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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

These Days, Money Grows on Trees

Pecan trees gracing the D-Block skyline
A couple mornings before Christmas, my neighbor, Ms. Evelyn came walking by. She had her "grandbabies" in tow, two young girls probably 8 or 9. Ms. Evelyn, is-- my best guess-- probably 70, 75. Bending over every couple steps, she was picking up pecans as she was doing every morning for the past several months. Word on the street is that the "Pecan Man" is paying 40 cents a pound this year. Where other folks pick them up at peak season or when a storm blows through, Ms Everlyn's at it every day, 9am. (Though her skin color is a darker hue, she reminds me a lot of my own grandmother who rummaged for aluminum cans. When I was a child the recyling plant offered $0.26/lb.) Some might call it a "side job," or "supplemental income," but here on Dunn Street, picking up pecans is just another "hustle."

I live in Greater Frenchtown. If you asked an old timer, they'd tell you the house I "stay in" is in Springfield, but folks these days just call the area "D-Block" after the many streets that start with "D," Dunn, Dent, Dewey, Delaware, Dover, and several others. I'm just around the corner from old Ashmore's Antiques, if you know where that is. Interestingly, Old Man Ashmore was famous for buying the kids' pecans in exchange for candy money "back in the day."

You might think Ms Evelyn's hustle is a rariety, but truth be told, she's part of an industry. Pecans don't go to waste in my neighborhood, and it's not (just) because folks around here like pecan pie. It's an indicator, in my opinion, of my neighborhood's economic health. More than one of my neighbors live without utilities. For a while a brother was filling up a 5-gallon bucket with water at the community garden for personal use. Another gentleman up the street pushes a soapy bucket of water around in an old wheelchair. He's a windshield-washing entrepreneur. Last time I saw someone washing windshields to earn a living was in third-world Mexico. 

For the most part, the only jobs geographically available are those at externally owned businesses (Popeyes, Family Dollar, Timesaver). Typically pay is minimum or painfully close, and any wealth generated is removed to Tallahassee's outskirts at the best but more likely to corporate accounts far from town. But don't let me give the wrong impression: there aren't enough jobs to go around, even minimum wage jobs. So, how do folks make ends meet?  They hustle.*

A hustle is not a "real" job in the W-2 sense of the word, but a hustle can help patch up the economic gaps, put food on the table, keep the water running, provide the grandkids with Christmas presents. Having not one but two cars in my driveway (a sign of economic wealth around here), my doorbell is often rung by folks looking for a hustle. "Have you got any work I could do?  I need a few dollars, so I can get some chicken for lunch. Anything helps, two, three dollars."  I've hired folks to mow, rake, sweep, clean up my porch, and move brush. Kids get "little hustles" taking people's trash out. Next door, at the youth farm, folks stop by looking for hustles as well. They water, help build raised beds, weed, dig out stumps, shovel compost, anything that can justify a few dollars. Most hustles are temporary, provide daily survival income. Every once in a while, someone will find a hustle that repeats or lasts for a while, like a bumper pecan harvest.

~ ~ ~

Mr. Bellamy, President of the Frenchtown Neighborhood Improvement Association has been coordinating the Frenchtown Heritage Market for the past three years. His hope is that it could remedy the lack of access to healthy food in the neighborhood, provide a community cultural space and economic center of exchange that would improve the financial health in the area by cycling dollars internally as well as bring in outside purchasing power

From what I see, the trick to true economic development in a depressed area* is to build off of what folks are already doing, what they have, what or who they have access to and/or what they are interested in. It's asset-based business development. In other words, it's transforming hustles into businesses.  There is great potential. Pecans are but one food-based example.

[*Truth be told: it's a great economic foundation wherever you are. Read the books by Ernesto SirolliMichael Shuman and Jane Jacobs.)

Ms. Evelyn is earning forty cents a pound for her pecans. Meanwhile, pecan pieces are being sold at Publix, New Leaf, Winn Dixie for, conservatively, $10 a pound. Let's do a little math. Let's guess she picked up ten pounds every day for two months (a conservative guess). That's ~600lbs. At forty cents a pound, she made $240. Not a bad hustle.

