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Local Environment, 2013

Vol. 18, No. 5, 529 542,

Field of dreams: just foods proposal to create a community food and

sustainable agriculture hub in Ottawa, Ontario
Patricia Ballamingie and Sarah M.L. Walker
Geography & Environmental Studies, Carleton University, Loeb B349, 1125 Colonel By Drive,
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1S 5B6
As groups within civil society seek to advance discursive constructs of food security,
social justice and sustainability through concrete, on-the-ground projects, they
challenge the economic, social and ecological status quo. This paper will evaluate Just
Foods proposal to create a Community Food and Sustainable Agriculture Hub in
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, through the lens of Gibson-Grahams alternative/community
economy and politics of possibility, and will argue that Just Food cultivates the
emergence of new social and economic relations, even as their activities are
constrained by and interwoven with neoliberal market logic. The introduction will
provide the substantive context, methodological and conceptual approach. It is
followed by an outline of the case study that will establish the conditions within which
this project proposal emerged, and detail some of the challenges that have been
overcome to date. The conclusion will demonstrate the food hubs alignment with
Gibson-Grahams concepts of alternative/community economy and politics of possibility.
Keywords: alternative economy; food hub; Just Food; sustainable community

Just Food Ottawa is a community-based, non-prot organisation that works cooperatively
with various partners to promote a vibrant, just and sustainable food system in which:

all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufcient, safe, nutritious and culturally acceptable food for an active and healthy life;
principles of ecological sustainability, sustainable livelihoods for food providers and
social justice are upheld;
the local population is actively involved in all aspects of the food system, including foodrelated decision-making processes at municipal, regional and national levels; and,
food is celebrated as central to both culture and community (adapted from Just Food
2012a, p. 3).

Just Food came to be known by its current name in 2006, though it emerged from food-security-organising efforts beginning in the late 1990s and early 2000s. It currently has a full-time
staff of 3.5, plus 8 interns and an approximate annual operating budget of $500,000.
While most of Just Foods work takes place within the City of Ottawa, the group is
active at a number of different scales, including the regional, provincial and national
levels. For example, Savour Ottawa Just Foods membership-based local branding

Corresponding author. Email:

# 2013 Taylor & Francis


P. Ballamingie and S.M.L. Walker

initiative involves other partnerships that extend to the surrounding area, including
Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec (Just Food 2012b). The organisations denition of
local food refers to food grown within the region, and includes the counties of Lanark,
Renfrew, Leeds-Grenville, Prescott-Russell, Stormont-Dundas-Glengarry, Frontenac and
the Outaouais all of which are considered part of the City of Ottawas foodshed (for
an introduction to this term, see Getz 1991, Kloppenburg et al. 1996).
Just Foods mandate is to support and link current food-based initiatives, to determine
where gaps exist and to ll those gaps by initiating new programmes that will increase
access to both healthy, whole and locally produced foods. Although most of Just Foods
ongoing initiatives are project-based, the group also engages in broader research, public
education and advocacy efforts. For example, the group promotes participation in the
Ontario-wide Put Food in the Budget campaign, which advocates for the implementation
of a $100 Healthy Food Supplement for all adults on social assistance in Ontario. In
addition, Just Food engages in community-based research and policy analysis at the municipal level through its Food For All project, at the provincial level through Sustain Ontario
and the FarmON Alliance, and at the federal level through the national Peoples Food
Policy Project (PFPP 2011). Finally, Just Food also coordinates the Community Gardening
Network, runs the Plant-a-Row, Donate-a-Row programme to encourage donations of fresh
food to local food banks and offers an Ottawa Buy Local/Grow Local map (hard copy and
online) illustrating local producers, Savour Ottawa restaurants and retailers, community
gardens, community supported agriculture and farmers markets.1
Having provided an overview of Just Food Ottawa, this paper will summarise the methodological approach employed in this research and identify key analytical concepts. It will
then delineate the case study, establishing the conditions within which this project proposal
emerged, detailing some of the challenges overcome to date. And nally, it will demonstrate
the food hubs alignment with Gibson-Grahams concepts of alternative/community
economy and a politics of possibility.
Methodological approach
This paper is based on insights gleaned from participant observation during Author 2s
fourth-year thesis practicum (2010 2011) and SSHRC-funded graduate research assistantship (2011 2012); notes taken during Just Foods preliminary public consultations with the
adjacent Blackburn Hamlet community (January and February 2011); documents posted on
Just Foods website and a semi-structured, in-depth interview conducted with Just Foods
Executive Director, Moe Garahan, and two other Just Food staff. Note also Author 1s participation as an incorporating Board member (with attention paid to insights derived from
the public record and ethically vetted eld research versus insider knowledge). This ongoing involvement follows Gibson-Grahams (2006) call to think about practicing
research alongside rather than on a group or organization (xvii). The typical power differential is mitigated by serving the broader aims of the organisation above research objectives, employing a strategy of reexivity throughout. However, it is imperative to note
that the analysis presented in this article reects the authors personal views as academics
and not as representatives of the organisation.
Key analytical tools
Gibson-Graham (2006, p. 87) delineate aspects of an alternative/community economy, as a
resocialised, repoliticised, place-based site in which an interdependent commerce is

