In 2009 Ontario imported over $4.1 billion in food that could have been produced and/or processed in the province (1). According to a 2005 study for Waterloo Public Health, a significant quantity and variety of food that can be grown in Southwest Ontario is imported and has travelled, on average, about 4,500 kilometres to get to this region (2). Over the last several years, numerous research projects in the province have considered viability of local food supply, strength of the local food systems, and market opportunities for local food (3). The Ontario government has recognized the value of local food and is taking steps to support farming communities across the province. In 2009 it committed $24 million to get more Ontario-grown food into the province’s schools, hospitals, food service companies and other institutions(4). The government’s position is that having these institutions become large scale procurers of local foods will: 1) ensure a stable market for local sustainable products; 2) provide consumers more local food choices; 3) reduce environmental harm from shipping food unnecessary distances; and 4) retain more money in the local economy (5).

Local Food Research

Overall, research to date has identified that the development of market channels that increase access to locally-grown food has the potential to provide three main types of benefits: economic, environmental, and social/health. Economic benefits include improved livelihoods for local producers (6); a higher percentage of farming and food dollars in local communities (7, 8, 9); regeneration of market towns and economically depressed areas; greater trust and understanding between stakeholders (10, 11, 12); encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship (13) and raising the profiles of local businesses; greater access to healthy, safe food (14); supporting small business and enterprise, and job creation (15); reducing external costs to both the purchasing authority and its constituents; halting the decline in rural services and food and farming infrastructure (16, 17).

Increased institutional procurement and the development of regional-scale food infrastructure will result in environmental benefits, including reduced air pollution and greenhouse gases from the transport of food (18, 19, 20, 21). Social and health benefits include increased food security; strengthened relationships of trust; and improved local level democracy and economic conditions in rural communities (22). While the health claims of local food are difficult to support, there is a substantial amount of empirical evidence that nutrition is improved by consuming local food because stored fruits and vegetables lose nutritional value with time (23, 24). This appears to be especially true of vitamins A, C, and E (25).

Local Food and Healthcare

Healthcare providers represent a large share of the institutional market for local food. With 30,000 hospital beds at close to 100% occupancy rates (26), Ontario hospitals serve 32,850,000 meals to patients every year, and hospital cafeterias provide meals for employees and visitors. These numbers reflect the size of the opportunity for local food that is present in food purchasing for healthcare facilities, and that opportunity has already been explored to some extent. The 2012 Canadian Coalition for Green Health Care report, Local Food for Health Care, indicated that the interest in local food was present in health care facilities, but the facilities’ capacity to incorporate local food into their everyday operations was varied (27). Moreover, concern with cost, seasonality, and inconvenience of buying from small and medium scale local producers continued to impede growth of local food purchasing among healthcare facilities. Another report (28) indicates that Ontario’s hospitals and long-term care facilities “purchase the vast majority of their food through contracts or from local grocery stores”(p. 50), are sometimes unsure what “local” really means, and while most viewed local food in a positive light, integration of local food into food service was seen as a challenge. A literature review by the Ecology Action Centre in Nova Scotia examined notable global local food movements and found that a major issue with local food policies is inconsistent supply and pricing of food due to seasonality. They also found that local farmers tend to be loosely organized, which creates coordination and supply issues (19).

International Examples

A UK study led researchers to conclude that hospitals with their own kitchens have an easier time incorporating local foods because they have the capacity to receive food directly from farmers. As well, a voluntary approach is unlikely to achieve local food objectives since everyone will not share the passion and energy to create these changes (29). In the mid 2000s, the UK undertook the Hospital Food Project to test the practicality and feasibility of implementing sustainable food procurement policies in their hospitals. The success of the project was mixed, with some hospitals having an easier time implementing local food policies than others due to money and time constraints (30). More recently some hospitals in this Project have reported that they have exceeded their target of 10% local foods (31).
Brazil uses local food systems to strengthen food security and improve rural economic conditions. The Brazilian government also works to ensure that local farmers benefit directly from these efforts. Initiatives such as promoting direct milk and crop purchases have provided rural Brazilian communities with more stable food prices, and increased access to safe food of increased quality for consumers (32).