Let's contrast this, however, with retail income. Let's imagine that half the weight that Ms Evelyn collects is shell or bad nuts, so we're assuming 300lbs of pecan pieces. 300lbs x $10/lb is $3000. Of course, there are expenses to shelling and packaging. I've heard from several sources that pecans can be "shelled and blown" for $0.50 to $1.25.  Let's say it costs 0.50 for a zip lock, and you'd have to transport your nuts to and fro the shelling location. Thus, liberally, for shelling, packaging, and transport it would cost Ms Evelyn $1.25/lb for shelling, $0.50/lb for bags, $0.25/lb for gas, or $2 per pound.* Suddenly, with 300lbs of pecan pieces at $10/lb retail with $2/lb of value added processing expenses, Ms Evelyn is looking at $8/lb profit or $2,400. A much better hustle!

[*Better yet, imagine for a moment that Ms Evelyn or someone else in the neighborhood owned the pecan processor! Then consider that they add further value to their pecans like Koinonea Partners.]

Now imagine for a moment-- because it's true-- that there are at least 15 equivalent Ms Evelyns collecting pecans in the neighborhood. Suddenly we're talking about $36,000 injected annually into a neighborhood by capitalizing on wealth that is, quite literally, falling from the sky.

As a food gardening entrepreneur and the start-up coordinator of the iGrow Whatever You Like Youth Farm, I'm surrounded by similar income projections for potential lettuce, collard green, bulk compost, and raised bed assembly hustles. Increasingly, I know the would-be entrepreneurs. My question is this:

Where are our enterprise facilitators? Where the people with an entrepreneurial spirit, a basic understanding of business finance, and a creative marketing mind who can hang at the iGrow Whatever You Like Youth Farm, in Frenchtown restaurants, groceries, and cafes and announce that they're available to "anyone with an idea" that they want to turn into a food-based business?

If you don't know about about Ernesto Sirolli's enterprise facilitation model, watch his TED Talk below. Tallahassee is ready for a food-based business economic renaissance. Current and would-be entrepreneurs just need team building and grunt assistance. The harvest is plentiful...

Friday, June 14, 2013

A Word on our Local Food Economy

Good folks,

I've got a quick bunch of stories for you, a couple food garden pointers, and a (workshop) announcement. 

1.) Stories: When I've got a book to write and only got a page
The challenge every time I try to write a newsletter or blog is whittling down the list of possible stories to share. Living amidst the Tallahassee Food Network (TFN), there is so much good work going on and so many dynamic stories to report. We need a documentary and journalism crew on the team just to capture all the stories: from the 75+ community gardens in town to the hundreds of youth that Qasimah Boston has trained in leadership and nutrition, from the Red Hills Tomato "Feastival" this past weekend to the wheat threshing/grinding demonstration today at the iGrow Youth Farm. And that's not to mention the many home gardeners who tell me their stories of family recipes, of their parents who planted by the moon, and their children who, "Just today!" harvested their own bell peppers and ate them "right, then and there."  (If you are a journalist or know someone who would be willing to lend their time to document food movement stories, please let me know).

