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Weston Family Foundation launches fruit and veggie production challenge

Running until 2028, the Homegrown Innovation Challenge is positioned to become an incubator for new ideas, technologies and business models that will build Canada’s long-term food system sustainability.


February 9, 2022
By Fruit & Vegetable

On Feb. 8, the Weston Family Foundation announced the launch of its $33-million Homegrown Innovation Challenge to spark creative solutions and encourage new ideas to boost the sustainable production of fruits and vegetables in Canada.

The challenge centres around a competition to generate solutions that will enable domestic food producers to grow berries out of season, sustainably, competitively and at scale. Funding will be awarded in stages over six years to eligible teams developing tools and technologies that solve the interconnected challenges of growing produce out of season in Canada.

“There is a golden opportunity to boost innovation in the food sector by nurturing bold, game-changing solutions for agricultural producers,” said Emma Adamo, chair, Weston Family Foundation, in a press release. “By catalyzing these solutions for berries, we anticipate the creation of systems relevant to a broad array of fruit and vegetable crops, helping to position Canada as a leader in this sector.”

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Like many countries, Canada is heavily reliant on imported fresh fruits and vegetables, with nearly 80 per cent of fresh produce coming predominantly from climate-vulnerable areas. This situation creates the potential for food shortages due to food system disruptions, such as border closings, droughts, flooding or future pandemics.

To gauge the level of public awareness of these issues, the Weston Family Foundation recently surveyed more than 1,500 Canadians via Leger. The study found that 65 per cent of Canadians underestimate the proportion of fruits and vegetables imported from foreign countries. At the same time, 73 per cent of Canadians indicated that not relying on imported fruits and vegetables is an important measure to guard against future disruptions. So, while consumers recognize the situation, they are unclear about its severity.

This reality presents a unique opportunity to spread awareness of a critical issue and create a homegrown solution to a global problem. Thanks to its socio-economic profile and extreme seasons – made even more extreme through the effects of climate change – Canada is an ideal testbed for innovative agricultural ideas.

Ideas, however, require funding and support to develop into functioning, scalable systems, and that is where the Homegrown Innovation Challenge comes in. Challenge prizes are a tried-and-tested method for incentivizing innovation, with clear goals, objective criteria, and a laser-like focus on solutions and outcomes.

“The challenge’s goals are grounded in our foundation’s commitment to advancing sustainable innovation for the well-being of all Canadians for generations to come,” said Tamara Rebanks, project chair and director, Weston Family Foundation. “If you have exciting, creative ideas on how to improve the way we grow food in Canada, we want to hear from you.”

The ultimate winner of the challenge could be awarded as much as $8 million, with substantial funding also available to eligible teams that progress through different stages as they develop, scale, and ready their innovations for market.

Learn more about the criteria and process for applications at www.homegrownchallenge.ca.