A total of $33 million is available to help Canada’s ag sector produce more goods year-round
By Diego Flammini
The Weston Family Foundation is putting millions of dollars forward to help Canada increase its domestic supply of fruits and vegetables.
The Homegrown Innovation Challenge and the foundation’s $33 million investment is designed to help spark creative solutions and encourage new ideas to increase the sustainable supply of produce in Canada.
Currently, Canada imports about 80 per cent of its fresh fruit and vegetables.
In 2020, Canada imported about $6.5 billion of fruit alone, data from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada says.
Investing in Canadian ideas to produce Canadian food will help with food security, said Evan Fraser, director of the Arrell Food Institute at the University of Guelph.
“If we get the technologies right, we may find ourselves in a position of being far more food sovereign than we are today,” he said Tuesday during the challenge’s virtual announcement. “That means we’ll be less dependent on international trade as well as being a global leader in how these technologies are developed and deployed.”
The Homegrown Innovation Challenge will take place over six years.
The first phase allows innovators to apply for a Spark Award, a $50,000 grant to help with concept development and team building.
The deadline to apply for a Spark Award is May 3 at noon ET.
The next phase is called the Shepherd Phase.
Ten teams will receive $1 million each over 18 months to demonstrate a small-scale version of their ideas.
The deadline to apply is December 20 by noon ET.
Teams must apply for the Shepherd Phase to be considered for future phases of the challenge.
From there, four teams will be selected for the Scaling Phase.
These teams will each receive up to $5 million to build and demonstrate their systems on a farm-scale in Canada and provide a judging panel with evidence of its success.
The application deadline for the Scaling Phase is slated for September 2024.
Of those four final teams, one or two will be selected as the ultimate winners. This comes with up to $8 million in additional support if there’s a sole winner.
The final winner(s) will be announced in spring of 2028.
“If you are interested in applying your knowledge and talents against an important challenge for the future of food, we want to back you,” said Tamara Rebanks, project director and chair of the Weston Family Foundation.