Category Archives: Project SOIL

They grow inclusion at urban microfarm

KW Hab story from The Record, August 14, 2014

With the help of eager student volunteers and KW Hab residents, the farm on University Avenue has become a powerhouse of engagement and fresh food. The harvest is taken to headquarters every Wednesday where residence co-ordinators can pick out what they need for the week. More than 50 kilograms of snow peas, onions, kale, garlic and more have been harvested between the two farms this summer. On Tuesday, staff and volunteers bottled 35 jars of pesto made from the garden’s fresh basil.

Some activity groups and day programs visit the farm on a weekly basis. Franks said some love it so much they want to visit more often. On Wednesday an activity group peeled and ground cherries that will be processed into jam. Others walked around in the pleasant weather or enjoyed the sensory garden. Read more

Homewood Garden in the news


The Project SOIL pilot at Homewood has been in the news lately, with coverage on radio and in print, including this fine article in the Guelph Mercury.

After constructing a Victorian-styled, replicable garden, Homewood is just starting to use their fresh produce in the kitchen, to great response.


“When you think about it, we have a number of rural hospitals and long-term care facilities in this province that actually have a significant amount of land as part of their property,” he said. “Certainly the ones in urban settings may have less land to work with, but in the case of Homewood, their property is 42 acres large.”

In bygone times, Homewood had a full 80-acre farm on site, situated across Delhi Street. It produced enough food to feed its patients and supply the broader community with fresh vegetables, fruit and eggs.

Read more


KW Hab ‘Micro-farm’

Micro farm will provide food, activities for KW Habilitation residents

By Anam Latif

The Record

WATERLOO — California-style tomatoes, rhubarb and basil are just a few of the vegetables KW Habilitation will be growing at their new urban micro farm in Waterloo.

After a successful community garden project in 2011, KW Habilitation turned their backyard into a farm they hope will feed and engage their residents.

KW Habilitation provides services for adults and children living with developmental disabilities. Their largest program is the 23 residential facilities across the region.

“It’s very therapeutic to get people involved in gardening,” said Tracy Franks, director of community participation at KW Habilitation. “And we are looking at reducing some of our food costs for the people that we support residentially.”

The farm is also a way to teach skills like planting and watering, skills that Franks said can be employable after people leave KW Habilitation programs.

Rows have been staked and planted, waiting for the farm’s first crop to bloom. They also built three raised beds Monday night for people with mobility issues to be able to farm comfortably. They are also planning a narrower bed that is raised even higher for people in wheelchairs to be able to reach.

“We will be able to cater to all physical abilities,” Franks added.

Read more

Is that all there is… to debate?

Many have commented since the June 3 Ontario leaders’ debate that little attention was paid to health care, which makes up about 40% of the provincial budget. Food and farming faced the same lack of attention – hardly surprising, given the six ‘representative’ questions that the media selected to guide the debate: ethics, energy, jobs, debt, transit and education.

It’s a shame that the agriculture and food debate –organized by OFA and the Alliance of Ontario Food Processors– was cancelled. This debate might have given some insight into party platforms that don’t get a lot of prime time exposure.

It’s also a shame that there wasn’t a seventh question in the televised debate, asking the leaders to explain how their earlier positions would affect the development of agriculture and food in the province – forcing them to make clear the links between education, jobs, investment, (health!) and agriculture and food policies.

On May 23rd, Sustain Ontario’s Vote on Food and Farming campaign attempted to do just that, by asking party leaders to reflect on questions covering topics as diverse as health promotion, training and cross-ministerial cooperation – as they relate to agriculture and food issues. I went through their answers with interest, looking for points of consensus as well some of the details in their proposed solutions to issues that shape our food systems.

Three parties –the Liberals, NDP and Green Party– submitted thorough responses, while the PC leader sent a form letter with three brief paragraphs about the Million Jobs Plan. As a result, the Vote on Food and Farming Report Card was full of question marks in the PC column. I hunted down the PC white papers (which can’t be accessed from their own website!) in order to fill in that picture.

And what these white papers show is that the PC Party’s agri-food platform is largely silent on many of the issues captured in the Vote on Food and Farming. This is hardly surprising for issues that the party’s current election platform prevents them from acknowledging – such as increasing social assistance to cover the cost of a nutritious food basket, or increasing the reach of the Student Nutrition Program. In other areas, the white papers’ silence reflects low priorities (at least at the time of writing) for the promotion of healthy eating; encouraging ecologically regenerative agricultural practices; protecting pollinators and their habitat; and protecting farmland.

It is also hardly surprising that, on many of these same issues, the other three parties are all pointed in the same direction, differ only in degree, and could therefore –in theory– work with each other. For example, while the Greens advocate universal approaches in student nutrition programming, guaranteed annual income, protection of class 1 farmland and neonicotinoid controls, they would be unlikely to reject Liberal or NDP policy suggestions which move in the same directions.