To prioritize, I found myself inspired today by the open conversation at the TFN Collard and Cornbread Gathering on Farm-to-Table Economic Development, so I'll share a few tidbits from my world in that arena:
  • iGrow Whatever You Like, TFN's youth empowerment and urban ag program has harvested over 1600lbs from their Dunn St Youth Farm and earned over $4000 from produce sales + another $3000 (this year, $14,000 total) from iGrow Bucket Sales. Did I mention that iGrow teenagers are equipped to accept credit and debit cards using an iPad Ap? 21st Century farmers!
  • Sundiata Ameh-El, my friend and iGrow colleague launched his new compost pick-up service business, Compost Community, which takes the food economy full circle. He's working with both individual households and restaurants. The finished compost generated is donated to area community gardens.
  • Red Hills Online (Farmers) Market is doing more business than ever. Last week's sales were the highest they've ever been! 
  • Cetta Barnhart's Seed Time Harvest, a local food distribution company is connecting rural growers who have crops going to waste with customers who want local, fresh produce. She packages seasonal produce from half a dozen farmers into CSA-like bags and delivers her orders weekly. Though she's web-savy (order forms are on googledocs), she's phone calling seniors to make sure they don't fall into the food economy digital divide.
  • Claire Mitchell and Danielle launched Ten Speed Greens Urban Farm this past winter, and their farm (and business) is thriving: bike-delivered produce to local restaurants, workshops, farm t-shirts, potlucks; the "whole nine."
  • Tallahassee Food Network and partners are investigating a possible local food certification program for local farmers as well as for restaurants and grocers who sell local products. The certification would ensure geographic "local-ness" as well as guarantee agricultural standards. With the proper branding, it would provide a marketing advantage to farm-to-table restaurants and other businesses who support the local food economy. Imagine walking into Publix to find a North Florida Grown or TallyFresh section.  Appalachian Grown is a model we're looking into.
  • Whole Foods is looking for local suppliers; their goal is to source 25% of their produce locally.
  • TFN needs more hands on deck to continue developing the Good Food Directory that will help local folks find healthy, fresh, green, fair, and affordable food.
  • People in the Tallahassee MSA (metropolitan service area) purchase $178million* of fruits and vegetables every year. We're talking hundreds (thousands!) of local jobs if we re-root our food economy in the region. (*figure is from the T/LC Econ Dev Council).
The roots for a thriving local food economy are growing, but it's going to take all of us to develop it to its full potential. What's your piece?

2.) Food Garden Tips

If you're leaving on vacation for a while or otherwise don't want to be bothered with food gardening over the summer, plant sweet potatoes. (Man in Overalls YoutTube "How To" video). Plant them anyway; they love the heat, block out the weeds, and serve as a living mulch.  Speaking of which: mulch, mulch, mulch, 2" or 8". (Oak leaves are my favorite). Mulch does three things: it conserves water, blocks the weeds from growing, and regulates your soil temperature against the sun. Cooler, moister soil = healthier plants = fewer pests. (Come to the workshop, I'll explain :)

1.)Workshop Announcement: 

A workshop taught by Man in Overalls, Sundiata (Compost Community), Efrayim (Growing Green Gardens), and the iGrow Youth. Learn to grow food in the heat without headaches or heat exhaustion. 9-11am, Sat., June 29th at the iGrow Youth Farm (514 Dunn St). Registration is $20/Adults ($25 at the door), $5 for children and youth. Sign up on Facebook or by email. Workshop Flier PDF


     Happy growing and stay cool, 
    Nathan, the Man in Overalls 
    Magic Compost Mix delivery and topdressing, 1 yard for only $99 + tax 
    PS- Food Garden Questions. Email or FB me.
    ***Sign up for semi-monthly updates from the Man in Overalls by emailing me with the subject line "Count Me In."

    Wednesday, May 1, 2013

    Connecting an Emergent Movement

    What follows is a paraphrase of the presentation about emergent movements and asset-based community development that I gave at the COPE (Childhood Obesity Prevention Education) Coalition meeting on Tuesday evening, 4/30/2013. COPE is a comprehensive coalition of public and private sector agencies, organizations, institutions, and individuals in our capital city working to address childhood obesity. The focus is on holistic prevention strategies rather than weight loss. Many Tallahassee Food Network partners received $10,000 COPE mini-grants to scale-up their efforts.  Learn more on the COPE webpage.

    Tallahassee Food Network hosts monthly Collard and Cornbread Gatherings to connect folks and spokes of the food movement to one another around good food.
    Good Evening!

    My name is Nathan Ballentine. I'm here tonight as a co-founder of the Tallahassee Food Network. Folks around town know me as the Man in Overalls.

    Before I get started, I'd like to take just a moment to recognize, to appreciate the incredible people in this room, the skills they possess, the amazing work that I know they're doing.  I only know a tiny amount of what we're all up to, all the skills in the room, connections they have, and I know it's incredible.  Now, imagine: what if we all knew what everyone else in this room knew? I'm not saying we need to know what they know, but we need to know that they know it. If we know what it is that the other people in this room know, then we can step up our game because then we can call on each other and turn to each other with dreams and ideas that draw off all that greatness.

