Minister’s Message

In a province as prosperous as Ontario, every family deserves the security of knowing they will come home to food on their table.

Despite the bounty of this province, that doesn’t always end up being the case. Too many Ontarians still regularly find themselves without sufficient access to affordable, nutritious food.

As Ontario’s Minister Responsible for the Poverty Reduction Strategy, I know that the inability to access sufficient, affordable, nutritious food is a core symptom of poverty. It’s also clear that escaping food insecurity is an important marker on the road to leaving poverty behind.

The scars of food insecurity can begin at birth, with children born underweight and underdeveloped. In the early years of their lives, insufficient nutrition can impact their ability to learn, grow, and remain healthy.

As a father of three, I know the importance nutritious food plays in helping our children grow up healthy and strong. I can only imagine the worry these parents have about the health of their children, which increases with every missed meal.

For many Ontarians, food insecurity begins as an adult as they juggle the competing demands of putting food on the table and keeping a roof overhead. Other Ontarians arrive at food insecurity in adulthood after experiencing it in childhood, caught in the intergenerational cycle of poverty.

For all of these Ontarians, we’re creating Ontario’s first Food Security Strategy with the aim of ensuring every one of us has sufficient access to affordable and nutritious food.

As we embark on creating this Strategy, we’ll ensure that we consider the connection between prosperity and food security. We’ll also recognize the diversity of our province and remember the role that food plays across cultures and communities throughout Ontario.

The Strategy must address physical and economic access to sufficient, safe, nutritious and culturally appropriate food, including in remote and Indigenous communities and for Indigenous peoples across the province. It must also address the needs of the one in four Ontarians who were born outside of Canada and may face other barriers.

Through our Poverty Reduction Strategy and other policies and programs, we’ve achieved significant milestones in increasing access to the potential benefits of our food system. But we also recognize we still have work to do.

We will bring local governments, First Nations, Métis, Inuit, and urban Indigenous partners, community groups, food industry stakeholders, persons with lived experience, innovators and social enterprise leaders together to identify local, sustainable approaches to food security.

Bringing together partners across sectors makes the most of our resources on the ground and opens up new ways to work together. As we start to develop Ontario’s Food Security Strategy, I hope you’ll join us by sharing your ideas for an Ontario where no one knows what it means to go hungry.

I believe that by working together, we can ensure every one of us has a seat at the province’s kitchen table.

Chris Ballard
Minister Responsible for the Poverty Reduction Strategy


Food security is achieved when people have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious and culturally appropriate food that meets their dietary needs.

Ontarians benefit from one of the world’s best food systems, which efficiently produces a wide variety of high quality, safe, nutritious foods to support healthy, active living at a relatively low cost. Ontario’s agriculture and food sector is also an important economic engine and contributes to our high quality of life by providing good jobs and safe food. The agri-food sector adds $36.4 billion to the province’s economy and supports more than 790,000 jobs.footnote 1

While the majority of Ontarians enjoy affordable food options and are food secure, it is clear that some groups are disproportionately affected by food insecurity, which means they don’t have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious, culturally appropriate food. The rate of food insecurity in Canada hovers at about 12%. According to some estimates, Ontario is home to more than 595,000 food insecure households.footnote 2These individuals and families lack more than access to the food they need. They lack access to housing, adequate food markets, transportation, food and nutrition knowledge, time for food preparation, and adequate income. Ontarians with lower incomes are more negatively impacted by the cost of food and spend a higher percentage of their income on it.

Key populations are impacted differently. Rates of food insecurity are especially high for recent immigrants to Canada, racialized communities, single female parents, and Indigenous persons. People living in rural and remote areas can also be disproportionately impacted by food insecurity. According to the Chiefs of Ontario and the First Nations Information Governance Centre, 48% of First Nations adults living on-reserve in Ontario experience severe (14.5%) or moderate (33.1%) food insecurity.footnote 3Higher food, transportation, and storage costs in the North lead to higher household spending on food as well. On-reserve households in North-eastern Ontario spend approximately 50% of their household income on food, compared to the provincial average of 9%footnote 4. While we often associate rural areas with food production activities, research also shows that fewer food purchasing options, lack of public transit, and the high cost of both food and personal transportation, create specific sets of vulnerabilities to food insecurity in these regions.