Local Environment


understood as ethical praxis. Among other objectives, proponents of such sites strive to
recognise their embeddedness within a particular geographic, cultural and temporal
context; respect and include multiple, diverse visions; tend towards small-scale, cooperative, culturally distinct, socially embedded and locally owned initiatives; orient towards
(and re-circulate value within) local markets; promote meaningful community control
and equitable distribution of surplus; rely on long-term investment; and advocate for projects that are environmentally sustainable, whole, ethical and self-reliant. These aspects will
be agged as they apply throughout the following sections.
Gibson-Graham (2006) further develop what they characterise as a politics of possibility2 in which options for inuencing change are identied in the face of a realistic understanding of the extent and limits of the forces that constrain them (xxv). The authors
identify the following as integral components of a politics of possibility:

The centrality of subjects and ethical practices of self-cultivation;

The role of place as a site of becoming and as the ground of a global politics of local
The uneven spatiality and negotiability of power, which is always available to be
skirted, marshalled or redirected through ethical practices of freedom; and,
The everyday temporality of change and the vision of transformation as a continual
struggle to change subjects, places and conditions of life under inherited circumstances of difculty and uncertainty (xxvii).

It is important to recognise that within this context, the concepts of community and
local must be deployed reexively, as there can be a tendency to conate both with progressive values, when many critics have noted that neither is inherently so (Dupuis and
Goodman 2005, Born and Purcell 2006, Gibson-Graham 2006). In recognition of these
complications, the politics of possibility are embedded in what Gibson-Graham (2006)
refer to as place-based globalism (p. xxi), a form of reexive localism in which the
embrace of local power doesnt have to mean parochialism, withdrawal or intolerance,
only a coherent foundation from which to navigate the larger world (Osterweil, cited in
Gibson-Graham 2006, p. xxi). Similarly, an undiscerning use of the term community
can mask differences, inequalities and regressive politics within geographical localities
(Gibson-Graham 2006). It is within this complex interweaving of the local, regional,
national and global as well as the inuences of diverse actors (with their differential
access to resources and power) that Just Food works to transform its communitys local
food system.
Community food and sustainable agriculture hub
In order to meet its diverse objectives, Just Food has proposed to develop a Community
Food and Sustainable Agriculture Hub (hereafter referred to as the food hub) on a federally
owned National Capital Commission (NCC) farm property and unused nursery adjacent to
Blackburn Hamlet (an inner suburb of Ottawa), as an extension of the hub role it already
plays in Ottawa. The NCC, a Crown corporation established by the federal government in
1959 (replacing its predecessor, the Federal District Commission, established in 1927),
coordinates land-use planning for the city and region to ensure the signicance of
Canadas National Region. As a major landholder responsible for 20,000 hectares of
National Capital Greenbelt, the NCCs policy towards its agricultural properties, which
include approximately 5500 hectares of farm land and 63 farm tenants, has the potential