    Before we get started, to get us thinking along these lines, I have a couple questions for you. I want you to turn to a neighbor that you didn't come here with. You've only got a minute (thirty seconds each), and I want you to share a couple stories with each other. First: What is a skill that you have that's related to food? (You might know how to bake potatoes; you might know where to look for grants related to food security). Then next, you can answer one of two questions: What is a resource that you have, currently, that's food related? (For example, I've got a bag of potatoes at home.) Or, who do you know that has skills related to food? (My mother knows how to cook cornbread in an iron skillet).

    (After a minute).

    What kinds of skills did you hear your neighbor mention? (Cooking. Gardening. Canning. Nutrition. Mentoring. Partnering.)

    What kinds of resources do y'all have or who do you know? (Family land. University departments with student interns and professors. Pots and pans. Gardening tools. Time. Grandparents. The Internet.)

    Wow. Great responses.

    I ask these questions because the Tallahassee Food Network is working to build partnerships amidst the food movement to grow community-based food systems that ensure access to good food, which we define as healthy, green, fair, and affordable. To do so, we're going to need all these skills, all these resources and connections. Everyone has a role to play.

    The Food Network is especially interested in building a movement that bridges lines of division, however you think about those things: race, geography, age, income.

    Those of us who founded the Food Network-- Miaisha Mitchell, Qasimah Boston, Joyce Brown, and I-- realized early on that in many ways we've got parallel movements going on. Let me give you quick example. If I get invited to a white church to do a workshop on gardening, it's because their sustainability committee invited me. If I get invited to a black church to do a workshop on gardening, it's because their health ministry invited me. So we've got similar conversations, similar work going on in different segments of our population. Yes, there is some overlap, but largely we've got disparate, parallel yet disparate movements. So we ask ourselves, how do we encourage overlap, collaboration, relationships, and synergy?

    Let me introduce another way of thinking about these things. It's called "emergence." Emergence is what happens when a collection of individuals are able to asses their local situation, communicate, and take appropriate action. When they do so, they display an intelligence that is greater than the sum of their parts. Think ant hills, bee hives. We do things like this all the time. This is what we're doing amidst COPE.  Emergence is how the food movement is operating. We're all assessing the world based on the information we know, communicating with the people we have access to, and then taking steps: growing gardens, cooking dinner, managing farmers markets, teaching nutrition.

    Given this reality, the question becomes "How do we facilitate an emergent movement?" Especially in light of the challenges.

    For example, folks run in different networks, in different circles. Let's take Facebook for example. I hear people say, "We put it on facebook so everyone will learn about it." Except, not really. For starters, not everyone is on facebook. But even on facebook, if I post something it's accessible only to my network, and by-and-large, my network looks a whole lot like me. For most of us, our networks tend to look a lot like ourselves-- however it is that we choose to identify ourselves.

    Geography is a challenge. There are the neighborhoods that we know and tend to stick to and there are those where we don't tend to go.

    Communication mediums. Some people communicate through facebook. Others get their information via front porches or folks walking up and down the street; others through fliers, others by emails or the radio.

    We're also dealing with different languages.  I'm not talking about spanish and french and english. I'm talking about styles. A few weeks ago, Efrayim the farm manager at the iGrow Farm -- a so-called black man was talking on the phone with Jen, a so-called white female FSU student intern. At the close of their conversation Jen said, "Ok, so I'll see you Friday," and Efrayim said, "Alright." Then Jen said, "I guess we've got our plan then," and Efrayim said, "A'right." Then Jen closed, "So I'll see you Friday. Sounds good," and Efrayim responded, "A'right...." They were both trying to get off the phone, but they didn't speak each others' languages.

    So again, the question is: How do we facilitate an emergent movement amidst all the challenges?

    One strategy that we use in the Food Network-- though we don't talk about it all that much-- is ABCD, Asset-Based Community Development. The idea is that every one of us in here, everyone in Tallahassee no matter where we are has skills, resources, and connections to bring to the table. This is where those stories we shared with one another come in. This is where knowing what it is that your neighbor knows fits in. This is where your grandmothers' recipes fit in. In the Food Network, the idea is that the more folks we have at the table from all walks of life* and the better we all know each other and know what the others know, the better we'll be able to grow those community based-food systems because we'll be able to partner, we'll be able to fill each others' gaps and enable each others' dreams.