In the US, several Universities and government bodies, such as the San Francisco Department of Public Health, have created local food systems as joint efforts between students, professors, and professionals (such as chefs) (19). The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has created a program called Farm to School, which seeks to provide local food to schools across the country (33).
In the US ‘Hospitals for Healthy Food Pledge’ includes support for local sustainable foods and has been signed by over 280 US hospitals (37) with the movement being facilitated by a local food for healthcare working group.

The Canadian Picture

Various scale Farm to School initiatives can also be found in Manitoba (34), and Ontario (35), whereas British Columbia’s Farm to Cafeteria program that supports Farm to School, Farm to Campus, and Farm to Hospital initiatives has recently become a national program, Farm to Cafeteria Canada (36). But most of the momentum in local food systems has been at a regional level. For example, the University of Toronto and the City of Toronto have both created local food procurement policies that target 10% local food and will take advantage of the vast green belt that surrounds the city (38). The Region of Waterloo Public Health has shown leadership in exploring and supporting the issues surrounding local foods (39). Several hospitals in Ontario, including St. Mary’s General Hospital in Kitchener, have hosted local food markets to teach and promote health and to show strong environmental leadership (40). Ross Memorial Hospital in Lindsay has, with the support from the Boarder Public Sector Investment Fund, positioned itself as a case study in greening hospital food services (41).

Other Institutions

There are also some initiatives that include food production on institutional sites. Numerous educational institutions now boast community gardens. However, the produce from those gardens is often not intended for institutional consumption or commercial purposes, although some exceptions are notable. The Food School Farm at Centre Wellington high school in Fergus, Ontario (42), is one of those exceptions as it uses food grown on site for the school cafeteria. With the help of FoodShare, the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health’s Sunshine Garden in Toronto (43) sells produce through its organic garden market in the summer, and St. Joseph’s Care Group’s Green Werks Garden at Lakehead Psychiatric Hospital in Thunder Bay supplies the Regional Food Distribution Network (44). In addition to the educational, skill-building and therapeutic benefits of these gardens, they also offer the potential to provide access to land and to generate revenue for growers working in partnership with the institutions. However, because the existing models have focused on the former benefits, the extent to which food production on institutional land could be financially viable remains to be determined.

The Farmers

Many examples show that opportunities exist for farmers who maximize productivity through intensive growing techniques. Ultra-efficient, high-production, low-cost methods that may improve viability in the appropriate circumstances include season extension (with hoop houses and high or low tunnels), succession-planting, intercropping, vertical planting and intensive spacing (45). One model that employs many of these methods is small plot intensive (SPIN) farming, which has been implemented by numerous small-producer and community initiatives across North America, and demonstrated consistently high returns per square metre (46, 47, 48).
SPIN farming and similar growing methods hold a great deal of potential for financial viability of utilization of institutional land for food production. Economically sustainable on-site production would not only offer all the other benefits of on-site food production (availability of low-cost fresh produce, therapeutic benefits, ecological services), but could also remedy the limitations to success imposed by financial and time constraints on some of the past projects. In this study we aim to explore the feasibility of making such projects financially successful through combining the lessons of successful institutional initiatives with the lessons of economically sustainable small scale production models.



Blay-Palmer, A., Kornelsen, S., and Turner, J. (2012). Quantifying Food Systems: Assessing Sustainability in the Canadian Context. In Koc, M., Sumner, J., and Winson, A. (Eds). Critical Perspectives in Food Studies. Toronto: Oxford University Press: 337-358 (using Industry Canada 2011 data).


Xuereb, M. (2005). Food Miles: Environmental Implications of Food Imports in the Waterloo Region. Report for Region of Waterloo Public Health.


