Civil society engagement in food systems governance in Canada

Experiences, gaps, and possibilities




Civil Society, Canada, COVID-19, Pandemic, Food Movements, Food Systems, Governance, Indigenous-Settler Relationships, Labor


Civil society organizations (CSOs) commonly expe­rience food systems governance as imposed by governments from the top down and as unduly influenced by a small group of private sector actors that hold disproportionate power. This uneven influence significantly impacts the activities and relationships that determine the nature and orienta­tion of food systems. In contrast, some CSOs have sought to establish participatory governance struc­tures that are more democratic, accessible, collabo­rative, and rooted in social and environmental justice. Our research seeks to better understand the experiences of CSOs across the food systems gov­ernance landscape and critically analyze the suc­cesses, challenges, and future opportunities for establishing collaborative governance processes with the goal of building healthier, sustainable, and more equitable food systems. This paper presents findings from a survey of CSOs in Canada to iden­tify who is involved in this work, key policy priori­ties, and opportunities and limitations experienced. Following the survey, we conducted interviews with a broad cross-section of CSO representatives to deepen our understanding of experiences engag­ing with food systems governance. Our findings suggest that what food systems governance is, how it is experienced, and what more participatory structures might look like are part of an emergent and contested debate. We argue for increased scholarly attention to the ways that proponents of place-based initiatives engage in participatory approaches to food systems governance, examining both current and future possibilities. We conclude by identifying five key gaps in food systems gov­ernance that require additional focus and study: (1) Describing the myriad meanings of participa­tory food systems governance; (2) Learning from food movement histories; (3) Deepening meaning­ful Indigenous-settler relationships; (4) Addressing food systems labor issues; and (5) Considering par­ticipatory food systems governance in the context of COVID-19.


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Author Biographies

Charles Z. Levkoe, Lakehead University

Canada Research Chair in Equitable and Sustainable Food Systems, Department of Health Sciences

Peter Andrée, Carleton University

Professor, Department of Political Science

Patricia Ballamingie, Carleton University

Professor, Geography & Environmental Studies/Institute of Political Economy

Kirsti Tasala, Lakehead University

Department of Health Sciences

Amanda Wilson, Saint Paul University

Assistant Professor, School of Social Innovation

Monika Korzun, Saint Paul University

Postdoctoral Fellow



How to Cite

Levkoe, C., Andrée, P., Ballamingie, P., Tasala, K., Wilson, A., & Korzun, M. (2023). Civil society engagement in food systems governance in Canada: Experiences, gaps, and possibilities. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, 12(2), 267–286.

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