In this context, many city leaders share the aspiration of launching new reform movements with the potential to incubate disruptive social innovations that will tackle the structural and institutional causes of inequality.

bike share

For this purpose, interconnected and larger scale interventions need to be co-created until a genuine movement of transformation is generated at the city/region level. Projects need to be incorporated as necessary tools of the “transformation movement” but always integrated within a deeper aspirational goal.

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Three Thresholds from Worse to Better

Hal Hamilton_Blog Author_EN


Someone told me the other day that everything is getting better and better, worse and worse, faster and faster. There’s no such thing as “business as usual” anymore. Even the fast food companies are incorporating sustainability goals into their businesses. Local and organic are growing fast. Consumer research shows that concern about sustainable production of food influences shoppers more in Brazil and China than in Canada, the U.S. and Europe.


Better food is available in the niches and in the mainstream, but soil and fertilizer is still killing off the marine life where rivers meet seas all around the world. Small farmers have to become much more productive or exit for the cities. Aquifers are disappearing under some of the most fertile agricultural regions in the world.

We do-gooders try and sort out the heroes and villains in this story, but the actors don’t divide out that way. On the small farm where I live, we cool vegetables with air conditioners stuck in the walls of wooden coolers in the barn. Even though horses till the fields, the carbon footprint of the vegetables is probably pretty high because of the air conditioners, and because customers drive cars to the farm on pick-up days.

I want grass-fed beef to be MUCH better for the world than feedlot beef, but the science is mixed up.



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What I learned from the ABSI Connect fellows

Guest Post by Kelsey Spitz, Senior Associate SiG. This article was originally published on ABSI Connect on April 22, 2016. It has been cross-posted with permission from the author.


It is time to pull back the current, briefly. For the past 8-months, I have had the privilege of being the administrator and an advisor for the ABSI Connect Fellows.

My ‘usual hat’ is Senior Associate at Social Innovation Generation (SiG) National, based in Toronto. It seemed curious to many that myself and my colleagues would be the backbone administration for the Fellows. The simple truth is that SiG, with our national scope, was a nimble and willing platform of support when the idea of ABSI Connect was first conceived. An experimental initiative launched at a time of immense disruption focusing on a concept with a vexed reputation in the province, the focus of ABSI Connect on emergence, deep listening and relationship-building resonated strongly with the type of approach that we’ve learned can significantly support transformational change. It was our pleasure to help.

Despite the Toronto location of the Fellows’ administrator, ABSI Connect was from Alberta, about Alberta, for Alberta, and led by Albertans. The Fellows tenaciously spearheaded the initiative with patience, determination, humility, deep reflection, passion and critical thought, embracing their role as systems thinkers, bridges, resources, relationship brokers and capacity builders.

Their collaborative effort produced the story of Albertan social innovation, as they heard it, patterns of cultural elements accelerating or holding back the community, and a common agenda to move forward together in a uniquely Albertan way. The full richness of their findings can be read in their paper, “The Future of Social Innovation 2016” or you can read the summary paper here.

Here is what I learned from the ABSI Connect Fellows…

Alberta is rad(ical).

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National Food Policy and the Future of Food

Diana Bronson_Blog Author_EN


I write this blog on a plane having just watched Michael Moore’s Where to Invade Next. The film ends as Moore reminisces about the Berlin Wall coming down in 1989, when people simply took hammers and chisels to the concrete structure that had outlived its usefulness to anyone. I believe the food system for the next generation of Canadians will be as different from today’s as the Germany of Chancellor Merkel is different from the Germany she grew up in.

Twenty years ago, on November 9, 1989, jubilant crowds celebrated the opening of border crossings along the Berlin Wall. To find out more about the Berlin Wall, please visit Copyright: Press and Information Office of the Federal Government of Germany. (PRNewsFoto/German Embassy Washington, DC)

Just as East Germans no longer believed the Soviet lie, consumers, particularly younger consumers, no longer trust our food system. There are many signs that the future of food will be more local, diversified, decentralized, sustainable, organic. In fact, the local system is already thriving on the margins of the dominant system, despite a policy environment that has been geared for decades to industrial production where success is measured by the growth of exports. Government policy has been increasingly out of sync with the way more and more people are looking at food: they are concerned about the health impacts of the overuse of antibiotics and pesticides; they are frightened by the collapse of entire species (bees, monarchs, tuna); and the risks involved in extreme forms of genetic modification (synthetic biology, GM fish); they mistrust the products of industrial and factory farming and they are concerned about the rights of workers and farmers and fishers to make decent livelihoods while growing the food we need to survive. When given the option, as we saw recently in the French’s Ketchup controversy, they are fiercely local.


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It’s Not About the Practice… or is it?

WA image


“Breakthroughs come when people learn how to take the time to stop and examine their assumptions.” – Peter Senge

Mali_Blog AuthorEarlier this year we shared a list of ‘everyday practices’ that are currently being prototyped (see here). The concept of an everyday practice came from two places: the research around ‘kernels of practice’, as shared by Dennis Embry and colleagues, and a survey. In the spring of 2015, WellAhead asked over 1,400 people two questions: “What does your school do to support students’ social and emotional wellbeing” and “what do YOU do to support students’ social and emotional wellbeing.” Everyday practices are one way to frame and understand the responses to that second question: the many things that we do day to day to support our children and youth.