P. Ballamingie and S.M.L. Walker

to signicantly inuence the regions farming trends (Caldwell and Temple 2009, SENES
After negotiating a one-year lease with the NCC, in June of 2011, Just Food moved its
ofces to an NCC-owned farmhouse on land that is adjacent to the proposed property and
includes a barn. Just Food currently runs its established programmes from the farmhouse,
while continuing to develop a range of programming that supports the advancement of
food-related knowledge and skills within the community. The food hub will encompass
current projects, such as Savour Ottawa and the Community Gardening Network, while
also initiating new producer-oriented programmes, including a sustainable agriculture education site and New Farmer Programme. Just Food strives to work collaboratively with the
NCC to help fulll some of the Crown corporations agricultural and environmental land
stewardship mandates, and is currently negotiating a 25-year lease (reecting its longterm commitment to the site).
The food hub project is intended to demonstrate best practices in sustainable, economically viable and locally adapted agriculture. Just Food envisions the site as a place where
people can learn to grow food sustainably on many different scales, from household production to market gardening and commercially viable farming. Most imminently, a Trillium
Foundation grant of $250,000 will fund a New Farmer Programme (including Farmer-toNew-Farmer Training and a Start-up Farm) beginning in spring 2013. The target population
includes urban and/or rural youth who did not grow up on a farm, second generation
farmers, second careerists (a strategic objective, given demographic trends) and new Canadians (in particular, those with a farming background but who need mentorship to grow in a
Canadian climate). With regard to the latter group, in 2012, Just Food opened a one-acre
plot of land to a small group of Karen (Ottawa-based refugees from Burma who possess
agrarian roots and have been trying since 2006 to nd long-term access to farm land).
In addition to farmer training workshops, Just Food has already begun to offer educational tours, workshops and outreach to local residents and visitors, and to provide
many opportunities for community involvement. Permaculture Ottawa (PO), a volunteerbased organisation coordinating workshops, eld trips and other permaculture-related
activities,3 is also developing permaculture projects on the property, including a food
forest, edible landscaping and sites with perennial food crops (PO 2012). There will be
a community garden demonstration site that highlights specic gardening techniques
such as companion planting, xeriscaping, childrens and wheelchair-accessible gardening,
and landscaping with edible perennials. A partnership with Seeds of Diversity and USC
Canada will lead to a community seed bank on site. In the long term, Just Food is building
towards a comprehensive educational farm, including a Community Shared Agriculture
demonstration project, bees, chickens, diverse grains, vegetables and smaller livestock.
Just Food is presently pursuing the development of value-added production facilities,
including an aggregation and distribution point for local producers, incubator commercial
kitchen and potentially an egg-grading station and honey-processing facility. Some of these
activities will be taking place at other locations.
History and context
The broader geographic, temporal and spatial context for agriculture within Ottawa and the
surrounding area affords a unique constellation of advantages to the food hub project, all of
which are complemented by features of the site itself. Some key characteristics of the proposed property include over 75 acres of potentially cultivatable land on which to showcase
sustainable urban agriculture; ecologically sensitive areas that would allow Just Food to

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demonstrate best practices in ecological stewardship and sustainable farming; and at least
some existing infrastructure such as hoop houses, and glass greenhouses, that may be
retrotted to serve a range of food-related purposes. Furthermore, its general proximity
to the city core (along a bus route) and, more specically, to the neighbouring residential
community of Blackburn Hamlet, affords the chance to demonstrate how ecological
urban agriculture might occur within city limits (immediately adjacent to suburban
development). Proximity also provides access to social capital and, in this regard, there
is potential to collaborate with a range of interested local actors (including members of
the Blackburn Community Association, teachers and students from local schools, representatives from churches, community gardeners and the Innes Ward City Councillor).
Just Foods proposal also draws upon aspects of other successful ventures that have
already been established in Ontario, such as The Stops Community Food Centre in
Toronto, FarmStarts McVean Project in Brampton and Everdales Educational Farm in
Erin. Judging from the groundswell of support and interest that Just Food has received
since publicly announcing its food hub proposal, the project has captured the imagination
of many Ottawa residents. Following each round of public consultations as well as a series
of articles in local newspapers, there was an outpouring of inquiries from residents who
wished to volunteer their time and expertise, or who were interested in collaborating on
the food hubs projects. This interest could partly be due to increased support for the
concept of sustainable local food systems popularised by books such as Pollans
(2006) The Omnivores Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals and Smith and
McKinnons (2007) The 100 Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating. Rising interest in local
food systems could also be due to growing concerns about food safety and healthy
eating, growing awareness of multiple converging ecological threats (climate change,
peak oil and loss of biodiversity) (Newman et al. 2009), increased support for urban
agriculture and the desire of many city dwellers to establish a more intimate connection
with the food they eat (de la Salle and Holland 2009).
Public interest in local food systems is mirrored by growing governmental support, most
notably from the City of Ottawa and the NCC.4 As Garahan notes, Ottawa is a rural capital:
a 2001 amalgamation extended the Citys boundaries to include over 120,000 hectares of
fertile agricultural land, on which approximately 1300 farms generated more than $150
million worth of products that year (City of Ottawa 2011). Furthermore, the food hub proposal is timely as both the municipal government and NCC have expressed an interest in supporting local, sustainable agriculture, and are developing policies to reect these changing
values (Caldwell and Temple 2009, de la Salle and Fix 2009).
According to Section 3.7.3 of the Citys Ofcial Plan, agriculture is an important land
use in Ottawa, and farm land must be conserved for future generations. In accordance with
the Ontario Farming and Food Production Protection Act, the Ofcial Plan states: the
City will protect prime agricultural areas from loss of lands to other uses . . . [through]
policies that strictly limit permitted land uses and lot creation on all lands identied as
Agricultural Resource Areas (City of Ottawa 2011, np). Although the Ofcial Plan does
not specify exactly how the city will support the regions agricultural sector, in 2009 a
foundation paper on food and agriculture was released that outlined a more detailed
vision. The paper, entitled Choosing Our Future: Building a Sustainable National
Capital Region (2009), advocated for the development of a resilient, sustainable food
system for the region. Produced as part of a joint sustainable planning initiative between
the City of Ottawa, the City of Gatineau and the NCC, the paper denes food systems as
the cycle of farming, processing, transporting, distributing, celebrating, and recovering
food waste in the context of larger natural, social, political, and economic driving


