Healthy Food Access in Social Economy Business Models: Case Studies in Toronto’s Good Food Sector
This paper explores the socioeconomic dimensions of food access in social economy business models in Toronto’s food sector. Specifically, it focuses on community food organizations and small food businesses that deliver programming to increase access to healthy food. The research spans co-operative, non-profit, and social enterprise/social purpose business models in the social economy sector. This research was undertaken with case studies of three food access programs or services: the Good Food Program at FoodShare Toronto; Fresh City Farms; and the Co-op Cred Program, a partnership between Parkdale Activity Recreation Centre (PARC), the West End Food Co-op (WEFC), Greenest City and three other non-profit community organizations. Each program exists under a different social economy business model. The case studies build upon two theoretical propositions about healthy food access and the social economy. These propositions are based in literature on the following topics: first, that access to healthy food is a greater barrier for people in a lower socioeconomic position (SEP) (McGill et al., 2015), and second, that different social economy business models have unique inherent values, and varying dependencies on and relationships to the market (Quarter and Mook, 2010). The third proposition is based on the first two, and it is tested by the results of my case studies. I explore how each business model’s unique characteristics and differential relationship to the market influences the degree to which food access programs take socioeconomic concerns into account; specifically, the SEP of customers and program participants. The case studies included semi-structured interviews with key staff members from each program or service, in addition to document analysis of organizational grey literature. My analysis uses frameworks from McGill et al. (2015) and Nelson and Landman (2015) in order to assess each program or service’s delivery of food access programming, and the degree to which each takes socioeconomic considerations into account. The results of my research demonstrated that the Good Food Program considers people with a low socioeconomic position (SEP) in the greatest number of ways, but the Co-op Cred Program addresses this demographic in the most substantial way, through fully subsidized access to food, and a consideration of the systemic challenges and effects of poverty. Fresh City Farms does not address the socioeconomic aspect of healthy food access. However, the Co-op Cred Program has the least potential as a scalable model while the Good Food Program is best positioned to deliver this type of programming in a scalable manner. The relationship between the socioeconomic consideration of food access programming and each program’s business model was significant. The values and market position of each model (co-operative/non-profit partnership, non-profit and social purpose business) were reflected in the program’s consideration of individuals and communities with a low SEP. Both the co-operative/non-profit partnership and non-profit models service low SEP populations, though to different degrees. The social purpose business does not service these populations but was pointedly aware of this fact and their inability to do so based on their business model.