One set of solutions highlights interesting differences between the parties: how to get beyond the Ministry-level ‘silos’ that often discourage cross-ministerial cooperation and coordination on food issues.

  • The NDP would “develop a coordinated approach that makes sense”;
  • The PCs would “create one-window access to government for farmers and agribusinesses so they can obtain information efficiently and get one straight answer from government”;
  • The Liberals would “convene an inter-ministerial committee to engage stakeholders such as Sustain on an integrated government approach to agriculture, food, nutrition, health, and environment issues”; and
  • The Greens would convene “an Ontario Food Policy Council with stakeholders and members of the public that is ingrained within OMAF, including a representative from each party and the Premier’s Office”

While I don’t want to overstate the significance of a single statement, these replies suggest some fundamental differences in their approaches to governance.

However, differences were not the rule. In fact, all four parties agree on two issues: setting targets for public procurement purchases of local food, and realizing the Community Food Program Donation Tax Credit, which are both sections of the Local Food Act, but are not yet proclaimed. Of course, even universal agreement doesn’t guarantee action in the current legislature: all parties promised to ease the regulatory burden on small and mid-scale processors in the 2011 campaign, and are repeating that promise in this campaign – since nothing was accomplished in the interim.

Often, the reason for lack of action can be found in the details. For example, only the Greens acknowledged that setting targets for procurement of local foods would be unhelpful without also increasing the funding to hospitals and other institutions. It is often such details that turn what appears to be consensus on the campaign trail into division in the legislature.

Another example: while there is a general consensus that the province needs more regionally-based infrastructure to move local food, the Liberals are investigating whether this can be done by giving money to mainstream distributors, and the PCs are suggesting that another food terminal will do the trick. These approaches reflect a fundamental misreading of both the historical lessons of regional food processing, distribution and marketing in the province, as well as the necessary components of a sustainable, regional-scale food infrastructure.

The leaders’ debate could have provided some much-needed details on the factors that shape their parties’ food and farming policies. Before you make your decision on voting day, be sure to take a look at the Vote on Food and Farming Report Card, which provides some of those details.

News from Around

Scaling Up: The UBC Farm to Hospital Project

“The nutritional benefits of serving fresh food could have a significant impact on a patient’s well-being, helping them to heal faster,” said Shannon Lambie, Communications Coordinator, the UBC Farm.  “Local food is more sustainable and, because it tastes better, it could also help hospitals reduce their high rate of food waste. We’re hoping that, through the Farm to Hospital project, we can find a way to get healthy, local food onto patients’ plates.” Read more

Scaling Up: The Evolution of the UBC Dining Hall 

Chef Golob reached out to the UBC Farm, and to his surprise, all it took was a phone call and as he puts it an “adaptable, flexible attitude”.

However, enthusiasm for the farm fresh produce was not immediate in the kitchen. “The initial reaction from the cooks was, why isn’t this pre-cut and fully cleaned? What do you mean I have to wash it?”

It wasn’t long though before the food began selling out and the compliments started to roll in from students.  Soon the cooks were taking pride in their food and asking for more and more, preferring the colour and flavour of the fresh produce from the pre-frozen produce they were used to, and from there, Chef Golob notes, “it really took off, and now we are receiving produce deliveries [from the UBC Farm] into late November”. Read more

This is the Local Food Election!

Guest Post: Phil Mount,
Guelph-Wellington Food Round Table member

Organize your own all-candidates meeting on Food
With the fall of the minority government and a provincial election in full swing, there is a brief window of time before election day —June 12, 2014— to get candidates to state their positions on the record.

One positive way to engage candidates, communities and the media is to provide a forum where constituents can ask burning, relevant questions, the responses to which provide voters with practical information but also a broader sense of the candidates’ philosophies, vision and style. And there is no better frame for this forum than food —which brings together a set of issues as diverse as urban expansion, minimum wage, supply management, bee health, farmland and water protection, institutional procurement, public health, renewable energy, rural development, trade deals, real estate prices, taxation policy, the Greenbelt… the list goes on!

The previous government invested a lot of political capital in advancing the ‘local food’ file, including targeting a pool of provincial money specifically at local food initiatives through the Local Food Fund. There was also lots of media hype (both positive and negative) surrounding the passage of the Local Food Act late last year, with all parties scrambling to show how they were the most supportive of Ontario’s local food scene, farmers, food access programs, etc.

But as Sustain Ontario’s latest assessment makes clear, only pieces of the Act have been ‘proclaimed’ —and therefore legally binding.