P. Ballamingie and S.M.L. Walker

forces (de la Salle and Fix 2009, p. 4). This denition highlights the need for sustainable
food systems that are:
[...] energy efcient . . . protect ecosystems, enhance the local economy, and build community.
Sustainable food systems are not simply about farming; they are about resiliency of the farm
system in the context of the major trends such as the energy crisis, food security, and development pressure on farm land. (de la Salle and Fix 2009, p. 4)

In 2008, the NCC began the process of reviewing its 1996 Greenbelt Master Plan, initiating
a series of public and stakeholder consultations, researching and evaluating existing
conditions in the Greenbelt and developing a long-term visioning process to guide future
land-use planning for the next 50 years (SENES 2010). In 2009, the NCC commissioned
researchers Caldwell and Temple (2009) to provide information on the agricultural sector
for the NCCs Master Plan review and to provide guidance in updating the management
of leased farming properties. The report recognised the important role that conventional
agriculture continues to play, while acknowledging the many problems associated with
export-based, industrial agriculture and highlighting the opportunities represented by the
alternative agricultural sector and local food movement (Caldwell and Temple 2009).
In 2010, after extensive consultation, the NCCs Board of Directors approved the following Greenbelt vision statement, intended to encompass the next 50 years: The Greenbelt will
forever protect natural systems, agriculture and opportunities for outdoor recreation and education that will inspire Canadians and contribute to the sustainability and quality of life in
Canadas Capital Region (SENES 2010, p. 16). The new vision for the Greenbelt identies
a number of goals and objectives that are relevant to the agricultural sector, including the goal
of encouraging a modern, sustainable and viable agriculture, rooted within the legacy of
Canadas past (SENES 2010, p. 20). To full these goals, the NCC intends to encourage
diverse farm operations, promote best management practices that integrate environmental
stewardship, increase food production to meet local demand and encourage agricultural
research, education and agro-tourism in the region (SENES 2010). Feedback gathered
during their consultation process indicates signicant public and stakeholder support for
the implementation of sustainable agricultural practices by Greenbelt farms as well as a
fair amount of interest in food security issues (including the potential to use the Greenbelts
agricultural land to produce local food) (SENES 2010). As Caldwell and Temple (2009) note:
Farming in the Greenbelt is . . . an opportunity to showcase sustainable farming in Canadas
Capital . . . Greenbelt farmland is an irreplaceable, non-renewable resource (p. 19). Even
more recently, the NCC announced an expansion of the Greenbelt to about 24,000 hectares,
within which nearly 5800 hectares would be allocated to sustainable agriculture (polyvarietal
cropping and small-scale livestock production) (Adam 2012).
Overcoming challenges
Just Food Ottawa faces and mitigates various challenges as it attempts to advance its food hub
project. This section explores site limitations, funding challenges and resistance from local
residents as well as the creative ways the organisation has responded to these challenges.
Site limitations
The header house on the proposed property has not had a tenant for over a decade, and consequently has been vandalised to the point of dilapidation. Although the unused agricultural and
tree nursery sites on the property are now in a state of early succession, some of the land is free

