Attending an EWB Shop Day




Attending and EWB Shop Day

Saturday, September 13, 2014

It was a fresh Fall Day and after arriving and locating the PEO building in North York, Toronto the Toronto Pro Chapter, hosted Shop Day on Food Systems had finally begun.

Light conversation filled the room as EWBers and interested community members mixed and mingled over free lunch. One of the conversation topics was the meaning of a shop day. Was it a day to go shopping? A day of focused discussion? Well the second was definitely a lot closer to the truth. A shop day is a day of doing and of action focused planning.

This shop day was focused on Food Systems one of EWBs 5 Portfolios in the 5-3-5 plan. Two great speakers from the Universities of Trent and Ryerson were present to talk about their work on food systems innovations in third world countries.

We started off the day with a very simplistic video about food production in the 3rd world and solving the global food crisis, which is pretty incredulous, when you face the facts that we produce enough food to feed 10 billion people! The video presented a small and large scale industry solution where small sustenance farmers are given access to capital, land and better technology to increase their yield so they can start turning a profit from their toiling and large scale industries can exist in unison with these smaller farms and be responsible for mass production to feed the growing malnourished population.

These solutions were quickly overturned by our speakers making some very important distinctions. The good and services which are needed to improve these small farmers yield are controlled by a very small group of companies which monopolize the market and have no interest in small scale operations. Also this equally divided market between the large and small scale farm is not practical since there is a finite amount of land and an unequal power balance meaning most small farmers land gets grabbed by large industries. Also the food grown on these large farms does not stay in the country but is sold as exports.

The speakers each had their own story to tell about food system development. One was about an epic failure of a UN project in Pakistan to reduce salination of the land in a mountainous northern area of the country. The project gave the area more usable land to help improve food production but what they didn’t consider was the hierarchy and social organization of these communities and it soon became clear that land-owners were the only ones benefitting from these improvements and the poorest families were moved to less fertile land. This feat of engineering did not have the social benefits they expected.

The other speaker had a different experience to share. He was part of a non-profit working on a project in Zambia, which after studying the benefits of adding ponds to dry fields, were willing to partner with a group of local farmers and let me be in charge of designing how to integrate the ponds into their fields. The project was a success, the farmers each designed their own innovative and functional wet fields and started taking ownership of the project and developing more ways to improve their output.

In the end the shop day was a valuable experience and different approaches to charity work were explored and discussed. As always, a more collaborative and innovative decision to a complex social problem had a larger impact on the problem versus a more removed and problem-solution approach to social innovation. Food systems is an EWB national portfolio which is a new and exciting direction we are moving in. This portfolio is aiming to create and collaborate on 10 new projects within the realm of food systems.

Also getting involved in the chapter level is possible through our Fair Trade team you can contact them at

Want to learn more about Food Security? Check this out:


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