Food system resilience tested

The impact of COVID-19 on a major node in North America’s produce supply chains




resilience, supply chains, food system, markets, COVID-19, produce


At the beginning of the COVID-19 Pandemic, many warned that the resilience of the global, industrial food system would be tested. We conducted regular interviews in 2020 with key actors at the Ontario Food Terminal, North America’s third largest produce wholesale market, to better understand urban food system resilience in the first year of the Pandemic. How major wholesale marketplaces, such as the Ontario Food Terminal, fare during emergencies is key to understanding urban food system resilience, as these institutions connect farms to cities. Widescale interruptions to the supply of fresh produce did not take place at the Terminal despite challenges. We present data from the frontlines, documenting the challenges participants faced and their adaptive capacity. We find that food system resilience was rooted in pre-existing relationships, the adaptability of actors in produce supply chains, and worker stress and effort. We caution that, even though the system displayed resiliency, this does not mean that it is inherently resilient. We highlight vulnerabilities in the status quo and raise a red flag around the future ability of the system to withstand shocks. We conclude that, because the system resilience we document depends on people, the well-being of humans in the system is key to resilience of the food system itself.

Author Biography

Sarah Elton, Ryerson University

Sarah Elton is an Assistant Professor in the Sociology Department at Ryerson University. She researches at the ecosystem-health-food nexus and is the author of several best-selling books about the food system, including Consumed: Food for a Finite Planet. She is a member of the Centre for Studies in Food Security at Ryerson and the Toronto Food Policy Council.




How to Cite

Elton, S., Fraser, E. ., & Siew, R. (2023). Food system resilience tested: The impact of COVID-19 on a major node in North America’s produce supply chains. Canadian Food Studies La Revue Canadienne Des études Sur l’alimentation, 10(3), 68–86.