Social innovation brings together new behaviours, new perspectives and diverse relationships to shape and build a more connected, stronger and more resilient regional local food system. Northern Ontario is self-organizing social innovation within its alternative local food system creating new solutions, fresh thinking and unique approaches. Ten case studies from across the vast expanse of Northern Ontario are profiled as independent initiatives that are growing in the interdependent possibilities for deepening connectedness and capital needed to transform and build resilience into Northern Ontario as a resilient connected food hub.


Our research on exploring local food initiatives in northern Ontario began in 2011. Through a snowball process, we discovered over 40 local food initiatives that were in various stages of releasing capital, resources and knowledge from the dominant industrial-based food system (Nelson & Stroink, 2013). Using a complex adaptive system perspective, we explored 23 of these case studies in more detail (Nelson & Stroink, 2013). In 2014-15, we furthered this research by exploring the emergence of local food initiatives from a complex adaptive system perspective by focusing in-depth attention on ten selected local food initiatives that displayed innovation in their release from the dominant agri-industrial based food system.

Figure2 In this report we describe innovative actions and behaviours of each of these ten case studies from which a northern resilient food hub emerges to address food system issues of production, marketing, processing and distribution. Figure 2 displays their governance structure. Each is a unique independent entity that interacts in place-based ways. These non-linear spatial-temporal interactions build a complex system where behaviours self-organize and emerge based on feedback from their environments. Thus, they are constantly changing as they change in response to their environments and these environmental changes in turn change them. They are co-evolving in their interactions with the resources and attributes of their localized environments. (For more detail of the interactions, see the VUE maps linked to each case study.) Figure3

The innovative food hub that has emerged in northern Ontario has no declared or assigned leader. Each of these case studies connects as they explore opportunities to enhance social justice, environmental well-being, healthy food and socio-economic opportunities. Early connections are displayed in the map Figure 1. The northern food hub becomes what it is through these self-organizing interactions. They cannot be anticipated by observing in isolation any of the component case studies. Instead, more meaningful is to view the patterns of interactions. As they self-organize, they reach across 802, 378 km2 of the province of Ontario. There are 5 case study sites that must travel between 1,000 and 1,400 km to interact face-to-face with their products. Only three of these case studies are within 50 km of each other. In spite of the geographic challenges, there is abundant growing evidence of knowledge sharing through the Internet, social media and special workshops and conferences as well as expanding food distribution systems that will provision both road accessible and the northern fly-in communities. We found that the density and depth of these connections continued to grow throughout the data collection stage.

We observed that social processes in each of these case studies occur through and are shaped by the resources of their local environments and emerge in place-specific settings. Figure 3 illustrates the diversity of interactions. These deep interactions that exist between food initiatives and their resources and attributes shape the nature of the social innovations that self-organize. This diversity is an essential characteristic of social innovation and resilience of the northern local food hub. The self-organizing, place-based and diverse nature of these innovative case studies builds novelty and potential for buoyant resistance to ensure constant adaptations in and evolving to an ever-changing environment. It appears that that these case studies collectively are emerging as a connected and resilient Northern Ontario food hub.  This food hub establishes a viable alternative local food movement where more emphasis is placed on accessing food closer to home, where animal and soil health are essential priorities, and people have more say in the origins of their food. From a complexity perspective where small changes can have tremendous impacts, the northern Ontario local food hub may indeed have profound impact on the well-being and socio-economic development of Northern Ontario.

Nelson, C.H., Stroink, M. and Kerk, K. (In Progress) Resiliency and the Food System: What we can learn from the Northern Ontario Local Food Hub

Case Studies

CornellFarms_LogoCornell Farms

Cornell Farms is a fifth generation cattle farm located in Devlin that has been instrumental in finding and solidifying retail distribution outlets via farmers markets in under serviced rural areas in Northwestern Ontario. READ MORE...

RainyRiverMeats_LogoRainy River Meats (RRM)

Rainy River Meats is a custom butcher service in Emo. RRM provides an essential supportive function and stimulates local economic growth via locally produced/packaged and smoked meats. READ MORE...

Cloverbelt_LogoCloverbelt Local Food Co-op (CLFC)

The Cloverbelt Local Food Co-op is an online farmers market based in Dryden. CLFC has seen intense growth since its inception in 2013 and is already expanding their reach to outlying communities in Northwestern Ontario. READ MORE...

SSFMSuperior Seasons Farmers Market (SSFM)

Superior Seasons is the only online farmers market for individuals, institutions and retailers (distributors and restaurants) in the Thunder Bay area. READ MORE...

WillowSprings_logoWillow Springs Creative Centre (WSCC)

Willow Springs uses food as a learning tool to grow confidence, skills and economic opportunities for participants through a rural Farmers Market, a discarded fruit processing enterprise, a cooking/baking social enterprise and therapeutic gardening programs.


RootstoHarvest_LogoRoots to Harvest (R2H)

Roots to Harvest engages youth in the local food system by providing learning opportunities to understand the entire food production system from ‘seed to stomach’ in urban, working farm, food service, and academic settings. READ MORE...

RAIN_LogoAlgoma Rural Agri-Innovation Network (RAIN)

RAIN Algoma takes a ‘bottom up’ approach to growing agriculture as a viable, stable, and opportunistic economic pillar in the region. RAIN supports innovative growth by working with producers to strengthen the supply side of the agricultural equation. READ MORE...

NeCN_LogoNortheastern Community Network (NeCN)

NeCN acts as the backbone of the growing farming industry in Northeastern Ontario to help producers and processors connect with financial and other growth opportunities to build their operations to increase agricultural supply. READ MORE...

Lamaisonverte_LogoLa Maison Verte (LMV)

La Maison Verte supplements its tree seedling greenhouse operation with greenhouse grown produce providing job and revenue stability for their employees and the broader community during cyclical lows in the forestry sector. READ MORE...

Sudbury_LogoEat Local Sudbury (ELS)

Eat Local Sudbury is a very busy retail co-operative grocery store that strengthens the local food economy all along the food production/consumption chain. They are a model for growth and sustainability for co-ops and food systems in Northern Ontario and beyond. READ MORE...


For more information about the case studies, contact Dr. Connie Nelson, Director, Food Security Research Network, Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada