The Weston Family Foundation is pleased to announce the judging panel for the $33M Homegrown Innovation Challenge. The panel, chaired by Dominic Barton, is made up of prestigious members from around the world with expertise in food system stability and agriculture technology.
The Homegrown Innovation Challenge launched on February 8, 2022, to catalyze innovation by enabling solutions to solve the interconnected challenges that currently prevent the out-of-season production of fresh fruits and vegetables in Canada. Participants in the Challenge are asked to create market-ready systems for growing berries year-round in Canada on a commercially viable scale. Teams that successfully complete the Challenge could be awarded up to $8 million in funding from the Weston Family Foundation.
The independent judging panel includes the following members:
“Collectively, the members of our panel offer a breadth of experience in food systems innovation and will be instrumental in helping teams conceptualize and bring sustainable, locally-grown food production solutions to market,” said Emma Adamo, chair, Weston Family Foundation.
“We’re grateful to each member for their time and commitment to ensure top innovations are unearthed throughout the Challenge.”
The Weston Family Foundation is pleased to announce the launch of its $33-million Homegrown Innovation Challenge to 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 enable domestic food producers to grow berries out of season, sustainably, competitively, and at scale. Funding will be awarded in stages over a six-year period to eligible teams developing tools and technologies that solve the interconnected challenges of growing produce out of season in Canada.
Like many countries around the world, Canada is heavily reliant on imports of fresh fruits and vegetables, predominantly from climate-vulnerable markets. In fact, some 80 per cent of all fruits and vegetables consumed in Canada are imported. This reliance on other countries creates the potential for future food shortages due to shocks and food-systems disruptions.
That said, because of its long agricultural history, socio-economic profile, and extreme seasons — made even more extreme through the effects of climate change — Canada is an ideal testbed for innovation.
The Challenge is funded and delivered by the Weston Family Foundation. The initiative launched today and an innovation team that progresses through all challenge phases and ultimately claims the final awards would receive up to $8 million in funding to develop and scale their innovation.
Lukasz Aleksandrowicz joined the Weston Family Foundation in November of 2021. He is responsible for managing the Foundation’s Homegrown Innovation Challenge.
Prior to joining the Foundation, Lukasz was a senior research manager at the Wellcome Trust, where he developed strategy and funding programs at the intersection of climate, environmental change, and health, including in food systems. He also worked on the Indian Million Death Study, leading development of new tools for tracking mortality in low-resource settings.
Lukasz has a PhD in Population Health and a MSc in Public Health from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (UK). He has a BSc in Biomedical Sciences from the University of Guelph.
Emma Carey joined the Weston Family Foundation in November of 2021. As a Grants Coordinator, she is a member of the Operations team and primarily supports the Foundation’s Homegrown Innovation Challenge.
Prior to joining the Foundation, Emma worked at Prince’s Trust Canada. She has a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Environmental Studies and Global Development from Queen’s University.
When our Foundation connected with non-profit organization Swim Drink Fish in 2017 to launch the Great Lakes Challenge, we did so to champion projects with several key goals in mind.
As part of a larger commitment to protect freshwater that included a separate Nature Conservancy of Canada initiative on Lakes Superior and Erie, we wanted the Challenge projects to focus on conservation of Great Lakes waters, wetlands, and key tributaries. We wanted to invest in efforts that would make major, sustainable impacts over the long term but start delivering results in the short term, alleviating threats such as polluted water and loss of habitat for species at risk. We wanted to create tangible outcomes that the citizens of the Great Lakes could recognize, experience and enjoy — building on the idea that people who are connected to the water are more likely to protect it.
Thanks to the dedication, drive and vision of many, these goals have been achieved.
Nine projects led to positive outcomes for wildlife and Great Lakes community members alike
In all, our Foundation provided $2.25 million to the Great Lakes Challenge, with an additional $9 million leveraged from other sources. These grants funded nine individual initiatives, resulting in 22 kilometres of fish habitat restored, 37 hectares of coastal wetland protected and 43,000 plants added to the Great Lakes shoreline. The collective work continues our Foundation’s long history of conservation work in Canada, protecting and restoring water, forests, and farmland critical for ecosystem health and biodiversity.
From the beginning of the Challenge, the team at Swim Drink Fish worked closely with municipalities to pinpoint projects that not only addressed areas of need but also created opportunities to inspire and transform other Great Lakes communities.
One of the first projects to reach completion — the revitalization of Breakwater Park in Kingston, Ont. — brought new life to an existing public space, further strengthening the connection between the community and Lake Ontario. In the planning process, project leads focused on both the lake and the adjacent land, restoring fish habitat and shoreline as well as adding accessible pathways and seating along the waterfront. Finally, the team built a new pedestrian bridge and created a one-of-a-kind swimming spot — Canada’s first urban deep-water swimming pier.
Named after late Tragically Hip singer and Kingston native Gord Downie, the Gord Edgar Downie Pier has quickly become a popular community hub and an important way for locals to experience the Great Lake that is theirs to value and enjoy.
Further south, another Challenge project looked to rehabilitate one of the Great Lakes system’s most degraded areas. Located in the Detroit River, near the mouth of St. Clair Lake and just north of Lake Erie, Peche Island is an important refuge for species at risk in a globally significant freshwater ecosystem. But boat traffic in the river has eroded it, threatening some of the last surviving habitat in a Great Lakes Area of Concern — experts say the river has already lost more than 95 per cent of its coastal wetlands.