    Let me give a quick example of how we do this. On the second Thursday of every month, the Food Network hosts a Collards and Cornbread Gathering where we share stories, ideas, and projects with one another amidst the food movement. At our last gathering, Mr Bellamy, who coordinates the Frenchtown Heritage Market gave a two minute update about how he's working to make it so folks could purchase fresh veggies at his market using SNAP/EBT. (As y'all know, a lot of people buy groceries with SNAP/EBT; unfortunately, to date, none of our farmers markets in town accept SNAP/EBT. Largely, this is because most of our farmers markets are in parking lots or fields or other places where access to a phone-line is hard to come by. But comeon! We've got YouTube on our phones, and iGrow can accept credit cards with a device that plugs into the ear phone jack on an iPad. As it turns out, FL Dept of Children and Families is working on a wireless device for SNAP/EBT for farmers markets, and Mr Bellamy is one of the first to act on it.) Sitting across the circle from Mr. Bellamy was Claire Mitchell who works with the Red Hills Small Farms Alliance, which also wants to accept SNAP/EBT for their online farmers market.  Claire says, "Wait, who did you talk to at DCF?" Then a minute later, "What was the website? Where was the office?" In a manner of minutes, because we're sharing what we know-- because we know each other and get together-- we're growing the movement and the community-based food systems that will ensure access to healthy, green, fair, and affordable food."

    - - -

    A few after thoughts:

    *In the realm of assets, amongst the most overlooked skill-sets and knowledge bases are indigenous mores, customs, patterns of speech, historical knowledge, visual aesthetics, friendship networks, music preferences, and long-standing neighborhood tensions, i.e., generally, knowing the culture of a community.

    Having grown up in Indianhead Acres (which was one of Tallahassee's first segregated suburban developments, and, consequentially, remains predominantly Euro-American) I know the folks on the neighborhood board as well as the unofficial leaders who others will follow because they're known and respected. I know where the creek is in the park and the place where I made a fort as a child. I know who bought my sister's Girl Scout Cookies, and who was diabetic-- or said they were. I know how to pronounce "Chowkeebin Nene" and can find my way from Koucky Park to Hartsfield Elementary and chime off the names of 20 neighborhood families in between.  People know me because I gardened on "the corner" from the time I was eight until I graduated high school.

    Post college when I returned to the neighborhood, given my roots, I could conceive of community initiatives and projects that were within the understanding and acceptance of "my people" because, to a certain extent, I thought (and think), how my neighbors think.  The same is true of folks in Frenchtown and Killarn and Betton Hills and South City. Such localized community expertise is irreplaceable in growing a food movement that will work for everyone.  This is why, amidst my life and work in Frenchtown (a predominantly African-American community), as much as possible, I take my direction from-- I defer to folks who have roots and/or long-standing ties in the neighborhood. Although I've developed and investigated lots of successful community food projects and found many working models-- I wasn't raised in Frenchtown, so I don't know, de facto, what will work here, especially in light of Frenctown culture, with all the intricacies inherent.

    I'll give you a simple example: Wendell, a friend with family roots in Frenchtown asked me a while back: "You ever notice how black folks never have picnics?" He explained to me that the word "picnic" is associated with "Picking a nigger," say, for a hanging party. Wendell educated me that black folks have "cookouts." For obvious reasons, had I mistakenly attempted to organized a "picnic" in Frenchtown as part of my work with iGrow, I would not have been received well by my neighbors.

    The latter is an extreme yet real example of the importance of localized community expertise. (This is closely tied to ideas of cultural competence.) In such light, we need Wendell; we need Joshua and Clarenia on the iGrow team; we need Ms Mitchell and Mr Bellamy, long-time citizens of the neighborhood as well as Pee Wee and Bruce on Dent Street-- all Frenchtown neighbors with very different lives and perspectives-- as much we need the inspiration, models, and ideas provided by folks like Will Allen, Louise Divine, Malik Yakini, Mark Tancig and Vandana Shiva.

    The beauty of ideas like Asset-Based Community Development, localized community expertise, and cultural competence is that we're all competent within the realm of our own experience, communities, and cultures. All of us have community-rooted and network-tied cultural skill-sets to bring to the table.

    This is why, when it's time to grow the good food movement in your communities and circles, we need you on the team.