Local Environment


of tree and brush cover, though some is contaminated with black plastic (used as mulch by
previous farmers). As part of the New Farmer Programme, a number of open elds will be
brought back into agricultural production by the spring of 2013, through fall and spring tilling,
organic weed suppression and soil fertilisation. While soil quality was initially thought to be
less than ideal, partnerships with the Ontario Institute of Agrologists have shown that 20 acres
of cultivatable elds comprise excellent soil and staff are working to determine the quality of
the remaining acreage. There are select elds in which soils have high clay content; however,
Just Food plans to use them to demonstrate how soils can be amended using ecological
methods. Water infrastructure is another concern: although there was an extensive irrigation
and drainage system in place, it is no longer viable. One further site limitation is the proximity
of Greens Creek, an environmentally sensitive area; however, again, Just Food views this as
an opportunity to demonstrate best practices around eco-stewardship in riparian zones, including
soil conservation measures such as reduced- or no-till organic farming; cover crops and mulching;
cultivation of perennial crops; the use of organic soil fertility management in order to minimise
runoff; the planting or maintenance of windbreaks and shelterbelts; and the designation of
livestock buffer and riparian zones (Island Nature Trust 2010).
Funding challenges
Like many non-prot organisations, Just Food maintains a wide range of programmes
within the constraints of a limited staff and budget, which often results in employees
extending themselves beyond their contractual obligations out of a sense of personal
duty. Employees fundraise to cover their own salaries as well as their project budgets. In
this sense, people working in the community-based, non-prot sector effectively subsidise
public interest projects with their personal time, energy and money, since they often work
long hours for wages that are far lower than those offered to either public or private sector
workers for similar responsibilities (Boulianne 2001, Koc et al. 2008).
Navigating multiple-stakeholder interests
In the process of initiating the food hub project, Just Food is engaging with federal, provincial and municipal bodies. To secure the site, Executive Director Moe Garahan and
members of the Board (including Author #1) have participated in complex negotiations
with the NCC to establish terms of access to the property and develop a long-term lease
agreement. In addition, organisers must address problematic city zoning issues for the property; establish a wide network of public and private partnerships; apply for local and provincial grants (the success of which in part determines the speed of implementation); do
extensive fundraising and work with a wide range of local stakeholders with sometimes
conicting interests. The project challenges the silos and solitudes (Dale 2001) of government bureaucracy since it cuts across federal, provincial and municipal jurisdictions, and
demonstrates the connections between wide-ranging policy elds such as food security,
the environment, health, poverty, rural reconstruction and sustainable cities. It also has
the potential to increase community participation in, and consequently the democratic
nature of, decision-making concerning local food systems.
NIMBYism and competing interests of local residents
Early in the planning stage of the food hub project, Garahan recognised that a positive
engagement with the community would be essential to the success of the food hub.


P. Ballamingie and S.M.L. Walker

Consequently, she organised a strategic meeting with a group of sympathetic residents in

order to vet the proposal by them before bringing it to the wider community. Consulting
with residents who could brief her on local concerns (and past controversies) allowed
Garahan to anticipate issues that might arise in the planning process. Following this, she
met with key community leaders, to pre-emptively develop a clear sense of the main
points of resistance.
Since Just Food is committed to using inclusive and transparent decision-making processes, during the early phase of the food hub the community consultation process was as
open as possible. The organisations voluntary commitment to a participatory planning
process necessitated a careful balance between being responsive to community members
needs and remaining true to the projects objectives.
For example, during the rst meeting with residents who live on the street immediately
adjacent to the proposed site, a visceral reaction spread around the room when Garahan
mentioned the word livestock. There were frowns, concerned whispers, disgruntled
looks and narrowed eyes. It became rapidly clear that while vegetable production might
be acceptable, residents did not approve of livestock, and concerns were cited over
smells, noise and pollution. However, Garahan had recognised in advance that these
would likely be key concerns, and attempted to mitigate fears by explaining that the quantity of livestock would be relatively small, and that animals would be grazed rotationally so
that the land could absorb their outputs, eliminating noxious odours. While Garahan conceded that if livestock were to be kept on the land, they would likely be kept on a part of the
property that was not visible or audible from nearby residences, she emphasised that since
livestock is such an important part of soil fertility in sustainable small-scale agriculture, Just
Food would not be willing to remove the livestock element from the plan.
The tensions that rose to the surface during the meeting with nearby residents highlight
the delicate negotiations required to move forward on a project such as Just Foods proposed food hub. They also illustrate the tact and strategy required when promoting agriculture within an urban setting, to a population that associates farming with large-scale,
industrial operations, and perhaps cannot imagine that alternative agricultural practices
can peacefully co-exist with nearby residential development.
In residential areas, many organisations attempting to advance public interest projects
must contend with NIMBYism (not in my backyard) a tremendously limiting phenomenon that highlights conict between public and private interests (McClymont and
OHare 2008). During the consultation with nearby residents, many expressed concern
that the agricultural project would cause their property values to fall. Some remained sceptical when Garahan pointed out that the farm would be a community asset [and hopefully]
. . . property values would increase. When residents voiced their fears of increased trafc
and reduced parking along Tauvette, and associated concerns around noise from trucks and
tractors, Garahan stressed that machinery would be small-scale (e.g. pick-up trucks), rather
than heavy, and that as much trafc as possible would be directed to another entrance on an
adjacent street with fewer residents.
Others residents voiced concern that Just Foods agricultural activities would harm the
NCC land, which has grown wild for over a decade. Residents currently appreciate the site
for its open- and semi-forested elds, and view the property as a park or wildlife habitat
to which they (and their dogs) enjoy privileged access. Dog owners currently have access to
many acres on which they allow their pets to run free, yet Garahan notes that this practice
would be incompatible with Just Foods agricultural plans. Stray pets could disturb livestock, do a great deal of damage to crops and contaminate vegetable elds with faeces.
However, while in practice dogs run free, according to the NCC, they are technically

