Sustainable Food Systems: Assessment For Canadian Philanthropy

This report explores the current Canadian food system in relation to establishing sustainable food systems, and highlights key opportunities for funders to support work to drive significant and systemic impact in this field. There are three sections: an overview of the Canadian food system based on the perspective of select stakeholders, an assessment of the current national funding landscape through analysis of survey data, and detailed profiles of participating Canadian funding organizations.

Interview responses from 20 actors in the Canadian food system, representing a variety of perspectives and sectors, suggest a number of trends, gaps, and opportunities for action. The report offers recommendations for future funding, organized according to the prevalent themes that emerged from the interviews.

Key areas for intervention included policy and advocacy, with interviewees noting in particular the importance of a national food policy and “greening” conventional agriculture, including investment in innovations to promote transitions to large-scale sustainable production practices. Scaling up alternative market models, in particular supporting hubs and supporting local, sustainable food systems and procurement in institutions were also commonly cited areas for future funder involvement.

Respondents highlighted the importance of developing collective action and enhancing capacity building efforts vital to the future success of a cohesive food movement. Many interviewees cited Indigenous food security and the implications of climate change in particular on food access in the North as crucial issue areas around which to concentrate collective funding and development efforts. Respondents also noted promoting food literacy and nutrition education as prominent leverage points.

The first section of this report concludes with a set of funding recommendations distilled from the results of the key stakeholder interviews. Some interviewees noted an over-abundance of funding for “big crop” research, such as corn and soy and “commodity markets.” Interviewees encouraged funders to rethink project timelines to encourage deeper, longer-term investment in a project to reflect the systemic nature of many of the most pressing issues in the food sector today. Some respondents also suggested that budgets for communications and advocacy be carefully evaluated and disbursed to ensure capacity in the event of a sudden opportunity to capitalize on relevant current events.

The next section of the report provides both an outline of key funder assets and illuminates in detail the work of multiple organizations that have foodcentric-funding programs based on an analysis of survey results from these 15 organizations. Together, the surveyed organizations represent a total of approximately $16.5 million in annual granting to food work.

Among the funding organizations surveyed, the most commonly funded areas of work include food access and nutrition, education, and social enterprise development, and food distribution and storage. In addition to grant making, 40% of surveyed organizations reported engagement in food-related mission-driven investments, and 80% indicated that they are currently involved in collaborative funding efforts.

The report also contains detailed individual funder profiles, which aggregate information including mission, annual granting, and preferred type of collaboration by funder. The report concludes with several next steps for the food funder collaborative group.

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