by Grace Gillman, Canmore Rotary Club

Local Food Systems for Sustainable Growth

How we feed ourselves is one of the most complex challenges facing humanity and our planet. Agriculture and food systems account for 24% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions through food waste, deforestation and habitat loss, soil erosion, water use, and pollution. It’s not just the planet that is suffering from this system: 1.9 billion people are obese or overweight, 795 million people suffer from hunger, and 2 billion people have malnutrition. Although this is a staggering global problem, we have unprecedented power to change this complex system, and it starts right under our nose, with what we put on our plate.

Rotarians in Canmore, Alberta are transforming local food systems to create a healthy, thriving community. By applying circular economy principles, food waste powers year-round local food production. Anaerobic digestion converts waste into biogas, providing heat and electricity for vertical hydroponic farms. This method uses renewable energy, produces 100 times more food per square foot, reduces food waste, and uses 95% less water than traditional farming. Our goal is to develop global food hubs that foster connection, education, and health, tackling climate change and hunger.

There is a large capital cost for the anaerobic digester, the vertical farm equipment, land and renovations, a delivery van and accessory systems. But based on our initial projections of annual operating expenses and revenue, we see a potential payback within 5 years. We are hoping to primarily fund the project through grants, but we may also look for investors.

The Current Harvest

Agriculture is having devastating impacts on ecosystem health and biodiversity. Currently, 44% of the world’s habitable land is used for agriculture – that’s equivalent to five times the size of the United States. This change in land use drives almost 90% of global deforestation.

Changing our landscapes is also causing exponential biodiversity loss, threatening 86% of species at risk of extinction. Unsustainable farming practices are also having devastating impacts on the health of our soils. A recent study found that soil erosion by water costs the world economy about eight billion US dollars a year. This lost soil reduces global agri-food production by 33.7 million tonnes, leading to increases of up to 3.5% in world food prices, and widens the competitive gap in world agri-food markets.

Drought conditions are impacting an estimated 55 million people globally every year and are the most serious threat to crops in nearly every part of the world. Drought threatens people’s livelihoods, increases the risk of disease and death, and fuels mass migration. Water scarcity impacts 40% of the world’s population, and as many as 700 million people are at risk of being displaced because of drought by 2030. On top of this, our waters are being polluted by agricultural runoff and inefficient fertilizer use. 

Globally, 30% of food is lost or wasted. Not only does this issue impact food availability and reduce our efficient use of agricultural land, but it also contributes to global warming through wasted resources and greenhouse gas production. Estimates suggest that 8-10% of global greenhouse gas emissions are associated with food that is not consumed. The global economic, environmental, and social costs of food waste are estimated at $2.6 trillion – nearly the GDP of France. 

With a growing population, we need to be able to feed everyone with higher quality food and less space.

The impact our current agriculture and our local food systems have on our planet and our society is overwhelming. However, if there is one thing I know to be true, it’s that when we come together as a community and get creative, there is no problem too big. With collaboration and ingenuity, we have derived a blueprint for a better way, and it starts by transforming our local food systems and taking back control of what’s on our plates.

A New Circular Food System

By focusing on transforming our local food system, we can pave the way for a healthy and thriving community and planet. Using the principles of circular economy, we can use food waste to power local food production year-round in any climate. With the use of an anaerobic digester, food waste and other organic materials are transformed into valuable biogas which is used to generate heat and electricity. This renewable energy is then used in an indoor vertical hydroponic farm that produces nutrient-dense crops.

Anaerobic digestion is the breakdown of organic matter by microorganisms in the absence of oxygen. When our food waste goes into the landfill it is buried and anaerobic digestion begins to occur, releasing harmful greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. Anaerobic digesters enable this process to happen in a sealed chamber, allowing the gasses to be captured and used. It also produces a valuable digestate that can be used as fertilizer. 

Multiple organic materials can be added to the anaerobic digestion system, including food waste, wastewater, manure, crop residue, and fats. The outputs of the system include the valuable digestate and biogas. The energy in this biogas can be used to provide heat and generate electricity. It can also be purified by removing the CO2  and other gasses to produce renewable natural gas that can be used to fuel vehicles and sold into natural gas distribution systems. The separated CO2  can also be pumped into a greenhouse to increase crop yields.

Using anaerobic digestion, our project will take food waste from the community to power an indoor vertical hydroponic farm. The food will be sold directly back to the community through a farm store, mobile markets, delivery box programs, and partnerships with local restaurants; creating a truly sustainable local food systems.

Education and Local Food Systems

We believe education is an important and impactful piece of transforming our local food systems. This is why the project includes multiple educational programs focused on reconnecting the community to food production and nutrition. We will also include food recovery as part of our project to ensure less food goes to waste.

Through this local circular food system, we can address many of the challenges facing our planet and our society. With anaerobic digestion, we can reduce organic waste entering landfills, promote a circular economy, produce renewable energy and nutrient-rich digestate, and power local food production. 

Indoor vertical farming can reduce land use pressure and help leave precious habitat for wildlife and important ecosystem services. We will grow food where people are which reduces processing and transportation. Indoor farming uses 90% less water than traditional farming and does not lead to the contamination of water bodies. No pesticides are used in this system which reduces harmful pollution and chemicals on the food we eat. By growing indoors, we eliminate climate variability and create food security. 

By focusing on keeping our food economy local we can create food systems jobs, improve the health and well-being of a community, reduce food costs and market volatility, provide educational programs, and reduce transportation and processing costs. By ensuring the project includes a well-rounded food hub including a farm store, community kitchen, and mobile fleet, we can holistically serve the community. Mobile markets help more people access fresh healthy food. Food recovery reduces food loss. A community kitchen helps support other food-focused events such as cooking and nutrition classes for the community. A storefront can support other local farmers and businesses. In both cases, this can add significant value to the local food systems.


This project is currently in the early stages, and we are looking for partners and funding to break ground on the first project. We believe this embodies the kind of community-focused holistic solutions that are needed to move toward a healthy and thriving society and planet for everyone. We can start by improving our local food systems in our communities. This project can easily be tailored to the unique challenges and opportunities of different communities, and we encourage you to take this blueprint and imagine how it might fit into your community. When we dream big, collaborate creatively, and act in service of each other and the planet, anything is possible. 


Anaerobic Digestion system showcasing how local food systems can be transformed through various processes.

Image of Circular Food System showcasing how it can impact our local food systems.

Graphics by Grace Gillman, ESRAG Plant-Rich Diet Task Force