The U of G Campus Food Market: A Step Towards Reducing Student Food Insecurity

Posted on Wednesday, June 7th, 2023

Written by Haleakala Angus & Kendra Schnarr

There is a growing awareness of the impacts of food insecurity among post-secondary students in Guelph and across Canada; while food insecurity rates among various segments of the Canadian population are well-documented, food insecurity among post-secondary students has only recently gained the attention of researchers. Sliding scale markets are one intervention that has been developed to address food insecurity, currently being employed at the University of Guelph with promising results.


Food insecurity, or the inadequate and insecure access to food, is a major issue for many post-secondary students across Canada. Studies on student food insecurity in Canadian universities have consistently revealed that between 20% and 40% of students are food insecure (Silverthorn, 2016; Ahmadi, Laban, & Primeau, 2020). Additionally, research suggests that students often sacrifice buying healthy food options in order to pay for essential costs such as rent, tuition, and textbooks (Ahmadi, Laban, & Primeau, 2020).  

While student food insecurity is sometimes viewed as a normal part of the post-secondary experience, it is linked to several negative impacts on student’s physical and mental health and academic performance (Hattangadi et al., 2021; Maroto, 2015), and can be a significant barrier to healthy eating. Due to the increased prevalence and serious long-term impacts of student food insecurity, universities across Canada have started to become more interested in developing interventions and strategies to address the issue.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant hardships for many post-secondary students and has likely exacerbated food insecurity (Laban et al., 2021; Meal Exchange, 2021). In Fall 2021, Meal Exchange ran a survey at U of G to better understand how students have been impacted by food insecurity during the pandemic to inform programs and initiatives to improve student access to healthy food. One of the survey’s key findings was that there was a significant need for more affordable and healthy food options on campus.

On-Campus Affordable Food Market

In response to concerns about the high prevalence of food insecurity among students and the need for more affordable and healthy options on campus at U of G, a six-week pilot project for an on-campus food market was launched in March 2022. The purpose of the on-campus market was to provide fresh fruits and vegetables to students at affordable prices, with the goal of increasing the physical and financial accessibility of produce.

The pilot on-campus affordable food market was a collaborative effort between CESI’s Guelph Labthe Arrell Food Institutethe Sustainability OfficeHospitality Services, and the Seed Guelph. To support the 6-week project, the Seed Guelph provided storage facilities, wholesale pricing for bulk orders, and delivery/setup support during each day of the market. Led by two students, the market was hosted at the University Centre, an accessible and busy location on campus. It was open to anyone and everyone in the Guelph community, with the goal of making healthy food as accessible as possible for all. 

Sliding Scale Food Market Model

The campus food market at the University of Guelph was inspired and adapted from an established model used by the Seed Guelph and the community food movement. At the on-campus food market and other community food markets, fruits and vegetables are priced on a sliding scale where customers can choose the price they are comfortable paying with no questions asked. Market visitors choose their items, take them to the checkout, and are given a price range for their total. The upper end of the scale is comparable to retail value and the lower end of the scale is the cheapest the market can offer, typically being 30% to 50% below retail price.

The on-campus food market operates as a cross-subsidy model, meaning that individuals who can afford paying the mid- or high-range of the scale subsidize the cost for individuals who benefit from the lower end of the scale. Research on cross-subsidy models suggests that while many market attendees choose to pay somewhere in the less expensive half of the sliding scale, many also choose to pay in the more expensive half (Thomson & Armitage, 2020). This finding suggests that market attendees paying closer to the full retail price see the value of the model and want to support those who cannot pay as much.

Benefits of the On-Campus Food Market

Sliding scale community markets have been shown to have the benefit of bringing individuals of all incomes together for one common goal – to enjoy fresh and affordable food and social connection. The goal of the U of G campus food market was to help increase students’ access to fresh fruit and vegetables in ways that uphold their dignity, while at the same time creating an event to build community.

According to the results of a survey completed by market attendees, the U of G campus food market increased student access to healthy foods. Specifically, 63% of respondents stated that they were purchasing more fruits and vegetables as a result of the market, and most individuals felt this allowed them to get enough fruits and vegetables in their diet. In addition, many market attendees appreciated being able to purchase snacks or groceries while on campus, indicating that they saved time by not needing to grocery shop off-campus.

The busy and accessible location of the on-campus market was essential in bringing people together to build meaningful social connections and helping to increase awareness of food insecurity. After years of virtual and hybrid learning, the ability to gather in person at the market was a wonderful addition to the campus environment. On a greater level, sliding scale markets play a crucial role in ensuring that community members experiencing food insecurity have a welcoming and accessible option to purchase healthy food. These markets can help break down social barriers and income divide in the Guelph community, and allow community members to directly contribute to an equity-based food system.

Areas For Growth

Although the on-campus food market at U of G has had positive results, it is important to note that these markets are not a one-size-all cure for food insecurity. For instance, the campus food market may be limited in its ability to help students who are experiencing the most severe levels of food insecurity. Some individuals that attended the on-campus market indicated that even though they were purchasing more fruits and vegetables, it was still not enough.

This limitation reflects the complexity of food insecurity and the need for more system-level interventions. While on-campus food markets can be one step towards reducing food insecurity on campus, the underlying causes must be addressed through a range of other activities and interventions.

What’s Next

Community food markets have proven to be a model worth exploring in efforts to address student food insecurity. Based on the success of the pilot run at U of G, the campus market was expanded and has been offered on a weekly basis throughout the Fall 2022 and Winter 2023 semesters, and is scheduled to take place again beginning in September 2023. The market was also recently awarded $25,000 from PepsiCo to support and expand operations.

Moving forward, the market partners will explore expanding the range of foods available, as well as increasing the number of days/week that the market runs. They are also running a 4-week pilot with the Groceries with the SEED program, the first online sliding-scale grocery store in Canada, where ten students will be chosen to order groceries to be picked up at the market.

The on-campus affordable food market is one small step in addressing a substantial issue amongst Canadian university students; the organizers continue to encourage additional collaborations with student groups and community partners to improve the experience of purchasing produce on a sliding scale.


Ahmadi, S. M.., Laban, S., & Primeau, C. (2020). Hungry for Knowledge: Assessing the Prevalence of Food Insecurity at the University of Guelph. Guelph, ON: Community Engaged Scholarship Institute.

Hattangadi, N., Vogel, E., Carroll, LJ. & Côté, P. (2021). Is Food Insecurity Associated with Psychological Distress in Undergraduate University Students? A Cross Sectional Study. Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition, 16(1), 133-148.

Laban, S., Jackson, E., Maynard, M. & Loring, P. (2020). Student food insecurity: a problem before, during and after COVID-19. Retrieved from: uring-and-after-covid-19/

Maroto, M. (2015). Food Insecurity Among Community College Students: Prevalence and Association With Grade Point Average. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 39(6), 515–626.

Meal Exchange. (2021). George Brown College: COVID-19 and Student Food Insecurity Survey Report. Meal Exchange.

Silverthorn, D. (2016). Hungry for knowledge: Assessing the prevalence of student food insecurity on five Canadian campuses. Toronto: Meal Exchange. Retrieved from:

Thomson, L. & Armitage, T. (2020). The SEED Sliding Scale Community Food Markets: Impacts on Community Experiences of Food Insecurity. Guelph, ON: Community Engaged Scholarship Institute.

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