Tallahassee Food Gardens encourages & assists folks to grow food for self and neighbor

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

See You in March

And we're off!  Mary Elizabeth and I are hopping on a plane this afternoon for a two month stint in Nicaragua and Ecuador to learn spanish, culture, dance, as much about history, and, of course, community-based food systems as we're able.

We'll be back in March for the month. While I'm around, I'll be partnering up with Sundiata Ameh-El of iGrow to put in and ramp up as many food gardens as possible (which means, if you've got food gardening work that needs doing, send me an email with subject line "March Food Garden Work" to get on my list asap. Compost deliveries, consults, new gardens, edible orchards, workshops, & community garden developments all apply).

My other major goal during March is to grow Tallahassee Food Network's financial base. Tallahassee Food Network is our regional coalition of the global movement that works to grow community-based good food systems. I'm eager to see its internal capacity grow through staffing and a dedicated "food-house" (office space). As with travel, so with organizational development: even with frugality, it takes some money. I'll be partnering up with my fellow board member, Qasimah Boston to work on TFN fundraising. I'm excited about the work.

In the meantime, here are two food gardening videos that may offer some assistance during January/February: How to Grow Year Round (in spite of the cold) and Growing Potatoes. Watch the first when those cold days are predicted a week out. And February 14th, Valentines is the old-timers day of choice for planting potatoes... which is just around the corner.

Happy growing,
Nathan, Man in Overalls

Monday, December 8, 2014

"How 'bout them apples?"

What does Apple, Inc, the multinational corporation that designs, develops, and sells consumer electronics have in common with north Florida local food efforts like Red Hills Online Market, the Frenchtown Heritage Market, and iGrow Whatever You Like?

A line to enter at the Apple Store in Miami's Southbeach
This past weekend (still traveling), my wife and I passed by this Apple store in South Beach, Miami. There was a line of people outside waiting to get in for the opportunity to shop. Wow. Picture op! I thought.

But why is Man in Overalls, a food garden entrepreneur and community food system developer interested in a tech store?  Because Apple, Inc. and local food efforts are largely pursuing the same business model: direct marketing, also called "direct-to-consumer" sales.

Let's take a look:

Red Hills Online Market 
Red Hills Online Market (a project of the Red Hills Small Farms Alliance) is an online farmers' market where local farmers can post their products for sale and local customers can purchase directly from the farmers. RHO simply takes out a small commission for the convenience to fund operations. It's basically the AirBnB of our local farm-to-table industry.  RHO even has a mobile app available on GooglePlay to up the convenience.

Frenchtown Heritage Market Summer 2014
In an in-person-retail sort of way, Frenchtown Heritage Market (FHM) is doing the same thing: bringing local producers together with local customers, so they can exchange directly. The bonus FHM brings to the table is that local residents with SNAP/EBT cards can use their food stamps/cash assistance funds to purchase local products.

iGrow Whatever You Like, Tallahassee Food Network's youth empowerment and urban agriculture program that manages the Dunn Street Youth Farm is significantly sustained by the sale of products and services, which they produce and sell directly. Products include iGrow Buckets, iGrow Gardens, iGrow Compost Magic Mix, and fresh vegetables. The young people sell directly to customers on-farm, as well as at the Frenchtown Heritage Market, through Red Hills Online, and directly to restaurants.

Whatever it looks like, the direct-sales business model is rooted in the "logic of the dollar." Apple farmers, for instance, earn 5 to 10 cents for every $1 spent on apple sauce in spite of the fact that sauce is 95-99.9% apples. The rest of the earnings go to harvesters, trains and trucks, peeling and processing, food-science-additives like preservatives, cooking, packaging, marketing, and lots of middle men like your favorite grocery store chain. It's a similar story for all manner of agricultural products.

Thus, if farmers were able to sell their products directly to consumers either in their raw form (apples)-- or as the "value added" products (like apple sauce)-- they would "capture more of the dollar," and therefore economically survive and possibly thrive.

This is the same logic that Apple, Inc the multinational corporation is working off of. And if you look around, it is more and more the logic of the largest companies on earth. Think Google, Exxon, Walmart, and others.

Keep up the good food work,
Nathan, Man in Overalls

Update: December 10th, 2014

An hour after I published, Tony Murray sent me this short note: "FYI: Apple-- 54.4 B of corporate profits "parked" overseas....; how 'bout those non-American apples...."

Kudos to Tony for pointing out the difference between Apple, Inc and our local farm-to-table business models: namely where the money earned goes. In the case of Apple, Inc, the money we spend with them heads to Cupertino, CA and/or oversees into tax-sanctuaries. Apple, of course, has sizable expenses (R&D, manufacturing, materials, executives, marketing, etc), and they reinvest in the company to the benefit of shareholders-- a few who live in our area. It's safe to say, however, that very little local economic benefit is derived from Apple, Inc.

The vast majority of money spent with our local farmers, on the other hand, stays right here in our community. Orchard Pond, one local farm, estimates that 60% of their farm expenses are labor. That means jobs. Now think of seeds, starts, amendments, office supplies, accounting assistance, and all manner of other possible farm/business materials & services. Many (if not most of those) can also be acquired locally. When a business earns local dollars and re-spends them with other local individuals and businesses, we call this the local multiplier effect. Local, small-scale, naturally-grown agricultural production has one of the greatest local-multiplier effects of any business model out there.

Now consider that annually in Tallahassee's area, we spend $180 million on fruits and vegetables. What if 10%, what if 5% of that were produced locally? We'd be looking at a direct 300 ($30k/yearly) jobs. When the local-multiplier effect was taken into account, we'd easily be talking 500 jobs. Imagine what that would do for our community. For issues of hunger, for crime, for family stress, for local businesses, for property values.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Giving Thanks for Innovation in the Food Movement

TFN board, staff, and advisors joined for a retreat 11/22/14.

Happy Thanksgiving.

I am grateful.  Not only have I had a chance to travel the US the pasted six months -- not to mention I will be traveling internationally with Mary Elizabeth come January-- I've been wildly lucky to spend the last two weeks in Tallahassee.  I had a chance to visit family, share meals, and catch up.  There was also time to check in with loads of good folks doing great work around good food. I wish I could tell you all the stories.

But, I tell you what: instead of my stories, go collect your own at Leon County's Food Summit January 24th. All our key food stakeholders/players will be there, and we need all our area's peoples and networks present because the conversation and the survey they collect is going to help set regional food strategy. Be there.

- - -

One of the highlights of my time in Tallahassee was the Tallahassee Food Network (TFN) board retreat. We reflected at length on our four year history as a "regional coalition of the global movement that works to grow community-based (good) food systems." (You can check out the history here: TFN 2013 Mini-Report). Our impact includes developing a coalition of over 
700 affiliates including over 100 organizations. Solely amongst those organizations, TFN fostered roughly 200+ partnerships and over 700 personal relationships. This new fabric of community has fostered new projects, programs, organizations, businesses, funding avenues, policy adoption, and, frankly, a community-wide shift in the importance placed on food issues (as evidenced by city, county, and other major institutions adopting food-related priorities-- including the above mentioned Food Summit). The impact of our network is even more impressive when you consider that TFN has functioned on very few (financial) resources and minimal part-time staffing.

Paul Ledford, CEO of Florida Hospice hosted and joined us last Saturday. (Thanks Paul).  He pointed out that TFN's history of impact demonstrates a high level of organizational innovation.

His comment renewed a question I've been wrestling with for a while: What makes for the most effective, innovative and impactful group/team? How are great groups organized, structured, unstructured, or led/coordinated? Point being: how do we get impressively large, sustained success? And because my mind always errs this direction: how do we grow and sustain social movements? -- Specifically, how do we build from TFN's history to do even better as an organization and as a networked local/regional/national/international good food movement?

Based on my experience with community gardens, which are 90% community and 10% garden, I know human infrastructure, organization, and facilitative leadership is key, so I've been collecting a lot of material on the subject for my own edification. Below you'll find some of the resources I've collected. One day, I'll likely weave these ideas into a book of strategies and stories about our food movement. For now, click on what you think will serve you in enacting your food dreams.

Happy Thanksgiving.

- - -
 -->"What are the physical spaces that foster innovation?" Often breakthroughs requires a "hunch" in one's brain "colliding" with hunches from others' brains

-->My take away from his book (Ripples from the Zambezi) on what he calls "Enterprise Facilitation": Don't ever give anyone an idea. And don't try to motivate them. Rather: listen for their ideas and foster and facilitate. Defer initiative to the person you're working with.

Open Space Technology
-->A way of hosting meetings or retreats with a small or very large group beginning without any formal agenda beyond the overall purpose of theme.

Collective Genius
-->"The role of a leader of innovation is not to set a vision and motivate others to follow it. It's to create a community that is willing and able to generate new ideas." "The question is not 'How do I make innovation happen?' but, rather, 'How do I set the stage for it to happen?"

Netflix Culture: Freedom and Responsibility
-->As organizations grow, they necessarily grow in complexity. Rather than policies and procedures to minimize error, outpace complexity with dynamic people and by providing context (not by exerting control. E.g., no vacation policy). Creative/dynamic people are 2-10x as productive and achieve non-linear impact. It's not about working hard; it's about what you get done.

Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us
-->Pay people enough to take money off the table of worries. Then set up an environment where autonomy, mastery, and purpose are interwoven into your organizational structure/expectations.

Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD)
-->Everyone has something to bring to the table (assets): skills & ideas, resources, and associations. Often, the people you a)think are in the way or b)assume have the least to offer are those who have the assets you're missing. People in affected communities always hold the trump card assets for successful planning and implementation for projects/programs targeting their communities.

-->Three types of people are required for social phenomenon to "tip," (spread like wild fire): connectors, "experts" (i.e., the people other people hold in high regard for knowing about something), and sales people. Timing and situational context for an idea/trend/movement/story to spread is everything (e.g., Paul Revere rode at night meant people were in their houses). 

-->Focus on "Big Tent" ideas that can unify. Avoid ideology. Lead by providing working models. Share ideas/open collaboration. Support the efforts of other groups under the big tent.

David and Goliath
-->Underdogs win by bucking convention, hustling, and playing by their own rule book. Lawrence of Arabia. Middle school girls playing full court basketball all game. 

-->Individual actors - if they can assess & respond to their environment and communicate with others about their action (whether we're talking about ants, computers, or people), they will display an intelligence greater than the sum of their parts. Greater ability to assess/respond and/or greater communication leads to increased emergence.

-->The ecology of success. If people are surrounded by an ecology of opportunity and support, they do incredible things. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, S.E. China rice farm children. Connects to ABCD.

-->Interweave disparate viewpoints and people to enrich design development. Think holistically: start to finish. The need for project spaces (like the Purple House, Salvation Army Garden, Dunn Street). 

The Long Haul
-->Put people in situations where they have to act on ideas, not talk about them.  With, not for. Work on integration by integrating. Focus on structural change. Organizations are key to movements.

Rules for Radicals
-->Until you've achieved a balance of power between parties, "reconciliation" simply means, "I win, and you'd better get reconciled to the idea." "Communication only happens when people get what you're trying to get across to them." Change requires power. Without money, power comes from people. "In order to act, the people must get together."

Organizing Genius
-->"Shabby" project spaces. Quirky leadership unafraid of people more talented/different than them. "Fueled by an invigorating, completely unrealistic view of what they can accomplish." Big-time "How" questions/goals. Leadership that insulates team from external evaluation/judgement.

-->Play-by-play collaborative, creative group "games" or meeting techniques.

-->For hard issues/questions with no immediately apparent solutions, messy open-dialog is necessary to bring divergent perspectives into mix. Takes a long time, but expedites/ensures implementation. Tools for facilitation (drawing out, stacking, interrupting content to discuss process, chart writing, echoing, parking lot). Silence doesn't mean agreement. 

Creativity, Inc
-->Pixar lost money for 20 years, and they found ways to shuffle from the financial back-corner of one business to another, and then they made Toy Story.  Financial power-balancing by going public before partnership with Disney to prevent being steamrolled.

Keep Growing,
Nathan, Man in Overalls
--and, yes, I'm still getting my overalls dirty. Sundiata and I were doing a school garden just yesterday morning together.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Hello from Out West & Remember New Leaf's Farm Tour Oct 25th & 26th

Greetings from Tucson, AZ. Yesterday, Mary Elizabeth and I visited the Mercado San Agustin.

The sign painted on the outside wall of the market
A central square surrounded by sidewalks, farmer/producer booths, and restaurants.
For-rent commercial kitchen for food-based businesses 
backyard-gardeners consignment table ran by the Food Bank

There was a farmers market that was woven into the mosaic of a larger market: shops, a bakery, a rent-by-the-hour commercial kitchen for food-based businesses, a communal square, a bar, and a backyard-gardeners consignment table ran by the food bank, which is actually the umbrella organization for the farmers' market itself. (Check out what Tucson Community Food Bank is doing to grow the food movement!) The market was linked to downtown by a newly developed streetcar! So cool! It reminds me of the vision for the Frenchtown Heritage Market being developed in Tallahassee.

Mary Elizabeth and I are here for a few days visiting family before we head down to Mexico. After 10 days visiting my host family (with whom I lived for two months in 2007) in Nogales, Sonora, we'll head east on Interstate 10. We'll be back in north Florida the better part of November for a stop over before our next adventure: Central and South America. But I'm getting ahead of myself. How'd we find ourselves in Tucson? Weren't we headed for Montana?

~ ~ ~

Before I answer that question, I've got to remind y'all about the New Leaf Farm Tour coming up in just a few days: Oct 25 & 26th. (You can also find it here on FB.) The Farm Tour is essentially a massive, region-wide farm open house. From New Leaf's website:
Thirty-four local farms [including iGrow Dunn Street Youth Farm] are opening their doors and inviting you to experience farm life. Each farm is offering something special. Families can enjoy tours that include barnyard animals, farm-fresh goods and refreshments. You can attend a workshop on beekeeping, take a hayride or talk to farmers who are committed to organic production. Visit working cattle and goat ranches, a dairy or a winery. And of course, purchase amazingly fresh goods directly from the farm. 
Sounds like a fun (and informative) time only because it is! Last year 14,000 people participated! I've been on one tour and hosted two others. Go, have fun! Download the Farm Tour brochure HERE. (It contains descriptions and directions to all the farms).

While I'm on the subject, let me say here that New Leaf Market is one of my heroes. Let me use New Leaf's own numbers to show you why. Last year, New Leaf had:

  • 106 local producers (including 37 local farmer suppliers) from whom they purchased $932,073 worth of product including 5396 gallons of local milk, 4340 dozen local eggs; and
  • 61 local service providers from whom they purchased $534,639 worth of services

How many local businesses & family farms did New Leaf support last year? 167! How many jobs did New Leaf support? So many! And how many local businesses that supply or service the above suppliers benefited because of New Leaf's local purchasing preference? What we're talking about is the local multiplier effect. New Leaf is yearly pumping over $1.5 million into our regional economic engine. Kudos to New Leaf!

~ ~ ~

So now for a travel update.

In June Mary Elizabeth and I headed west across the country, bound for Montana. Along the way we stopped over in Memphis and Denver. Upon arriving in Glacier National Park, we took a side trip to Washington DC to join Sundiata and Clarenia for the Jefferson Awards. After three months working the summer season in Glacier, we headed west to Seattle to visit my sister and then turned south down the coast to visit friends and family in Oregon, California, and Arizona. Here's the story again, this time with pictures:

In Memphis we visited friends Mary Phillips and Wes Riddle, co-directors of Roots Memphis (a for profit urban farm) and Roots Memphis Farm Academy (an educational nonprofit).

Mary watering at Roots Memphis' urban location adjacent to the Clarion Hotel.

We helped pick kale.
Student "incubator plots" at rural location.