    - - -  

    If you're interested in this conversation about localized community expertise, cultural competence, and the challenges of building an emergent food movement that bridges lines of division, I've compiled a few items for additional exploration that have shaped my understanding:

    Lastly, below I've listed a handful of organizations with similar models and philosophies to the Tallahassee Food Network worth checking out:
    Blessings as you grow and intertwine the movement,

    Thursday, March 28, 2013

    Chinese "Secret Garden" & Spring Planting Tips

    Hey there good folks,

    I've got a quick little story for you and a couple of pointers as you begin your summer garden.

    1.) Story: A Hidden Garden

    Last week, Sundiata Ameh-El, co-coordinator of iGrow and I were installing raised beds around town together. Because we were in the area and because my father had told me about it, we swung by for a look at an unlikely farm. It's hidden behind a Tallahassee shopping center, behind a hedge on a steep hillside above a storm drain. It's absolutely gorgeous, everything a mini farm should be, and it's maintained by a gentleman from China who doesn't speak any English. (To protect his privacy, I'm being intentionally vague about his farm's location.)

    Aside from the beautiful produce, the most impressive aspect in my opinion was the terracing itself. I've always wondered how indigenous peoples the world over have farmed on hillsides without loosing their beds to the first rain. Take a look.
    Notice that there is a storm drain (aka the pathway) that's dug into the hill above the bed to divert water around. Wow, I thought, a subsistence Chinese farmer right here in Talahassee who's relocated following family, and has found a place to plant once more.  Well, not quite: after a failed attempt to communicate directly, Sundiata was able to locate his daughter who is bilingual. As it turns out, the man was a banker in China, and these days, "Was bored and wanted something to do." His daughter told us, "He is out here every day gardening, but we don't know what we're doing." She communicated her father's frustration with fava beans and cabbages that took too long to grow; she shared about chinese lettuce varieties that don't suffer from pest problems like our own. Sundiata asked questions about their methods of composting and shared his own practices... and so it turned into an agricultural exchange.

    That's the power of food. If you step out a bit, it has a way of bridging lines of division.

    2.) Food Garden Tips

    It's spring planting time! Tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, bush beans, squash, zucchini, watermelon, and all that other good stuff. See the attached "What Can You Grow in a Square" resource for specifics on planting including how much space things need, what to plant when, and a cool planting grid to plan your garden. Also attached is my "Food Gardening 101" that covers the basic 10 steps to go from grass to garden. -- If you're planting in a raised bed, the best/easiest way to maintain fertility is to top it off with mushroom compost. (Just fill it back up). If things grew well last spring, but didn't produce quite like how you'd want, you could add a little greensand or granite dust (say, 5lbs per 20square feet) to up the potassium and micro-nutrients that get overlooked. -- Last tip: Okra and sweet potatoes love the heat, so wait until May/June to plant them, preferably, plant them on the heals of an early spring crop like sweet corn or bush beans (i.e., after you grow and harvest the early crop, topdress with a little more compost, then plant your okra).



       Happy planting, 
    Nathan, the Man in Overalls 

    New: Man in Overalls Magic Mix delivery right to your garden. 
    (1 yard delivered & added to your garden for $99) 

    PS- I'm happy to answer food gardening quandaries by email or on Facebook.com/maninoveralls.

    Sign up for semi-monthly updates from the Man in Overalls by emailing me with the subject line "Count Me In."

    Wednesday, December 12, 2012

    People Showed Up, Now What? -- Facilitating a Community Garden Interest Meeting

    Southwood Community Garden looking great (12/2012)
    So lets say you're starting a community garden. You've done your homework, so you realize that when you're starting a community garden, the community aspect is just as important as the garden aspect. In that light, before breaking ground or applying for land from the City of Tallahassee or Leon County, you'll likely organize a community garden interest meeting.

    A year ago, I mentioned asset-based community development (ABCD) in a post about my friend and mentor, Amanda Edmonds at Growing Hope in Michigan.  At the core of ABCD is the premise that everyone-- and by extension, every community-- has assets: skills, knowledge, resources, people they know, and organizational affiliations that teams can fit together like pieces of a puzzle to better their community.