The sections [of the Local Food Act] that have not yet been proclaimed are:
  • the creation of a tax credit for farmers who donate to community food programs and food banks
  • setting goals or targets to aspire to with respect to
– public procurement of local food
– increasing access to local food
I think this would come as a surprise to many who are active in the food access and local food scene —let alone the broader public. But in a way, this delay presents an opportunity: now it’s possible to get a clear sense of where your candidates stand on the many provisions of this Act, and some of the pieces that were left out.
It’s time to take the measure of our candidates for public office, time to understand where their philosophies, policies and governance style would take the  province — and no better way to do that than to get them to lay out their vision for the future of our food system.

The SOIL Survey

Are you an administrator in a hospital, long-term care facility, university, college or school?

Do you  grow fresh food on the property of your institution?
Have you considered the idea?

Please let us know, with a quick trip to our brief online survey only for administrators like you.

You can find more information on our new Survey page,  on the  FAQ and Lit pages, or by contacting:

Dr. Irena Knezevic, Coordinator, Centre for Sustainable Food Systems, Wilfrid Laurier University at


Dr. Phil Mount, Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, Wilfrid Laurier University, at


A Fresh Approach

From Canadian Healthcare Manager Dec 18, 2013

Hospitals and foodservice providers are making great strides in improving patients’ food experience by incorporating ingredients that are healthy, fresh and local


Cue the stereotype. Hospital food is notoriously bad.

Horror stories abound, as an Internet search quickly reveals. In one incident, a vegetarian was served a dinner of cold carrots—and nothing else. Another woman encountered overcooked, bland and mushy food so bad it was “beyond cliché.” Her husband, a former chef, began preparing food at home and bringing it to her bedside.

Hospitals, government, non-profit organizations and foodservice providers are working to improve patients’ culinary experience with healthier meal options incorporating local foods

But things are changing. Hospitals, government, non-profit organizations and foodservice providers are working to improve patients’ culinary experience with healthier meal options incorporating local foods. Result: Improved patient satisfaction and along with it, cost savings realized through reduced waste.

Local, fresh, sustainable

On the foodservice side, there’s Steamplicity. Developed by Compass Group in the U.K. and brought to Canada in 2009 by the company’s Canadian division, Steamplicity uses hospitals’ onsite microwave ovens to steam food using ingredients’ natural moisture. At the company’s Cuisine Centre, in Mississauga, Ont., entrees are prepared on a microwave-safe plate, sealed with a recyclable plastic polymer and chilled.

Ten hospitals in Ontario and B.C. use Steamplicity, according to Sharon McDonald, president of Compass Group Canada’s Morrison Healthcare division. The two B.C. hospitals, Royal Jubilee and Victoria General, prepare Steamplicity meals onsite in mini-Cuisine Centres.

Steamplicity offers 60 meal options—for example, wild Pacific salmon and steamed rice with fresh broccoli florets— developed by Morrison’s executive chef and dietitians. Wherever possible, Compass purchases ingredients that are local, fresh and sustainable, said McDonald.

Royal Jubilee and Victoria General introduced Steamplicity in January, 2012, and since then, patient satisfaction levels have risen dramatically, said Joe Murphy, vice-president, operations and support services at Vancouver Island Health Authority. Organic food waste has fallen to an average of 9,450 kg per month, down from an average of 15,400 kg per month, he said.

Providing healthy patient-menu options is The Fresh and Local Cookbook Developed for Healthcare Foodservices, published in mid-November by Burlodge Canada, a Brampton, Ont.-based manufacturer of retherm systems used to reheat chilled or frozen prepared foods. The cookbook features 79 retherm-friendly recipes for hot dishes and cold items such as salads, sandwiches and desserts tailored to hospitals’ nutritional requirements.

Ethnic flavour added

St. Michael’s Hospital, in Toronto, will be adding a Burlodge recipe—Mexican lasagna—to its patient menus. The lasagna is “unique” and will “add some ethnic flavour,” said Heather Fletcher, interim director of foodservice and patient transport at the 450-bed facility.

During the past two and a half years, the hospital has incorporated healthier foods and now, the “majority” of fruits and vegetables on patient menus are fresh, in-season “when we can get them” and sourced from Ontario, Fletcher said.

In addition, St. Michael’s offers healthier desserts such as fruit, yogurt, mixed-berry crisps and low-fat pudding. “We’ve seen a noted improvement in the amount of food consumed and in food waste,” said Fletcher.

Can order what they want

Also seeing increased patient satisfaction is Capital Health, which services 10 Nova Scotia hospitals.

The menu at Capital Health’s acute-care facilities offers up to eight options for each appetizer, salad, entrée and dessert category, said Jane Pryor, director of operations support. Everything is made from scratch and “all food contracts give preference to local suppliers, where available,” she said. Local foods include meats and in-season fruits, vegetables and lobster.