The provincial food security strategy will look at factors that influence affordability. It will also explore initiatives to reduce the rate of food insecurity through targeted initiatives that increase access for all Ontarians. We propose to do so in conversation with communities, to support the work of community-level strategies on food security.

Research has shown that food security improves mental health, reduces risks of chronic disease, and lowers health care expenditure overall.footnote 5 Emphasizing the importance of nutritious, culturally appropriate food will help maximize health and social benefits across the province.

Current efforts

The Government of Ontario and partners are working together to support the capacity of our province to produce high quality food now and in the future – including increasing the production of culturally diverse crops. The adequate supply of high-quality lands to support vibrant aquaculture and agriculture production across the province ensures stewardship of our capacity for food production over the long term. Indigenous partners have identified strategies to ensure this stewardship extends to natural and traditional food resources.

Health care and education programs are helping Ontarians understand the value and benefits of high-quality and nutritious foods. They include:

  • Ontario’s Healthy Kids Strategy
  • Student Nutrition Program
  • Healthy Eating, Active Living (HEAL)
  • Northern Fruit and Vegetable Program
  • Fresh from the Farm
  • Healthy Fundraising for Ontario schools
  • Indigenous Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and Child Nutrition Program
  • Aboriginal Diabetes program
  • Urban Aboriginal Healthy Living Program

This work sets the framework for success and helps Ontarians benefit from our food system.

Proposed Long-Term Vision and Approach

Long-Term Vision

Ontario’s vision is a province where every person has access to high-quality, safe, nutritious and culturally appropriate food, to support them in leading healthy and active lives.

In the immediate future, we are focused on closing the gap in realizing those benefits for the over 595,000 food insecure households in Ontario.


The Province has identified 4 broad focus areas for the Food Security Strategy:

  1. Empowered communities with custom-made solutions. Food security challenges and solutions differ across the province. Communities need tools to help mobilize solutions and supports to individuals and communities based on their needs.
  2. Integrated food initiatives that use knowledge to drive collective impact. We recognize the need for a shared vision, clear goals, common metrics and a set of connected, mutually reinforcing activities based on the best available knowledge. We can increase food security in our province by working together towards a shared vision.
  3. Food Security is about more than food. Income, the cost of food and other basic necessities matter. There are lots of ways to increase economic access and reduce the frequency of trading off one basic need against others at the household level.
  4. Driving innovation. To tackle significant challenges and issues we need new ways to get to solutions. We will support, encourage and learn from creative, innovative disruptors who will help us find them.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are your views about the four general areas of focus?
  2. Are there areas of focus we are missing?
  3. Which partners or stakeholders are missing from this discussion?

Empowered Communities

Ontario continues to build capacity and empower communities to respond to specific issues facing their populations. Our continued focus on evidence-informed decision-making and evaluation is building capacity within communities to expand their knowledge and use more robust measurement to make the greatest impact. Evaluation outcomes also help communities make strategic plans and investments that improve the lives of their residents.

We aim to take a similar approach with the food security strategy. We recognize the unique experiences and strengths of communities. We seek to support community approaches, and build evaluation capacity through community-led interventions that measurably increase physical and economic access to sufficient, safe, nutritious and culturally appropriate food.

Solutions to food insecurity will differ among regional and cultural communities. We are mindful of the role of cultural diversity within the development of local food approaches to food security.

A community food systems approach focuses on achieving local environmental, economic, and social health outcomes. The approach emphasizes  collaborative networks that localize and integrate food production, processing, distribution, consumption and waste management. In Ontario, as in other regions, this approach has facilitated the development of local level food charters, food policy councils, food strategies and wider local food movements. It has been driven largely by partnerships between municipal governments, food activists and local service providers. First Nations and Indigenous-led organizations have also developed food strategies, action plans, and community programs to increase food production, the transmission of traditional food skills, and improve food security in their respective communities.