    A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to put ABCD into practice when I aided Cristin Burns (marketing manager at New Leaf) in facilitating the Lafayette St Community Garden interest meeting. Below is an outline of that meeting:

    Lafayette Community Garden Interest Meeting Quick Sketch
    1. Welcome/Names/Introductions
    2. History/Overview of Project: where the idea came from, land availability, pictures of site
    3. Question: Will the Community Garden be Organic? -- Group decides: yes
    4. Knowledge and available resource offers from Betton Hills Community Garden leader
    5. What is your interest? What brought you here tonight?
    6. Names again (+ something you'd like to grow)
    7. Introduce Asset-Based Community Development: "Everyone-- every single person-- has skills, knowledge, resources, and networks that can help this community garden come into being." 
    8. "Raise Your hand if..." Agriculture, communication, and group process skills-related questions to identify knowledgeable folks amidst the group.
    9. ABCD Questions to Group (Record answers with names attached for follow up)
      1. What, specifically, do you know? What knowledge do you have that could help the creation of this community garden project?
      2. What resources do you have?
      3. Who do you know that could help?
    10. What steps will the team need to take between this meeting and an installed, thriving community garden?
    11. What concerns do you have about the project?
    12. What is step #1? -- Group decides: Field trip to Betton Hills Community Garden
    13. Solidify plan to visit the Betton Hills Dec 8th
    14. Ask for volunteer to take sign-in sheet, create email account, send notes out to group.
    15. Closing: What's a word that captures what you're feeling or what you're taking away from tonight