Local Environment


supposed to be leashed. In spite of the charged discussion, Garahan continues to see potential to cooperate with dog owners, noting it could enhance security to have many eyes on
the land. One local resident stated: Who knows, you may get some dog walkers helping
you out.
Residents also expressed concern that vandalism would increase on the property and spill
over onto Tauvette: After they smash all your vegetables, theyll come and break into our
houses next! However, Garahan noted research that shows that property revitalisation and
regular occupation generally reduces the incidence of vandalism. Other residents seemed
pleased that the currently derelict buildings might be cleaned up. And, as Garahan pointed
out: Theres a lot of scrub in succession that is not aesthetically pleasing. She further stressed
that Just Food wants the project to be beautiful. Certainly, local residents who look out on the
current header house a dilapidated building seemed more enthusiastic about the project
than those who currently look out at open elds (a seemingly blatant example of NIMBYism).
However, in fairness, these same residents have witnessed other projects come and go. Understandably, participants expressed concern over the long-term viability of the site: What if the
project fails in a couple of years? Will we be left with the mess? What are the controls?
However, one resident expressed what seemed to be a general sentiment:
I like the idea of a demonstration/training area. My concern is with the NCC. What if we end up
with development on the property? Just Foods proposal is positive, if it doesnt happen, some
other project could happen that is not so positive . . . at least with Just Food the community has
some input. Someone else might not ask the community at all.

In other words, most recognised that the site was at risk of development, and given the
available options, acknowledged that Just Foods food hub proposal would be preferable
to residential or commercial development. As Garahan noted: The NCC will be leasing
this property to someone! You may not nd someone as community and ecologically
minded as we are. Interestingly, her comment was followed by signicant applause.
Another resident with a background in renewable energy stressed: Blackburn Hamlet
would be lucky to get this proposal.
At a larger public consultation in February 2011 attended by 65 local residents,
Garahan again strove to pre-empt and directly address concerns: at the beginning of the
presentation she stressed the need to listen to the entire presentation and hold off on questions until the end since they might well be addressed. In order to mitigate concerns that the
consultation was merely show and tell, and that community members would not be
allowed to participate meaningfully in the decision-making process, Garahan began by
emphasising: This is absolutely a proposal at this stage . . . It is by no means a done
deal. Furthermore, Garahan strategically structured her talk to minimise conict in what
could have been a contentious and divisive situation. During the presentation, she highlighted Just Foods many successful programmes, emphasised the organisations wide
range of reputable partners and detailed explicitly the many benets the community
could stand to gain in partnership with Just Food. She systematically anticipated local concerns, explaining how they would be addressed, and emphasising that the organisation was
committed to extensive (voluntary) community consultations and ongoing engagement
with the public. In doing so, Garahan managed to successfully mitigate much of the resistance to the food hub. By the end of the consultation, nearly all of the residents who had been
opposed to the project seemed genuinely more receptive to it. Political presence at the event
is also worth noting: the local City Councillor spoke at the outset, setting the tone and
framing the project, and the Member of Parliament also attended and engaged positively.