Increasing Access to Affordable, Healthy, Culturally Appropriate Food

Mobile markets, co-ops, good food boxes, community freezers, and gleaning programs – are examples of approaches to increasing access to affordable, healthy, culturally appropriate foods.

The Ontario government has developed a multi-pronged local food strategy to increase local food consumption by bringing more of it to places where Ontarians shop and eat. It includes the establishment of Ontario’s Local Food Act, 2013 which aims to increase awareness of local food, encourage development of new markets, and foster successful and resilient local food economies and systems.

Under the Growth Plan for Northern Ontario, agriculture, aquaculture and food processing was identified as a priority sector that could help grow and diversify the Northern Ontario economy. Ontario is currently developing a Northern Ontario Agriculture, Aquaculture, and Food Processing Strategy to help identify opportunities for growth of the sectorfootnote 6.

Engagement with First Nations and Métis communities revealed significant interest in economic growth and jobs, as well as a desire to address food security. An early initiative under the strategy is the Northern Livestock Pilot, which will explore opportunities to expand livestock production in Northern Ontario.

Initiatives led by racialized communities, newcomers and Indigenous peoples help communities grow, sell and eat healthy, culturally appropriate food. These initiatives help identify approaches to local food security, which take a food justice approach.

It is unclear whether, and how, these community-based food security initiatives are making a material impact on reducing food insecurity. Limited evaluation has been done to assess the impact of community food system approaches on food security. We also have limited knowledge of the regional differences of certain local activities in large urban centres versus rural and remote, as well as across First Nations, Métis, Inuit communities and people.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does food security and food insecurity mean for you and/ or your community?
  2. What are the key challenges or barriers to food security for you and/or your community?
  3. What community-driven food initiatives have contributed to reducing food insecurity in your community?
  4. Have you been involved in the evaluation of a local food security initiative? If so, what methods did you use? What were the outcomes?
  5. What challenges have you experienced addressing food insecurity in your community?

Integrated food initiatives built with collective impact

During an Open Government Symposium, held in Toronto in June, 2016, participants noted that food security was a key issue for their community, and that a collective impact approach would assist with driving required changes. We are interested in working with partners and stakeholders across the province to adapt collective impact approaches for food security, which will also inform provincial policies.

Collective impact is built upon interconnected components to produce strong alignment and lead to large scale results. The following five components provide a high-level overview of a collective impact framework, which may be modified to suit local contexts:

  1. Common agenda – All participants share a vision for change that includes a common understanding of the problem and a joint approach to solving the problem through agreed-upon actions.
  2. Shared measurement – All participating organizations agree on the ways success will be measured and reported, with a short list of common indicators identified and used for learning and improvement.
  3. Mutually reinforcing activities – A diverse set of stakeholders, typically across sectors, coordinate a set of differentiated activities through a mutually reinforcing plan of action.
  4. Continuous communication – All players engage in frequent, structured and open communication to build trust, assure mutual objectives, and create common motivation.
  5. Backbone coordination and support – to serve the entire initiative and coordinate participating organizations and agencies.

Identifying ways to move a collective impact framework forward in the food security space has enormous value. We want to learn more about how we might work towards a common understanding of issues and identify a shared vision and goals. We recognize the need to develop a common measurement framework.

Over the next several months, we will find ways to support and encourage community, municipal, First Nations, Métis, Inuit, urban Indigenous and private sector partners to work together so that all Ontarians will have access to abundant, high-quality, safe, nutritious culturally appropriate food that supports healthy, active lives.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you contributed to, or are you aware of, any food security-related collective impact frameworks? If so, what have been some lessons learned/outcomes/challenges?
  2. If you have contributed to a collective impact framework, have you involved government and/or the private sector? If so, what are some best practices/learnings from that?

Food Security is about more than food

The following assets are essential to food and nutrition securityfootnote 7:

  • physical assets - including housing and access to adequate food supply/markets, and transportation.
  • social assets – including relationships with others, developing food and nutrition knowledge  and Indigenous traditional knowledge through social networks, positive food norms, and reserving time for food preparation activities.
  • financial assets – including adequate income.
  • human assets - including food and nutrition knowledge and skills, motivation and interest in food preparation and nutrition, and mental and physical health.
  • natural assets - including safe, clean water, air, and soil, supportive climate for food production.