"Roots" has a great cooperative CSA sales model for (adult) student farmers who work "incubator plots." If students meet profitability benchmarks for two years, Roots connects them with land and micro-financing up to $30,000ish. Internally, they have supplemented farm revenue during their start up period by hosting guests through airbnb.com. Wes recommends these two books:

In Memphis we also saw Lauren Bangasser, another Warren Wilson fellow alumni/friend who works with Memphis Urban Farms 2 School. Here are a few pictures of her project at Grahamwood Elementary:

Signage is always important to help tell the story
Two mega hoop houses
Donated freight containers for storage and mural space
Beautiful rows
Edible flowers

A few days later, we visited Denver. Mary Elizabeth's buddy, Joe Gaskin is a bike mechanic for their city-wide bike-share program, so we toured by bike and consequentially happened upon several urban gardens and a farm.

DUG, or Denver Urban Gardens, has over 125 community gardens in their network. We checked out SPark (i.e., Sustainability Park), an urban farming collaboration amongst the Denver Housing Authority, 3 for-profit and 1 nonprofit urban farm. This was especially interesting because there have been background partnership conversations in Tallahassee going on amongst the Frenchtown Revitalization Council, TFN, the United Tenant Association and the Tallahassee Housing Authority.

Next, we checked in and dropped our bags in Glacier only to catch a flight back east to join Sundiata and Clarenia for the Jefferson Awards festivities in Washington, DC, June 16th-18th:

Left the overalls in the room for the Gala.
(left to right: Mary Elizabeth, Nathan, Clarenia, Sundiata)
Farmers Market on the steps of the USDA
Florida Jefferson awardees with Senator Bill Nelson
Then it was back to beautiful Glacier National Park where Mary Elizabeth and I spent our summer:

She worked in the dining room, and I worked driving an antique convertible tour bus and sharing info and stories about the park. Our backyard was none-too-shabby. Unexpectedly, we often worked longer days than we had in Tallahassee, frequently amassing 60+ hour work-weeks. We did, nonetheless, "get out" into the park to enjoy it. 

Our home for the summer
In uniform.
Sunsets in the valley
My swimming "hole" at Lake McDonald
Guess who came to Glacier to visit their daughter, who was
on staff with us? Beth and Bryan Desloge! Small world!
I was a sucker for Glacier's freezing-cold lakes!
My bus on the Going to the Sun Road.
At the end of September, we left Glacier. Since then, we've camped and eaten our way west to Seattle (by way of SW Canada including Vancouver Island), and south down the coast to Arizona. There's been plenty of peanut butter and jelly mixed in to economize on time and money because we're currently on a "fixed no-income." We've also been hitting up plenty of farmers markets and road-side stands whenever we can to ensure we're getting our five-a-day.

P&J on the Vancouver Island Ferry
Roadside market on the Blackfeet Reservation
Our tent in a Canadian provincial park
Market in Victoria on Vancouver Island

And that brings us back full circle to our current location, Tucson, AZ.

Greetings again. Blessings with the work and adventures life fills your days with. We look forward to our November layover in north Florida. Until then,

Nathan, Man in Overalls

Monday, June 23, 2014

Local Gardening Store [Gramling's] is a Treasure: Letter to the Editor

Tallahassee Democrat
Sunday, June 15th 2014

Dear Editor,

I’ve been growing food since I was 8, when I became known as “that boy with the garden.” These days, folks know me as the “Man in Overalls.”

Though I like watching things grow, gardening for me has always been about more than aesthetics. It’s a survival skill-set against hunger and food insecurity, something — thank God — I have not truly needed.

Starting when I was a child, I began visiting Gramling’s on South Adams Street for seeds, starts, organic fertilizer and environmentally safe pest products. They learned my name and watched me grow up. These days, when I stop by, Wayne, their store manager, greets me, “Overalls!” and then says, “Dirty deeds done dirt cheap,” under his breath. Every time. It still makes me smile.

I write, generally, to encourage us to spend our dollars locally, to invest in Main Street, to reclaim our hometown gems, to support the businesses that know our names. Specifically, I propose that we honor Gramling’s with our wallets. More than any person or institution I know, they have enabled us to preserve and further the art of food gardening. For Tallahassee’s health, for wealth, and for true food security and hunger prevention, we need Gramling’s around for another 99 years.

[Pay them a visit or give them a ring: 1010 S. Adams Street/Tallahassee. 850.222.4812.]


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