P. Ballamingie and S.M.L. Walker

In sum, Just Food strives to be a community leader in demonstrating innovative and sustainable forms of agriculture. In doing so, they seek to show how small-scale local agriculture can generate viable, sustainable livelihoods, while simultaneously augmenting local
social capital (sustainable community), regenerating land fertility and maintaining (or
even restoring) ecological integrity. By showcasing best practices in one of the fastest
growing agricultural sectors (AAFC 2012), Just Food wishes to reframe agriculture as an
ecological, socially just and economically viable activity. With regard to ontological reframing, Gibson-Graham (2006) writes: [r]eframing can create fertile ontological
ground for a politics of possibility, opening the eld from which the unexpected can
emerge, while increasing our space of decision and room to move as political subjects
(p. xxx). Undoubtedly, it is this ontology of hope that generates optimism concerning
the possibilities of alternative economies and has so successfully captured the imagination
of Just Foods many supporters.
Just Foods successes are in no small part due to its extensive network of partners (see
the VUE Diagram of Just Food Ottawa in Mount and Andree, in this themed issue). To illustrate the complexity of Just Foods community partnerships, consider that its Community
Gardening Network just one of many programmes includes nearly 40 partners throughout the city, ranging from non-prot housing companies such as the Centretown Citizens
Ottawa Corporation, to churches, community health centres, local businesses, churches,
the local municipality and the Youth Service Bureau of Ottawa. Just Foods Food For
All project similarly includes approximately 15 partners, including Community Health
Centres, the University of Ottawa and Carleton University, the Ottawa Catholic School
Board as well as approximately 200 community-based researchers. In sum, Just Food
values its partnerships: every project has a community-based advisory committee ensuring a transparent and collaborative approach. This approach has enabled Just Food to successfully navigate many of the challenges they face, from overcoming funding and resource
restrictions to their encounters with NIMBYism.
Community economy theory: From the ground up
In its food hub proposal Just Food advocates a vision almost wholly consistent with GibsonGrahams (2006) elaboration of an alternative/community economy (characteristics of
which will be identied in the text to follow using italic and bold font) (p. 87). In so
doing, its proponents (though perhaps unintenionally) manifest Gibson-Grahams call to
rethink what constitutes an economy and to challenge the macronarratives of capitalist
development (p. xxx).
More specically, Just Food has developed a proposal that is place-attached rooted in
both the Ottawa foodshed broadly and the Greens Creek/Blackburn Hamlet site more
specically. The organisation has put forward a vision that is both diversied and multiple
advocating mixed-use planning, polyvarietal cropping and a hybrid of different programmes and activities on the site (allowing for cooperation and synergistic use of space
and resources). Moreover, the small-scale activities proposed are appropriate to the ecological and cultural context a fact that helped to diffuse local tensions. Next, the project is
culturally distinctive and socially embedded (drawing on extensive connections to local
producers, restauranteurs and community supporters).
The food hub is also oriented towards the local market (seeking to augment capacity in
the regional food system of eastern Ontario and potentially strengthening the multiplier effect
as value re-circulates in the regional economy). The proposal demonstrates respect for community by sharing control (each sub-project is governed by individual committees, with

Local Environment


community representation); it encourages local ownership as evidenced by the high level of

volunteer involvement and the groups responsiveness to local desires; it encourages the distributing of surplus (to the local food bank) and communal appropriation in the use of
federal public lands to broadly benet civil society. It further benets the community by operating ethically (upholding principles of transparency and accountability, and voluntarily
engaging the public extensively). The proposal advocates environmental sustainability
(by demonstrating organic and permaculture practices, protecting the nearby riparian zone
and promoting biodiversity) and long-term investment (by seeking a 25-year lease).
Finally, it demonstrates the type of holistic thinking (integrating social, ecological and economic imperatives) and local self-reliance (improving food security, capacity building and
economic opportunity) required to foster a resilient community economy.

