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A conversation with Jana Burns and Barbara Swartzentruber: Building a vision for food sustainability

When the City of Guelph and the County of Wellington came together to help create a plan for Canada’s first circular food economy, they did so with some very ambitious goals in mind.

The initiative, Our Food Future, was designed to create a 50 percent increase in access to affordable, nutritious food, 50 new circular food business and collaboration opportunities, and a 50 percent increase in economic revenues by reducing or transforming food waste.

Along the way, the joint proposal was awarded $10 million from Infrastructure Canada to implement their Smart Cities vision. Jana Burns, from County of Wellington, and Barbara Swartzentruber, from City of Guelph, sat down with Municipal World CEO Susan Gardner at the 2019 Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference in Quebec City to discuss the plan’s recognition, and the global importance of food security.

Partnership Essential for Circular Food Economy

“It’s really important. At the heart of this project is creating a sustainable, regional food system. To do that, you have to have an urban-rural partnership,” Swartzentruber said. “Our goal is to turn Guelph-Wellington into an urban-rural living lab where entrepreneurs, social scientists, and researchers, and data and tech experts can all work together in order to solve food problems.”

Burns explained the circular economy is more easily explained by looking at the present day, more linear model. Natural resources are extracted from the environment and are made into a consumer good based on demand. Ultimately, they end up in the garbage or in the landfill.

Another way to look at it, as she explains a colleague at the University of Guelph described it, is “A system that is more designed the way nature intended … more circular, using natural resources and bringing it back into natural resources.”

Food Security Issue a Global Concern

Our Food Future has been able to connect with people, Burns said, because of the subject matter. Food, in general, is something that resonates with every person around the world – but so too is waste, which is a problem every community is dealing with.

The benefits of creating such a system, Swartzentruber said, extend beyond southwestern Ontario.

“Our intention is to build a road map that other communities can follow. This is not just a local issue; this is a global issue,” she said. “Forty percent of the food doesn’t make it to the plate. The food distribution system as it exists contributes to greenhouse gases. And, we know climate change is really making our food system insecure and unstable. These are big issues that we have to tackle. We really think this can be a model for there communities to look to in the future.”  MW

✯ Municipal World Insider and Executive Members: You might also be interested in the article: Our Food Future: Guelph-Wellington’s bold plan to create Canada’s first circular food economy. Note that you can now access the complete collection of past articles (and more) from your membership dashboard.


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