Big Shoes to Fill: An Honours Thesis Investigation into the Halifax Food Footprint

The local food movement is growing! Increased involvement in community gardens and attendance at farmers’ markets has demonstrated our collective desire to eat local. All this discussion about local food got me thinking: is it physically possible for everyone in Halifax to eat local? How much land does it take to feed our growing city?

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The Growing Skyline of Halifax. Courtesy of Instagram user @drakeshipway

These questions became the foundation for my honours thesis project, which is currently underway with the College of Sustainability at Dalhousie University.

The goal of my project: to calculate a food footprint for the Halifax population. To pinpoint just how much land area it would take to feed our collectively grumbling bellies.

Derived from the concept of the ecological footprint–a tool used to contextualize the amount of biologically productive land impacted by human activities–the food footprint will focus solely on how much agriculturally productive land is required to feed the city of Halifax using conventional agricultural techniques. With calculations derived from two main data sets: per capita consumption, and Nova Scotia agricultural yields.

wheat field

Photo courtesy of Vicki Stafford

The study aims to establish a stronger understanding of what it takes to feed our growing urban population, and contextualize how much impact our food habits have on the environment. The food footprint will provoke discussion regarding food production in urban centres and how it can be further integrated into the existing fabric of a city to strengthen local food networks.

The climate realities of eating strictly local in Halifax would see the loss of foods such as avocados and chocolate from our daily diet. Our palates have become so incredibly diverse, and our city so filled with vibrant cuisines, that the prospect of this is daunting. It’s a sacrifice many of us would be unwilling to make.


Nonetheless, the footprint calculations have been done using local food equivalents. All the food consumed by Haligonians that could not be produced in Atlantic Canada was converted based on caloric intake into a local food equivalent. For example, the amount of calories consumed in the form of pineapples was represented in the calculations as apples.

To date the reality of the study has been endless hours of data crunching in excel, endless hours in the library, and an endless stream of chocolate to keep me motivated. The answer is still in the works, but the footprint continues to grow with each calculation–it’s looking like the Halifax food footprint will create some big shoes to fill for agricultural producers.


Blog Written By: Jordyn Stafford, Environmental Science & Sustainability Undergraduate student, Dalhousie University

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