Blay-Palmer, A., Landman K., Knezevic. I. and Nelson, E. (2013). Models and best practices in Ontario communities of food. Accessed online at:
Spring 2013.


Government of Ontario Newsroom Website. (2009). McGuinty Government And Farmers Join Together To Promote Ontario Food, April 6.


Landman, K., Blay-Palmer, A., Kornelsen, S., Bundock, J., Davis, M., Temple, K., Megens, S., Nelson, E., Cram, R. (2009). Models and Best Practices for Building Effective Local Food Systems in Ontario. Report prepared for Ontario Ministry of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs.


Koc, M., Dahlberg, K. (1999). The Restructuring of Food Systems: Trends, Research, and Policy Issues. Agriculture and Human Values, 16: 109-116.


ATi Consulting (2002). The Impact of Local Government on Farm Business in Nova Scotia. Report for Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture.


Iowa Farmers Union. (2003). Addressing the True Impacts of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations. Report for GRACE Public Fund.


Smithers, J., Lamarche, J. and Joseph, A. E. (2008). Unpacking the terms of engagement with local food at the Farmers’ Market: Insights from Ontario. Journal of Rural Studies, 24: 337-350.


Feenstra, G. (1997). Local Food Systems of Sustainable Communities. American Journal of Alternative Agriculture, 12(1): 28-36.


Hockridge, E., Longfield, J. (2005). Getting More Sustainable Food into London’s Hospitals. Report for Sustain London.


Smithers, J., Lamarche, J. and Joseph, A. E. (2008). Unpacking the terms of engagement with local food at the Farmers’ Market: Insights from Ontario. Journal of Rural Studies, 24: 337-350.


Seee for example Ontario Premier’s Agri-Food Innovation Awards, and Northeast Center for FoodEntrepreneurship at the New York State Food Venture Center.


Mador, R. and Jayatilaka, D. (2011). Promoting Healthy Eating and Sustainable Local Food in BC. Report to the Population and Public Health Program, BC Provincial Health Services Authority.


USDA. (2012). Regional Food Hubs Resource Guide. Accessed online at: March 2013.


DEFRA. (2006). Unlocking opportunities: lifting the lid on public sector food procurement. Report for Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs.


Morgan, K. (2007). Greening the Realm: Sustainable Food Chains and the Public Plate. Report for The Centre for Business Relationships, Accountability, Sustainability & Society.


King, R P., M. S. Hand, G. DiGiacomo, K. Clancy, M. I. Gómez, S. D. Hardesty, L. Lev, and E. W. McLaughlin. (2010). Comparing the Structure, Size, and Performance of Local and Mainstream Food Supply Chains. United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. Economic Research Report Number 99, June 2010.


MacLeod, M., Scott, J. (2007). Local Food Procurement Policies: A Literature Review. Report for Nova Scotia Department of Energy, Ecology Action Centre.


Pirog, R., Van Pelt, T., Enshayan, K., Cook, E. (2001). Food, Fuel, and Freeways: An Iowa perspective on how far food travels, fuel usage, and greenhouse gas emissions. Report for Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture.


Xuereb, M. (2005). Food Miles: Environmental Implications of Food Imports in the Waterloo Region. Report for Region of Waterloo Public Health.


Hamm, M., Bellows, A. (2003). Community Food Security and Nutrition Educators. Journal of Nutrition Education Behavior, 35: 37-43.


Mulokozi, G., and Svanberg, U. (2003). Effects of traditional open sun-drying and solar cabinet drying on carotene content and vitamin A activity of green leafy vegetables. Plant Foods for Human Nutrition, 58: 1-15.


Ray, R. C., Ravi, V. (2005). Post harvest spoilage of sweet potato in the tropics and control measures. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 45: 623-644.


Jones, A. (2001). Eating Oil: Food Supply in a Changing Climate. Report for Sustain & Elm Farm Research Centre.


