This my first and I must say brilliant guest post by @jameycoughlin who I met on twitter!

Developing Creative Economies with Creative Food

The proliferation of artisan cheese fromageries, Farmers’ Markets, craft wineries, and Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) box schemes is evidence of a creative economy renaissance that impacts both urban and rural communities.

An emerging component of the ‘Creative Economy’ dialogue, ‘Creative Food’ endeavours can be distinguished from a more commodityoriented agriculture or food service through emphasis in differentiation, connection to the customer, capturing a higher margin, sustainability and collaboration.  Innovation, adaptation and entrepreneurship are as characteristic of Creative Food enterprises as other more recognized Creative Class occupations in the design, business service or technology fields.  The emergence of Creative Food was well documented in the Martin Prosperity Institute Working Paper – From Kraft to Craft; Innovation and Creativity in Ontario’s Food Economy


The purpose of this article is not to advocate for the further recognition of Creative Food as a category.  Instead, the purpose is to promote Creative Food as a tool to develop creative economies, communities and companies.

In short, Creative Food can attract Creative Talent and generate wealth; as such it warrants a place in the CED practitioner’s toolbox.  The impacts are both direct and indirect.  Here are a few examples:

Brand: Food can play a big role in branding a place.  When you think of Italy or France, you think of food.  Residents of Prince Edward County in Ontario have done an exceptional job of leveraging natural assets into good food and tourism opportunities.  Those Creative Food industries in turn form a significant and visible part of the area’s marketing identity.  In a world often characterized by homogeneity, that local microbrew can help a place stand out.  Creative Food enterprises are the new status symbols for communities.  Vermont has recently explored its terroir, provence, traditions and food identity extensively in the Taste of Place process

Promotion: Creative food is not just consumed locally.  Every block of artisan cheese from Vermont inherently markets the state when it is sold in New York City.  Good food opens doors, reaches eyeballs and spurs conversation in ways that marketing campaigns can never do.  The regional connection can be subversive or overt.  Nudo Italia, an Italian olive grove markets itself by enabling customers to “adopt a tree.”  In addition to receiving a selection of olive oil products from their tree, customers are encouraged to come to Italy to ‘’hug their tree.”

Differentiation: In the talent war, food can be a secret weapon.  A vibrant Farmers’ Market, CSA box schemes, restaurants that feature unique local fare, nearby wineries for day trips or artisan bakeries offering real bread may be the community features that become a deciding factor for a footloose professional.  As documented by Rebecca Ryan’s Next Generation Consulting young professionals are looking for ‘cool communities.’ Creative Food, like the arts, diversity, transportation options and green space all contribute to a place’s coolness.’

Diversity: Diversity fosters the Creative Economy.  Creative Food is both a catalyst for and an indicator of diversity. Farmers Markets are a venue for newcomers to start a business, with customers interested in unique and ethnic foods.  Markets are also places to purchase foods that may not be available from the conventional grocers.  A diverse roster of restaurant options can also be an effective attraction and retention tool.

Inclusion: Opportunities to become involved, engaged and valued in a community are as critical for retention as earning potential and professional satisfaction.  Social and community relationships are roots.  Creative Food industries, by their design, build community.  Farmers Markets are as much a social gathering as they are a shopping option.  They can serve as a civic square, neo-downtown and public space. CSA initiatives nurture a relationship between a farm and group of customers.  Creative Food is an easy way for newcomers to get involved and into a community.

Retention: Creative Food can also be the ultimate perk for companies to retain talent.  The Kaiser Permanente HMO in the US operates a number of hospitals.  It has organized onsite Farmers Markets and CSA drop offs.  Providing a convenient, healthy food option was the major motivation.  The hospital working environment was expected to be intense and stressful, but Kaiser was at least able to offer staff more enjoyable breaks (strolling in the market), better use of their off-work hours (less time shopping) and access to fresh, nutritious food.  Development of small Creative Food enterprises can often help retain residents in rural communities.  It might provide the income supplement or the social fertility required to put down roots, as opposed to moving to urban areas.

Money: Creative Food generates wealth, reduces leakage and can attract and retain capital.  It can contribute to a constructive cycle of prosperity attracting talent / talent attracting prosperity.    In Nova Scotia, The Halifax Seaport Market and Just Us Coffee

Roasters have utilized Community Economic Development Investment Funds (CEDIF) to attract millions of dollars in equity capital.  $600 million is annually invested in RRSPs by Nova Scotians – 98% of that amount leaves the province. CEDIFs provide a tool to retain a portion of the investment and put it to work at home.  Monforte Dairy in Stratford, Ontario is employing the CSA model to finance the development of a new facility.  Capital investments are repaid over the long term in the form of cheese.   Creative Food enterprises displace imports and capture spending on food, meals and experience that would normally be lost to external investors.  They not only provide an alternative to big box and chain stores, but increase economic spin-off and recirculation of dollars.

Trendy: It is always easier to surf with a wave than against it, and Creative Food is hot.  Eating good food, knowing the farmer, telling better stories and celebrity chefs are all contributing factors.  The local food trend is backed by other trends for wellness, aging population, mini-preneuring, sustainability and information empowerment.   It shows no sign of cresting and is diversifying and morphing.

Possible: Practicality and impact are key considerations when focusing limited resources.  Creative Food enterprises can be profitable.  Business models, have moved from the experimentation phase and are continuing to develop.  Risks are becoming understood and managed.  Best practices for resources for business development support – training, business planning, networks, logistics, mentors, incubation and marketing – are also being established.  The path for entrepreneurs, communities and development agencies is straightforward.  Creative Food enterprises go beyond just Saturday morning Farmers Market stalls.  The only limits are imagination and could include preparation of ready meals, urban farms, social enterprises, canning clubs, home party sales, short-haul logistics and pop-up restaurants.  Many of the ideas are documented on the SPROUT Enterprise wiki.

Collaboration: Beyond the catalyst role of public spaces like Farmers Markets or occasions like Feast of Fields suppers, Creative Food presents the opportunity to bring numerous and diverse partners to the table.  Food intersects with prosperity, poverty, nutrition. healthcare, aging, the arts, downtowns, urban design, immigration, environment, climate change, youth, education and transportation. The list is endless.  Food shapes cities, conversations and our bodies.  It can be a powerful tool to address the mission priorities of those the sectors.  Food has also become a magnet for citizen engagement.  It presents opportunities to work outside of traditional silos.  In Nova Scotia, representatives from the provincial and federal governments, public health, community organizations, industry, universities and citizens have come together under different umbrellas including the Nova Scotia Food Security Network.  In other jurisdictions, Food Policy Councils , Roundtables

or facilities like the Intervale Center in Burlington, Vermont or Toronto’s Wychwood Green Barns have served as the intersection for collaboration.

Creative Food presents a myriad of options, rationales and tools to help develop Creative Economies.  Creative Food presents direct opportunities for profitability, rejuvenation and renaissance for the agriculture and food sectors.   Indirectly, it is a tool that can attract Creative Talent and generate wealth in urban and rural communities.  Creative Food provides an opportunity to brand a place, foster diversity and inclusiveness, and facilitate collaboration.  The positive ratio between community impact and resource investment further solidifies Creative Food as a tool in the CED practitioner’s toolbox.

cross posted at

About the Author: Jamey Coughlin is a Creative Food enthusiast.  He is
a Business Development Specialist with the Nova Scotia Department of
Agriculture ( Jamey and his wife also operate
a Certified Organic market garden and CSA
He can be reached at