A number of existing programs and initiatives, within and beyond government, are increasing access to essentials, including housing, childcare, transportation, heat and hydro while supporting discretionary spending at the household level. Each of these is an important lever of food security.

If we connect the dots on existing initiatives that are fostering the assets outlined above, we can maximize our capacity to increase food and nutrition security. Government can play a convenor role, facilitating conversations and connections that bring key players to the table to work towards achieving a shared goal.

Government also delivers a variety of programs that are increasing the assets essential to food and nutrition security. Recent increases and changes to social assistance have meant some progress in improving incomes, which support greater food security, but social assistance is just one aspect of the overall income security system. Income security requires access to an array of social services and supports that better situate people to pursue social and economic inclusion goals.

Ontario began seeking public input to help inform the design of a Basic Income Pilot in November 2016. Many participants identified food security as a potential measure to test the effectiveness of the Pilot.

We know that more can be done. We are looking at ways the Province can reduce the pressure individuals and households face.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What role can governments play in improving food security?
  2. What role could the private sector play in increasing income-related food security within the province?
  3. What role can farmers, local growers, and Indigenous knowledge keepers play?
  4. What roles can local community institutions, such as community centres, schools, community hubs, religious centres, libraries, etc., play?
  5. What promising community initiatives have you seen that increase food security?

Driving innovation

Driving economic and social innovation empowers communities and increases access to capital, new opportunities for innovators and quality of life.

We aim to identify innovative solutions to economic and physical accessibility challenges to food insecurity, by working with market disruptors, food system innovators, and social enterprises that are creating physically and economically accessible food systems.

The Government of Ontario continues to make investments in social enterprises through Ontario’s Social Enterprise Strategy: 2016 - 2021. These organizations are adapting market-based principles, technologies and infrastructure to tackle social and environmental challenges including those related to food insecurity.

Social enterprises currently tackle food insecurity by:

  • delivering training and employment while providing healthy affordable food to the community they serve.
  • using community assets like public parks for community markets, and developing mobile good food markets where fresh, quality produce is delivered to underserved neighbourhoods at below-market cost.
  • mobile app solutions are increasing access to healthy affordable food.
  • establishing relationships with homeowners, to increase access to backyard fruit trees and garden space, enabling local growers to produce local, healthy food, and collect fruit for sale and distribution.

Discussion Questions:

  1. If you are a food security related social enterprise, or a non-profit organization, trying to incorporate a social enterprise component or spin-off into your work, what are the main challenges that you have faced?
  2. What are some of the successes/results/outcomes that you have seen with the people you work with in terms of a social enterprise approach?
  3. If you are testing an innovative approach to addressing food insecurity, have you accessed funding from private/venture capital funders or others? What have you learned from this experience? Where do you anticipate accessing capital to expand your reach?
  4. Are you part of larger networks or communities of practice as a social enterprise or innovator?

How to share your feedback

We would like to hear from you on how we can increase food security in Ontario. Please provide responses to the questions included in this document and provide any additional feedback to help inform the development of Ontario’s Food Security Strategy, by May 31, 2017.

You can share your thoughts, suggestions and ideas by writing to us at:

Poverty Reduction Strategy Office
Ferguson Block 6th Flr
77 Wellesley St W
Toronto, ON M7A 2T5

As Ontario moves forward towards the development of the Food Security Strategy there will be a number of opportunities for input. Together with the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, we are providing a Food Security Questionnaire for Indigenous communities and organizations, to seek community-based ideas to address this issue. The results of this questionnaire will inform the broader Food Security Strategy.

In summer, 2017 we will share a summary of what we have heard.

Your participation in this engagement process will help us create a provincial food security strategy, which will include actions the government will take over an 18-month period. You will have an opportunity to help us determine priority areas for action, following the release of the summary of what we heard.