As part of the Great Lakes Challenge, the City of Windsor and the Detroit River Canadian Cleanup worked to solve the problem of disappearing habitat by creating new habitat from scratch. After some pandemic-related delays, crews began building a series of small islands in the river. The work involved the use of cranes on floating barges and many tons of rock, but the resulting “rock reefs” will help protect the island and create calm water necessary for fish spawning and the growth of aquatic vegetation to promote biodiversity.
As a final step, a community stewardship program now teaches locals and visitors to identify at-risk fish species such as lake sturgeon and Northern madtom. This will build a greater number of knowledgeable stewards and caretakers of the revitalized waterway.
Not all of the Challenge initiatives were quite so large in scope. The Copeland Creek project in Tiny, Ont., created a major impact by focusing efforts in a small area.
The issue at hand in this case was an outdated culvert under a bridge where the creek crossed paths with the Trans Canada Trail. The culvert choked off the free flow of the creek, creating barriers for fish species such as the brook trout and eliminating habitat for migrating birds. So crews removed the culvert, stabilized and naturalized the banks underneath the bridge to prevent erosion, planted new vegetation along the creek, and installed signage to educate all those passing by along the trail.
This created a wide swath of positive outcomes, from rejuvenating the creek so it can flow freely into Lake Huron’s Severn Sound to providing a case study for how recreational and conservation efforts can co-exist.
A small, strategic change led to big things for Copeland Creek
Other projects included the restoration of public swimming access in Frenchman’s Bay and the replacement of hardened shoreline once dominated by a former coal-fired power plant in Mississauga, Ont., to create new wetland habitat.
All told, the nine projects reminded us how important communities are to the health and revitalization of the Great Lakes. They also demonstrated a successful model for other revitalization projects and delivered major impact by improving biodiversity and connecting more Canadians to these irreplaceable bodies of water.
The Weston Family Foundation is pleased to support the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) with a $3-million donation to fund mental health programming for underserved Canadians.
This grant — a part of the Foundation’s COVID-19 recovery funding — will be used to expand access to BounceBack, a free, guided mental health self-help program. The expansion includes the development of partnerships with key organizations, such as youth-serving agencies and organizations serving vulnerable communities. The funding will also extend the program for three years and help it better meet the specific needs of youth and underserved groups, especially Indigenous peoples, Black people, people of colour and people who identify as 2SLGBTQIA+.
According to CMHA research, COVID-19 has had a negative impact on Canadians’ mental health — in a December 2020 survey, 40 percent of respondents said their mental health had deteriorated since the onset of the pandemic. BounceBack helps participants better manage their mental health and reduces symptoms by 50 percent after completion. The program lasts three to six months and requires no travel, so participants can access it from anywhere.
The Weston Family Foundation is pleased to share the Weston Family Scholarship in the Skilled Trades Report—a summary of our findings after many years of supporting students undertaking college-based training of post-secondary pre-apprenticeship diplomas, certificates and apprenticeships within the framework of our scholarship program. The report was created in collaboration with the participating colleges: Algonquin College, Camosun College, Conestoga College, Durham College and Loyalist College, to be used as a tool for potential future skilled trades programming and funding. The Weston Family Scholarship in the Skilled Trades Program was developed as a model to encourage success from start to finish, giving students additional support in their skilled trades career journey.
After more than a decade of supporting skilled trades education in Canada, the Foundation is sunsetting the Weston Family Scholarship in the Skilled Trades program in 2022. The Foundation hopes that the learnings shared in the report will help inspire similar skilled trades funding in the future.
The Ontario Science Centre announced the six winners of the 2021 Weston Youth Innovation Award for their work developing innovative projects. Andrew Pun of Toronto, Ontario, won the top prize of $15,000 for a 3D smartphone camera attachment and AI web app that identifies seven types of skin lesions, including melanoma and basal cell carcinoma.
Our Foundation has long supported education programs and scholarships to benefit the well-being of Canadians. We believe that with education comes opportunity and security.
With the looming labour market gap in the skilled trades, we chose to focus our support on trades education through the Weston Family Scholarship in the Skilled Trades Program. The program was developed as a model to encourage student success from start to finish, giving students additional support in their skilled trades career journey.
We created the Weston Family Scholarship in the Skilled Trades Report as a summary of our findings after many years of working with colleges to support students undertaking college-based training of post-secondary pre-apprenticeship diplomas, certificates and apprenticeships. The report was developed in collaboration with the participating colleges: Algonquin College, Camosun College, Conestoga College, Durham College and Loyalist College, to be used as a tool for potential future skilled trades programming and funding.
After more than a decade of supporting skilled trades education in Canada, we are sunsetting our program in 2022. We hope that the learnings shared in our report will inspire similar skilled trades funding in the future.
Our Foundation has provided $7.5 million in funding towards the Canadian Canoe Museum’s new facility in Peterborough. The Foundation has a longstanding relationship with the Museum, after more than 20 years of funding and leadership with the organization.
The funding has supported costs and educational program development for the new museum, to be built at Johnson Park on Little Lake, north of Beavermead Park, in Peterborough, Ontario. The Foundation’s donation was the largest known private one-time gift to a charitable organization in Peterborough at the time.
The Canadian Canoe Museum gives visitors access to the world’s largest collection of canoes, kayaks and paddled watercraft. The new facility, which will display 600 watercraft, thousands of small artefacts and an archive, will be brought to life by a world-class exhibition design firm GSM Project to create one-of-a-kind visitor experiences.