Katherine Ament thinks a lot about food.
More specifically she thinks about, and takes actions toward, ensuring that everyone, everywhere has access to food and healthy food choices.
“It was in high school where I first really started becoming more environmentally aware and more focused on social justice issues. When I arrived at Temple, it wasn’t long before I joined the Temple Community Garden, which really opened my eyes to urban agriculture and food justice in Philadelphia,” said Ament, 22, who will graduate with a degree in Environmental Studies. “I never realized how much I love food until I started thinking about it in school— my family has a saying, ‘If we’re not eating, we’re planning the next meal.’ Food is something that everyone comes into contact with, hopefully at least three times a day. For a lot of cultures, food is medicine, it’s nourishing.”
While at Temple, Ament, a Diamond Research Scholar and Honors student with a 3.9 GPA, set out to explore food justice issues in every way possible, from being president of the Temple Community Garden for several years to interning at Nice Roots Farm in Philadelphia to working as the Outreach Assistant in Temple’s Office of Sustainability.
She is also among the first students to complete Temple’s minor in Sustainable Food Systems, offered through the School of Environmental Design. Ament was additionally named a recipient of the Temple University Library’s Prize for Undergraduate Research for Sustainability for her project “Exploring the Food Hub Network of Philadelphia,” which she undertook for a Community and Regional Planning Directed Studies course in fall 2014.
“When I studied food systems in the region, what stood out to me was that everything seemed to be happening in separate ‘silos,’ not enough people were talking to each other. There needs to be more of a synthesis between programs and efforts to ensure food availability and food justice,” Ament said. “On a more local level, we’ve been able to achieve this type of synthesis with Temple’s Green Council, which brings together all of the university’s environmentally focused student groups, we’ve been able to build a movement, to build momentum toward positive change.”
Directly following graduation, Ament will begin a summer internship at the Burpee Seed Company Trial Gardens in Doylestown, Bucks County.
“Before seeds go into Burpee’s catalog, they are tested for a couple of years,” she said. “I’ll be recording data about all aspects of numerous varieties of vegetable crops — plant growth, height, weight, soils, the size and quality of the fruits and vegetables that grow. All of this information is an important part of developing healthy, viable food systems.”
With food systems, Ament said, “you are looking at so many issues — labor, the environment, community — through the lens of food, something that all of us understands as necessary for our survival and well being.”
“I’ve been thinking about urban agriculture a lot lately — it’s what I want to be involved with above everything else. Urban agriculture is used as a community organizer; in some cases it has been beneficial in revitalizing neighborhoods that were at risk of becoming gentrified,” she said. “It allows people to see where their food is coming from; it’s improving green spaces, food security and strengthening community ties. Before I became involved in the Temple Community Garden, I never really thought about where the food on my plate came from — what the plants looked like and smelled like.”
Ament has also explored the state of more traditional agriculture. Applying her food systems knowledge, she has been working as the “food systems intern” for the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC).
“Rural farming, locally grown food sources, are vital for our food systems. The Philadelphia region, and the East Coast in general, remains a vibrant landscape for farming — but it’s also important to recognize how connected we are to the global food network,” she said. “With the DVRPC, I’ve been involved in creating a ‘data snapshot’ of the DVRPC region using the 2012 USDA Agricultural Census. I’ve been assisting with revisions on food systems reports and tracking indicator progress — it’s a comprehensive tool to take a close look at what is happening in farming in a nine county region.’
Back at Temple, Ament went about making a food system of her own. Recognizing that while there are numerous food options to choose from at Main Campus not all of those choices are the healthiest possibilities, she helped to create the Rad Dish Co-op Café located in the Ritter Complex. Rad Dish is entirely student governed and operated — students are responsible for sourcing, menu development, food preparation, business operations, management and marketing.
“We based the idea for the sourcing policy mainly off the Real Food Challenge’s Real Food Calculator, using only locally, organically, humanely raised and grown foods. Most of our food is sourced locally and the bulk of our produce comes from farms within a 200 mile radius of campus,” she said. “It was very interesting — and stressful — to see this all come together and we were able to do it in just two years. We had a good partnership with the Office of Sustainability and Facilities Management, which certainly helped make that happen.”
When she’s not in the classroom, in the Sustainability Office or involved in any number of food system projects, don’t be alarmed if you happen to see Ament foraging in one of Philadelphia’s parks. She’s a member of the “Wild Foodies of Philly,” one of the largest “wild edibles” foraging and education groups in the world.
“It’s a lot of fun and very educational. You very quickly realize that all of those plants you tend to ignore when you’re just getting from place to place are definitely not useless,” she said. “These are natural food sources and sources for culinary and medicinal herbs. There’s a great element of the unknown and discovery that goes into it.”
With so much on her plate — pun firmly intended — Ament said time management is the essential key to finding a balance between her coursework and her passions, though the two often intersect naturally.
“I make my own agenda books and completely live by them, writing down everything I have to do. I don’t procrastinate — I don’t wait, I just do it,” she said. “It’s easy to become consumed by school work, but you have to set aside time to connect with family and friends and the things you love to do.”
Community involvement, Ament said, is an “essential experience.”
“When you’re a student, you can easily live in a bubble, but that’s a huge mistake. If you really want to understand what is happening in the world around you, you have to become a part of it,” she said. “I think community involvement helps you make sense of yourself, how you will live in society and what you will do to make it better. For myself, without the Temple Community Garden, I don’t know where I’d be today.”