Resisting cooptation
In considering the broader implications for sustainable communities, case studies of civil
society organisations (CSOs) such as Just Food Ottawa and its proposed food hub
provide fertile ground for a post-capitalist analysis of economies and politics (GibsonGraham 2006). CSOs can be dened as community-based, non-prot organisations that
work in the public interest (Koc et al. 2008). CSOs frequently address issues generated
by the private sector as it externalises social and environmental problems in order to maximise prots. Some analysts note that CSOs have increasingly taken on responsibilities that
the federal and provincial governments have devolved to local actors (though without a corresponding increase in funding) (Koc et al. 2008). In the tangled and contradictory domain
of public interest advocacy, Just Food actors exist simultaneously in a multitude of economic moments, ranging from market to alternative market, and non-market, in what
Gibson-Graham terms the diverse economy (2006, p. 59).
When undertaking public interest projects, CSOs must constantly struggle against
funding imperatives, market logic and the differentiated perspectives on non-prot organisations (ranging from eager though not always consistent support to suspicion and veiled
contempt). In the case of the proposed food hub, there is the additional dynamic of contestation over the neoliberal construct of public land in this case, as land from which rent can be
accrued. Just Food will invest signicant time, money and volunteer hours to restore the propertys functionality (and in so doing, increase its market value, social capital and ecological
integrity) investments the organisation hopes will be recognised and valued by the NCCs
leasing department. However, the oft-repeated need for a business plan coupled with the
reality of nancing operating costs places ongoing pressure on Just Food to establish
revenue-generating or even protable activities, in addition to the innovative social
and ecological outcomes anticipated. These tensions illustrate just a few of the many
forces that may work to undermine, constrain, destroy, or sideline . . . attempts to reshape
economic futures (Gibson-Graham 2006, p. xxxi) Thus, as they challenge economic and
social status quos, Just Food not only reimagines what local food systems could look like,
but also cultivates the emergence of new social and economic relations, even as their activities are constrained by and interwoven with neoliberal market logic.
In order to achieve its progressive environmental and social agenda, Just Food must
negotiate powerful governmental, corporate and private actors. Following GibsonGraham (2006):
[w]hile recognizing the risk of co-optation that such relationships pose, they refuse to see cooptation as a necessary condition of consorting with power. Instead it is an ever-present danger


P. Ballamingie and S.M.L. Walker

that calls forth vigilant exercises of self scrutiny and self-cultivation ethical practice, one
might say, of not being co-opted. (p. xxvi)

Just Foods actors recognise that their organisations work is fundamentally performative
continually in the process of becoming. The organisation must sometimes make strategic
decisions or form alliances, balance ideals and practicalities, and invoke both hegemonic
and counter-hegemonic discourses to further their agenda. As such, Just Food represents
a local response to globalising forces and a potential manifestation of intentional community economies (Gibson-Graham 2006, p. xxii) (for a broader negotiation of the tensions
between ethical, aesthetic and commercial considerations in alternative food movements,
see Goodman et al. 2011).

Gibson-Grahams (2006) work on diverse, community economies and post-capitalist politics is infused with the heady and hopeful message . . . that our economy is what we (discursively and practically) make it (p. xxii). In other words, when it comes to our political
(and economic) imaginary, we need not accept the inevitability of a narrow epistemic
domain. By focusing attention on a reexive, rather than parochial localism, and by highlighting on-the-ground struggles and actual practices of alternative economics, we can help
to legitimise and propagate a politics of hope (Gibson-Graham 2006).
Just Food Ottawas community food and sustainable agriculture hub project has the
potential to shift discursive constructions (and material practices) of both agriculture
and urban nature, while increasing community resilience and augmenting social and
natural capital. The hybridity of the food hub model offers to simultaneously address a
wide range of political ends, including social justice, sustainability and economic viability. As cultures of food and agriculture become more seamlessly integrated into the
built and urban environments, a powerful shift towards sustainable communities
occurs. Just Foods community food hub has the potential to signicantly transform
not only how local community members relate to the Blackburn Hamlet/Greens Creek
site, but also how they connect with their food, their childrens perspectives on both
nature and agriculture, and their ability to participate in (and support) a more diverse
and deeply localised community-based economy. Building on best practices, the proposal
is poised to become a model for other communities to emulate, and in working with a
multitude of public and private sector actors within the Ottawa foodshed, Just Food
could transmit ideas of scale-appropriate development and interdependence throughout
the broader community. The organisations complex fusion of small-scale and sustainable
agriculture, community economic development, ecological integrity, social inclusion and
visions for a sustainable local food system may serve to provide a potent antidote to


Unlike other Canadian cities (such as Halifax, Montreal and Vancouver), Ottawa has no permanent indoor farmers market.
Others use the term politics of possibility to denote a belief that the world can be made anew
(Nordhaus and Shellenberger 2007) or to introduce ideas generated by a more radical imaginary
(Worsham and Olson 2007).
Permaculture is an ecological design discipline that seeks to meet human needs while increasing
ecosystem health.

Local Environment


It is worth noting that the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA)
has also shown support for local food systems, by funding Dr Karen Landmans (University of
Guelph) and Dr Alison Blay-Palmers (Wilfred Laurier University) provincial scoping exercise in
2011, Applying knowledge to increase local food purchasing through local food linkages and
value chains; and by hosting the Eastern Ontario Local Food Conference (2011 and 2012).

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