Do you know where your food comes from?

They’re all around us — farmers’ markets, rooftop and community gardens.

Growing food in the city is part of urban agriculture and its popularity is growing — even First Lady Michelle Obama is on board and has planted a vegetable garden behind the White House.

And Patricia Ballamingie, an assistant professor in Geography and Environmental Studies at Carleton, says the idea of urban agriculture is far from a flash-in-the-pan notion because consumers are more concerned than ever about the origins of their food.

“The connections between food and culture and sustainability are deep and fundamental. People get genuinely excited about reconnecting with local food systems, and these systems will only gain momentum,” says Ballamingie.

“We should care because we want to look at ways our cities can be more resilient and self-reliant. I think it’s particularly important to do that in the face of multiple emerging challenges, such as the global economic decline, that we are experiencing.”

“When oil peaks, transcontinental shipping … is no longer going to be economically viable. To the extent that we are able to build these local, vibrant food systems the effects of that will be mitigated,” Ballamingie argues.

“We don’t tend to look at food production in the context of the city and we haven’t looked at ways to include agriculture in urban design. We need to imagine creative ways to seamlessly integrate agriculture into the built environment, culture, ecosystems and community.”

Over the last year, there have also been several urban agriculture initiatives at Carleton.

Last September, the Carleton Farmers’ Market Club ran three farmers’ markets on campus as part of a pilot project. In March, OPIRG and the Carleton Food Centre hosted a workshop called, “Organic Gardening for Balconies and Small Spaces.” And there is also the Carleton Community Garden Steering committee — made up of students, and supported by the CUSA Food Centre and OPIRG — currently working on a proposal that examines a number of ways urban agriculture can be incorporated into campus life, including the development of a community garden.

“It would provide a place where people can be more in touch with their food sources,” says Stephanie Kittmer, a fourth-year environmental studies student who is part of the Carleton Community Garden Steering committee.

“People don’t ever see where their food comes from anymore. So, it’s encouraging the culture that you can still live in the city and still have a connection to your food.”

Matt Hollingshead, a programming co-ordinator at the Carleton Food Centre, said he hopes the steering committee will have its formal proposal to present to the university this summer. The group is also working with the Ottawa Community Garden Network on its proposal.

“It’s a project to help students have access to space and gardening skills. It’s a great opportunity to regain the connection with the food that a lot of folks have lost,” says Hollingshead, adding that University of Victoria, University of Alberta, York University and the University of Western Ontario all have community gardens.

Meanwhile, Ballamingie says that there’s huge potential at Carleton to pursue urban agriculture.

“I see little patches of land on campus that are south facing and I think: ‘Oh that could be transformed into a small garden.’ Or empty rooftops that could accommodate planters. Imagining the possibilities is fun,” she adds.

“For people in the environmental field, none of this is new. It’s just the rest of the world catching up,” says Ballamingie. “I envision a day when developers are obliged to set aside a certain portion of land for community gardens, community orchards, berry patches, herb gardens, and edible landscaping. I think we we’re still a ways from that, but I would argue that the extent to which a community is able to integrate urban agriculture into its built environment and into its ecosystems is the extent to which it is ultimately sustainable.”

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