How We Work

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Sustain Ontario is an alliance comprised of businesses, community groups, farmers, educators, activists, and many others, all of whom share the common goal of building a food system in Ontario that is healthy, ecological, equitable, and financially viable. As the provincial  alliance for healthy food and farming, Sustain actively brings together individuals and groups who are interested in making these goals a reality across a wide range of geographies and cultures within Ontario, as well as setting an example for other communities beyond the provincial borders. To date, over 400 member organizations have come together to develop strategies, exchange ideas and information, and identify opportunities for collaboration in achieving this goal.

The Outcomes Map below highlights the two main outcomes Sustain Ontario is striving to achieve – policy change and strengthening network capacity.

Highlighting some initiatives and examples already completed by Sustain Ontario, the Interactive Outcomes Map below allows you to scroll through the pathways.

The supply chain process involves a diverse array of actors, each with unique concerns, needs, and knowledge. By bringing together all sectors involved in the journey of food from farm to plate, Sustain is able to foster long-term sustainable solutions by leveraging the expertise and diversity of knowledge of each member’s “on-the-ground” experience. Understanding that long-term solutions are best achieved through collaboration, Sustain has adopted the Constellation Model Working Structure (CMWS).

The Constellation Model Working Structure

Constellation working groups are self-organized teams formed by Sustain Ontario’s members and supporters who have identified common goals and interests. Working groups are initiated by interested leaders and have the freedom to choose their own leadership and decision-making strategies as well as action plans for achieving their agreed upon goals.

Working groups focus on tangible goals that fall within Sustain Ontario’s mandate of a sustainable local food system, goals such as implementing nutritional and food skills training into the school curriculum or advocating on behalf of small meat processing facilities.

Different working groups may adopt different tactics. Some may develop advocacy campaigns for policy reform or may use the collective capacity of members to implement programs bringing about positive change in Ontario’s food system. The members of the working group also establish their chosen methods of communication, such as in-person meetings as well as webinars and teleconferences, in order to regularly come together to reassess and refine their goals and strategies.

The Sustain Ontario Advisory Council, to whom working group leaders report regularly, supports the interest of the working group and helps to leverage the skills and assets of the alliance in order to support the work and goals of each working group. Leadership and membership are fluid and can change throughout the duration of a working group’s existence. Groups dissolve if members feel that goals have been met or decide to adopt new priorities.


A sustainable local food system is a complex goal requiring action from diverse sectors, especially given the many different actors involved in the seemingly simple act of eating. The journey from farm to plate involves not just consumers, but farmers, food distributors and processors, markets, and restaurants as well as policymakers who create the legal framework governing the entire process.

A healthy food and agricultural system begins with making connections between all of these actors and ensuring that local farmers can get their foods to market, fostering regional economic opportunities, addressing food insecurity, and promoting food and nutritional literacy among Ontarians in order to encourage greater consumption of healthy local foods.

The working group model is ideally suited to an alliance like Sustain, which is comprised of multiple actors representing diverse regions, sectors, and scales. These actors share common goals and stand to benefit from working together in a flexibly structured environment that allows them to maintain their autonomy while still carrying out coordinated efforts.

The working group model provides the ideal structure for allowing groups to quickly form around a common goal as well as quickly dissolve once that goal has been achieved.

The CMWS in Action

The Meat & Abattoirs Working Group is made up of Sustain Ontario members with a shared interest in promoting and preserving small meat processing facilities. Through the use of Sustain Ontario’s communication channels, members of this group have worked to bolster public awareness of issues facing small meat producers and possible avenues for reforming the current system of regulations governing meat production in Ontario.

Municipal/Regional Food Policy Working Groups bring together planners, community organizers, public health professionals, and farmers in order to influence food and farming policy and the municipal or regional level. Through mediums like webinars and workshops, members of each regional working group have exchanged knowledge and ideas in order to develop best practices and solutions to key policy issues.

Issues such as community garden development, local food procurement, and food access are among the major areas of focus for these groups, which have published reports on local food issues and a series of food charters that have outlined a common vision for a just local food system.

The working group model has enabled diverse actors, all of whom have a stake in local food policy, to come together and provide a unified voice for policy reform at the local level.

The Ontario Edible Education Network (OEEN) began as a working group of Sustain Ontario, delivering workshops and carrying out collaborative research on connecting Ontario’s children with healthy local food. The OEEN is now a full-time collaborative effort between educators, community organizations, businesses, parents, and others working to connect children and youth to good food. Members of the OEEN are currently working together on advocacy efforts and developing programs and strategies to increase nutritional literacy as well as food growing and cooking skills among Ontario’s schoolchildren. The OEEN is led by an Advisory Group of more than 30 members from organizations across the province.