Health Systems Facts Website (2010): Average Number of Inpatients on Any Given Day, Ontario, 2010, June 2010.


Allison, J., Wylie-Toal, B. and Varangu L. (2012). Local Food for Health Care: An assessement of the practicality, cost benefit, health and environmental benefits of incorporating more local food into patient and cafeteria meals. Accessed online at March 2013.


Padanyi, P., Kanetkar, V., Varangu, L., Wylie-Toal, B., Blay-Palmer, A. (2012). Report on Food Provision in Ontario Hospitals and Long-Term Care Facilities: The challenges and opportunities of incorporating local foods. Accessed online at: March 2013.


DEFRA. (2010). Food 2030: How we get there. Report for the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.


Hockridge, E., and Longfield, J. (2005). Getting More Sustainable Food into London’s Hospitals. Report for Sustain London.


Sustainable Development Commission. (2010). Healthy Futures. Progress in Practice. Royal Brompton Hospital Food Project. Report for the Sustainable Development Commission.


Rocha, C. (2009). Developments in National Policies for Food and Nutrition Security in Brazil. Development Policy Review, 27(1): 51-66.


Joshi, A., Kalb, M., Beery, M. (2006). Going Local: Paths to Success for Farm to School Programs. Report for National Farm to School Program Center for Food & Justice, Occidental College and Community Food Security Coalition


Farm to School Manitoba at


Ontario Fresh Farm to School at


Farm to Cafeteria Canada at


Health Care Without Harm. (no date). Healthy Food for Hospitals Pledge. Accessed online at March 2013.


Food Connections: Toward a healthy and sustainable food system for Toronto. (2010). Report for Toronto Public Health.


Blay-Palmer, A., Koc, M. (2010). Imagining sustainable food systems: The path to regenerative food systems. In A. Blay-Palmer (ed.), Imagining Sustainable Food Systems: Theory and Practice, 223-246. Surrey, UK: Ashgate.


Maan-Miedema, J. (2008). Neighbourhood Markets Initiative. Report prepared for the Region of Waterloo Public Health.


The Canadian Coalition for Green Healthcare. (2012). Local Food Case Study #3: Ross Memorial Hospital decreases ecological footprint with wholesome, nutritious local food. Accessed online at March 2013.


The Food School, Centre Wellington DHS at


Centre for Addictions and Mental Health. (2012). Let the Sun Shine in – the Sunshine Garden at CAMH. CAMH blog post. July 25, 2012.


Ketonen, K. (20111). Co-op garden a training centre. The Chronicle Journal. August 19, 2011.


Northeast Beginning Farmers Project. (2013). Intensive Techniques. Accessed online at March 2013.


Urban Partners. (2007). Farming in Philadelphia: Feasibility Analysis and Next Steps. Prepared for: Institute for Innovations in Local Farming and the Philadelphia Water Department. Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Commonwealth Financing Authority. December, 2007.


SPIN Farming (no date). SPIN Farming: A New way to Learn to Farm! Accessed online at: March 2013.


Newman, L. (2008). Extreme Local Food: Two Case Studies in Assisted Urban Small Plot Intensive Agriculture. Environments Journal, 36(1): 33-43.


Wylie-Toal, B., Padanyi, P., Varangu, L., Kanetkar, V. (2013). Local Food Provision in Ontario’s Hospitals and Long-Term Care Facilities; Recommendations for Stakeholders. Report for the University of Guelph/Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Partnership. Accessed online at: omafra-local-food-ontario-hospitals.html


Page, M. (2008). Gardening as a therapeutic intervention in mental health. Nursing Times, 104: 45, 28–30.


Twiss, J., J. Dickinson, S. Duma, T. Kleinman, H. Paulsen and L. Rilveria. (2003) Community Gardens: Lessons Learned From California Healthy Cities and Communities. American Journal of Public Health, 93(9): 1435–1438.