Canadian Manufacturing

Weston Family Foundation launches $33M innovation challenge for food manufacturing

The Homegrown Innovation Challenge calls for entrepreneurs and innovators, food producers and farmers, researchers and scientists to tackle this challenge.

February 9, 2022   by CM Staff

Weston Family Foundation launches the Homegrown Innovation Challenge to future-proof food production in Canada (CNW Group/Weston Family Foundation)

TORONTO — On Feb. 9, The Weston Family Foundation announced the launch of its $33-million Homegrown Innovation Challenge to try and 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,” says Emma Adamo, chair, Weston Family Foundation. “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.”

Like many countries, Canada is heavily reliant on imported fresh fruits and vegetables; we bring in nearly 80% of our fresh produce, predominantly from climate-vulnerable areas. This situation creates the potential for food shortages due to food-systems disruptions such as border closings, droughts, flooding, or future pandemics.

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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% of Canadians underestimate the proportion of fruits and vegetables imported from foreign countries. At the same time, 73% 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 what the Homegrown Innovation Challenge hopes to help.

Challenge prizes are a method for incentivizing innovation, with clear goals, objective criteria, and a focus on solutions and outcomes. Developed by the Weston Family Foundation and Nesta Challenges, the Homegrown Innovation Challenge calls for entrepreneurs and innovators, food producers and farmers, researchers and scientists to tackle this challenge.

“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,” adds 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.