“There’s less waste because people can now order what they want,” she said.

Baked and grilled over fried

Out west, Alberta Health Services (AHS) has made great strides in recent years to patient menus at its 107 facilities, where food is made on-site.

AHS removed deep fryers in favour of baked and grilled foods, said Heather Truber, director, food safety, menu and supply, nutrition and foodservices. In 2012, AHS introduced Closer to Home, a program allowing facilities to make site-specific changes to dishes to satisfy patients’ tastes, while still adhering to master menus and dietary restrictions, said Truber. AHS is continually working to enhance their menu items by, for example, introducing lemon-dill sauce for fish and offering dried cranberries, which patients can add to hot or cold cereals.

During the past year, AHS has focused on sourcing more Alberta products, which now account for 29 per cent of its food offering (not including produce), up from 24 per cent in 2012, said Truber. Alberta producers supply greenhouse and field peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers and potatoes, grains, in-season fruits and all of AHS’s eggs and beef as part of the organization’s $55-million annual food buy. Truber said the new menu items are generating “positive patient feedback.”

Local product percentage boost

Local products have become a bigger part of the food buy in the St. Joseph’s Health System Group Purchasing Organization following a $65,000 pilot project, bankrolled by the Green Belt Fund, a privately and publicly funded non-profit organization working to increase the amount of Ontario foods in hospitals.

Undertaken between January 2011 and March 2012, the pilot project invited local food vendors to participate in the request for proposal (RFP) process. Now, Ontario products account for $1.5-million of the group purchasing organization’s annual food buy, up from “well under $1-million before the project,” said Wendy Smith, material management analyst in the MEALsource division, which aggregates volumes and facilitates the contract process for its 26 member patient-foodservice operations.

“Our success would not have been possible without the hard work of our partners for this project at My Sustainable Canada.” Smith added. “They first determined the origin of the products originally on contract, aided with reaching out to local vendors who could meet these needs and made the appropriate introductions so that MEALsource could proceed with the necessary vendor education to enable these folks to begin bidding on our business.

“We found that the RFP process was very daunting for local vendors and many did not know that it existed.  As well, there was much work involved in ensuring that the products quoted met the safety and inspection standards necessary for healthcare procurement.  This project has done much to increase the level of competition in our contract process and through that, everyone wins.”

Chef-driven, right from scratch

In 2010, foodservice provider Sodexo Canada, headquartered in Burlington, Ont., introduced chef-driven, scratch-made food at 491-bed Mackenzie Health hospital, in Richmond Hill, Ont., north of Toronto. Making everything from scratch gives the 10-chef team flexibility to alter recipes “literally overnight” to meet dietitians’ requests, says Gay Magrath, a Sodexo employee who works onsite at Mackenzie Health as director of foodservices.

Complementing the food is “high-touch” customer service whereby a Mackenzie Health staff member visits patients right before mealtimes to display the menu on a hand-held device. Patients then make their choices, restaurant-style.

Magrath said that since 2010, food waste has decreased “significantly” and fell by more than 8 per cent during the past year.

Healthy Food in Health Care Pledge

More healthy and local food initiatives are underway. In late 2012, the Coalition for Green Health Care, comprising some of Canada’s largest healthcare associations and environmental groups, introduced its Healthy Food in Health Care Pledge, a framework that outlines steps the healthcare industry can take to improve the health of patients, communities and the environment.

In March, 2013, the Greenbelt Fund launched the Local Food Challenge, which helps eight public institutions (including four hospitals) buy more local food for their menus. They will create new recipes, work with local farmers on education and liaise with distributors on local food suppliers. Supporting the program is the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food and Ministry of Rural Affairs.

Those two provincial ministries, as part of their New Directions Research Program, are funding a three-year, $200,000 pilot project exploring the possibility of growing food on publicly owned institutional land. Developed in partnership with the Coalition for Green Health Care and My Sustainable Canada, a national non-profit group dedicated to helping organizations make sustainable choices, the project launched in September, 2013, at two healthcare facilities, Homewood Health Centre, in Guelph, Ont., and Glengarry Memorial Hospital, in Alexandria, Ont.

So much for stereotypes.

Don Douloff is a freelance writer living in Toronto.

Ontario’s Farmland Crisis

High costs make it hard for young farmers hoping to get into the business (CBC News)

“According to StatsCan data, about 50 per cent of our land assets will be transferred in the next five years. And of the retiring farmers, 75 per cent of them don’t have successors. It’s a transition we’ve never seen before in agriculture. And it’s one we are wholly and completely unprepared for.”  – Christie Young, executive director of FarmStart

FarmStart has two incubator farms in southern Ontario to bring new farmers into the business, but at current prices, Young says there is no way those starting out could earn enough from their farms to make a living and pay their mortgage.

Read more