The Social Economy in Northwestern Ontario

The following four case studies represent a diversity of approaches to building a social economy in Northwestern Ontario.


Blueberry Foraging as a Social Economy in Northern Ontario

The Cloverbelt Local Food Co-op

Willow Springs Creative Centre

Bearskin First Nation

The Cloverbelt Local Food Co-op (CLFC) Case Study demonstrates that increasing social capital is one of the main reasons why CLFC was created. The desire to have greater collaboration rather than competition among farmers in this Northern Ontario region means that building connections to foster greater access to local foods within and between communities is a central focus. Consumers can trust their products, knowing they are grown nearby, and producers can take pride in their products, knowing what Northwestern Ontario is capable of yielding.

Bearskin First Nation Case Study places emphasis on building resilience through food sharing within and among other First Nation communities. There is a concern that increased dependence on marketing food outside the community heightens the risks of commodification of food values, erosion of cultural significance such as food as medicine and the potential destruction of tight ecological relationships between food and humans.

The Foraging Case Study embeds four subcases that show how foraging for blueberries is highly valued by Indigenous communities and other forest food harvesters as a source of income, food security, tradition, and as an alternative to timber extraction on Crown land. Through foraging, food security is increased and relationships with each other and the land are strengthened.

For Willow Springs Creative Centre (WSCC), relationships and growth through enhancing accessibility are the essence of their initiatives. Sustainability rather than profitability is the driving force. This type of systems thinking challenges the traditional notions of profit driven economies. Enhanced sense of purpose, and community connections are central foci; money is simply a means of survival for Willow Springs but not the end goal.

These four case studies establish that a social economy emerges out of context and place. In all four case studies, a complexity framework has been introduced to better understand how the diversity inherent in this context and place enables the unique social, ecological and economic features of each initiative to emerge. Moreover, these four case studies validate that local food initiatives build an enhanced sense of community purpose, identity and connectedness—thus, challenging the accepted wisdom of externally-driven, profit-oriented economic primacy.

All four case studies are unique and reveal the breadth of the meaning of social economy in increasing prosperity for marginalized groups; building adaptive capacity to increase community resilience; bridging divides between elite consumers of alternative food products and more marginalized groups; increasing social capital; and fostering social innovation, entrepreneurship, and economic diversification.