There’s a few things we’re hearing about the concept of ‘everyday practices’ as connected to the broader system of work happening in schools:

Building on what is already happening

Taking a moment to reflect on and examine our own practice is one way to value, respect, and appreciate the potential each of us have to make a difference in the lives of our children and youth. The everyday practices being prototyped in BC this year are merely examples of the dozens, hundreds of ‘everyday practices’ that that our teachers, parents, EAs, administrators, nurses, students, aboriginal support workers, bus drivers, CUPE workers, after-school providers enact across BC. Read the rest of this entry »

Eating Responsibly: A Daily Challenge for Tomorrow!

Florence_Blog Author_EN

Guest blog by Florence Lefebvre St-Arnaud, Owner, Campanipol Family Farm 

Food: a central theme of contemporary life and a priority issue for agricultural producers. The food system appears to be rediscovering the importance of local products, the quality and traceability of products, and the family farm. However, the system seems to be at a crossroads.

As a member of a family farm that has been a certified organic producer for nearly 30 years, it goes without saying that I would like our food system to be more focused on innovation and our rich array of local products. Above all, I hope that all the initiatives taken by the generations that have come before will continue to evolve and help change society’s overall vision of farming and food. Whether by carrying out collective marketing initiatives, sustaining small farms specialized in niche productions, or promoting and providing information about urban agriculture and self-sufficiency, I continue to believe that we should strive to have multiple options, as a community, to allow us to eat responsibly.


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Moving from scarcity to abundance: Our story

Guest article by Mike Morrice, Executive Director, Sustainability CoLab, Chad Park, Executive Director, The Natural Step and Elizabeth Sheehan, President, Climate Smart Business

At the turn of the last century one of America’s great innovators, Henry Ford, commented, “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” And today, a hundred years later, his words still ring true, embodying the spirit of collaboration that the Foundation proposed to us last fall.

Coming Together

Going back to early 2014, The Natural Step, Climate Smart and Sustainability CoLab – each supported by the McConnell Foundation – was working in different areas of the country on different solutions, but with a significant commonality: each were scaling innovations that engaged business in the transition to a low-carbon economy.

At the time, each was aware of one another, but none had prioritized collaborating. This, combined with the scarcity of resources, provided the potential for future competition between the three.


This is where a well-timed bit of leadership came in: the Foundation proposed a small collaborative grant to the three organizations. The only caveat? The money must be used on a shared priority.

Now, rather than being protective of the similarities between our solutions, as leaders of each organization we could be opportunistic about them. We could seek out shared gains in our work, should we commit some time to build up our shared understanding.

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Reading the Future in a Glass of Milk

Guest blog by Isabelle Mailhot-Leduc, Sustainable Food System Coordinator, Concordia University

Isabelle blog author_ENHalf listening to the radio as I prepared my dinner, I was suddenly struck by the words of the reporter and turned up the volume. The radio program was talking about a demonstration that had taken place earlier that day in front of a large milk-processing plant in Montreal. Some 50 milk producers had gathered there to denounce the use of diafiltered milk from the United States in the industrial production of dairy products. Diafiltered milk is a product that has been filtered several times in order to obtain a very high protein liquid. It is also available in powder form. Canadian customs authorities consider diafiltered milk an ingredient, making the product exempt from tariffs on milk. Major dairy processors are delighted with this situation, as diafiltered milk allows them to save money. Not only is this milk competitively priced, but given its high protein content, it is also more efficient than Quebec milk for the industrial production of yoghurt and cheese. My thoughts were immediately drawn to the concept of a more “efficient” milk.


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Introducing Solutions Finance: A New Vision for Our Work

SF for newsletter

Erica Blog Author_ENBy Stephen Huddart and Erica Barbosa VargasStephen-Huddart-author

In the coming weeks, the Foundation is rolling out several new resources on Solutions Finance: a series of white papers and related case studies, illustrating some of what we’ve learned over the last decade from our successes—and failures—in deploying capital for systems change. The first white paper is available today. We hope these resources will be useful to a growing community interested in financial innovation for positive social and environmental impact.

Until recently, we did not talk about Solutions Finance. The new term requires a bit of unpacking.

Social Finance refers to financial instruments that generate social and environmental impact alongside financial returns. It is a term widely recognized in the field and the umbrella term we have been using to describe the Foundation’s market-building and impact investing activities. However, as our experience and practice expand, we see that the promise of this work goes beyond investments with blended returns.

Successful systems innovation requires adequate resourcing, and calls for different forms of capital allocation across the multiple stages of design and implementation. To make this happen in the context of our work, we’re advocating for — and adopting as our own practice — an integrated approach to deploying financial capital and adapting financial models to catalyze, sustain and scale systems transformation. In other words, Solutions Finance. This approach includes, but is more than, continuing to grow an investment portfolio with the expectation of a financial return as well as a positive social or environmental impact.

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