Disruptive innovation and operationalization in local and sustainable food systems: Examining the University of Toronto-Local Food Plus partnership

  • Lori Stahlbrand
Keywords: university foodservice, institutional procurement, local food systems, sustainable food, Local Food Plus (LFP)


This paper traces the partnership between the University of Toronto and the non-profit Local Food Plus (LFP) to bring local sustainable food to its St. George campus. At its launch, the partnership represented the largest purchase of local sustainable food at a Canadian university, as well as LFP’s first foray into supporting institutional procurement of local sustainable food. LFP was founded in 2005 with a vision to foster sustainable local food economies. To this end, LFP developed a certification system and a marketing program that matched certified farmers and processors to buyers. LFP emphasized large-scale purchases by public institutions. Using information from in-depth semi-structured key informant interviews, this paper argues that the LFP project was a disruptive innovation that posed a challenge to many dimensions of the established food system. The LFP case study reveals structural obstacles to operationalizing a local and sustainable food system. These include a lack of mid-sized infrastructure serving local farmers, the domination of a rebate system of purchasing controlled by an oligopolistic foodservice sector, and embedded government support of export agriculture. This case study is an example of praxis, as the author was the founder of LFP, as well as an academic researcher and analyst.

Field Report or Narrative