    ~ ~ ~

    If you're interested in the details and have a few more minutes, I've attempted to recreate a "play-by-play" of the interest meeting, so you can see some of the nuances of community organizing, group dynamics, and the way I facilitate meetings with an ABCD-mindset.
    • Cristin heard through the grapevine (and later confirmed) that Scott, owner of the Moon had a piece of property he was willing to offer to a community group interested in starting a community garden.
    • 4-8 weeks before the meeting, Cristin advertised/announced a community garden interest meeting through the Indianhead and Woodlawn Drives neighborhood associations and their newsletters, via the management at Tally Square Apartments, and in the Parkway Merchants Association network.
    • 15 minutes before the meeting (hosted in the New Leaf Cafe): Cristin set up a powerpoint, a sign-in sheet, and arranged her handouts. 
    • Folks signed in as they arrived. Cristin asked folks already sitting in the cafe, "Are you here for the community garden interest meeting?" She passed them the sign-in sheet and distributed copies of the American Community Gardening Association "How to start a community garden" handout.
    • Cristin briefly introduced herself and asked others to do the same. We went around.
    • Cristin provided an overview of the property: who owns the land, his willingness to lend it for a community garden, where it was, pictures via powerpoint, etc.
    • Folks asked Cristin whether the garden would be organic or not. She deferred the question back to the group saying, "I'm not in charge. I just know about the availability of the land. This is not my project. It only happens if y'all-- if a group of people step up to make it happen. What do y'all think? Should it be organic?" Most folks nodded in agreement.
    • Sue Hansen from the Betton Hills Community Garden offered a few gardening tips and tricks as well as info about free resources like the woodchip "fines" available at the county landfill.
    • After a lull in the conversation, I asked, "Cristin, is it okay for me to ask a couple questions?" She passed the torch to me.
    • I asked the group: "What interests you? Why'd you come out tonight? We've all got something that motivates us, and that's where we need to start because our motivations, our interests will inform the purpose and the design of the garden. So, what interests you?" After asking the question, I left silence. Everyone responded popcorn style (i.e., not in a circle).The answers were varied. Here are a few examples:
      • Because I like to work with my family, to teach my kids how to work
      • Taste
      • I live just down the road and bike by the garden location every day on my way home from work. It'd be really cool to stop, take care of my plot, pick a few veggies, and go on home.
      • I want to know where my food is coming from
      • I want to learn to garden, so I can teach others
      • The price of food is going up, up, up.
    • As folks answered, I echoed them. That's where you repeat back what people are saying in the same words. It helps make sure the group hears the speaker. It also helps the speaker hear their own words, so they can make sure they're saying what they mean.  In addition, it creates a group dynamic where folks feel like a lot is going on. It fills that awkward silence that nobody likes to break. When folks answered with a single word or two, I drew them out, which means I asked them to expand on their idea, e.g., "Could you explain that more?" Lastly, I made sure that every person in the group was given a chance to share. This required leaving space (i.e., silence) after I echoed folks. It also required calling on specific people who were holding back.
    • Next, I proposed that we do names again, more slowly because "I confess, I don't remember any of y'all's names." 
    • Someone suggested that before we said our names, we should shift into a smaller, tighter circle so we could hear each other better. "That's a great idea," I said. Whenever you can incorporate group members' ideas while advancing the core purpose of building the team, discovering and building upon assets, do it. Even small ideas acted upon serve as seeds that can grow into ownership and project leadership. 
    • We shifted in.
    • We went around the circle giving our names.
    • "Okay," I asked, "Who remembers at least two names? Three?" We then went back around, but rather than folks saying their own name, I proposed that the group as a whole chime the names to see if we could remember. "Just say the names you remember." As a group, we were able to name everyone.
    • Next I introduced some ABCD ideas: "Everyone-- every single person-- has skills, knowledge, resources, and networks that can help this community garden come into being. Someone in this circle has grown something before. I'm almost positive someone has a few tools. And we all know people that could help us out. So... raise your hand if..."
      • (agriculture-skill-related questions)
        • You've ever grown anything?
        • You've had a garden for a year or more?
        • You've gardened or farmed for 5 years or more? ("Okay y'all, these are your ag-experts.")
      • (communication-skill-related questions)
        • You've ever talked to anyone?
        • You've sent a bulk email to 10 people or more?
        • You've managed a database? ("Ok, these are your communication experts.")
      • (education/group-facilitation-skill-related questions)
        • You've presented to a group of people?
        • You've facilitated a conversation or led a workshop? ("These are your education and group coordinator experts.")
    • "Okay. So now the question is: What do you know? Specifically. We need to know what the others in this circle know, and we need to write these things down,-- with names attached-- so we can follow up with the right people. What do you know?" Some of the answers included: 
      • I... know how to grow tomatoes
      • I grew up gardening with my parents, so I know roughly what to plant in what season
      • I know how to send emails
      • I can make calls. I do that for a living.
    • Next question: "What do you have? What resources do you have?" Answered included:
      • Shovels
      • a tiller
      • contact information for their neighbors who might help
    • "Who do you know that could help?" I heard folks say:
      • My brother who is a landscape architect could help with a site plan
      • my church family has resources like tools and time and an interest in volunteering
    • After the group laid some key assets on the table, we needed to develop a plan, an outline of how to proceed. It's always temping as a facilitator or group leader to feel like you need to provide all the answers, in this case a "plan of action." Much of the time, however, not having the answer is the best answer. Even if you feel like you may know the answer, asking a question and allowing the group to create the answer transfers ownership from facilitator to the group itself. 
    • In this light, I asked, "Between now-- this interest meeting-- and an installed, thriving community garden, what steps do you anticipate the team will have to take? What things will have to happen between now and then? (In no particular order.) Folks responded with things like:
      • We'll have to price materials
      • design the layout
      • start a committee
      • have meetings
      • do outreach to recruit others
      • make decisions
      • (For each of these answers, I, again, drew folks out. I problematized their answers: "What kind of materials? What will you do in the meetings? What kind of decisions will you have to make? What might outreach look like?" -- The point is to bring to light the details, depth, and additional questions that lay behind simple words, so the group as a whole can see the tasks before them. This also helps reveal additional knowledge and folks' expertise. If someone is particularly able to answer such follow-up questions, they are likely more knowledgeable on that particular topic. E.g., if someone says regarding materials, "We'll need 10-12 inch lumber to build raised beds plus 2-4 screws or lag-bolts per corner, and we'll have to calculate how much mushroom compost we'll need to fill them, which we can get from such-and-such company" that person clearly knows more than most about building raised beds.)
    • Towards the end of this conversation, someone expressed worry about "Time" and "everything that needed to be done." Rather than gloss over the work and difficulty ahead, we embraced our concerns. "So and so," I said, "is worried he may not have enough time to dedicate to the project.  What other concerns to people have?" Concerns are real. If ignored, they'll often seed the doom of community garden projects even if they could have been addressed had they been out in the open.  On the other hand, If they're on the table along with the groups' assets, the team can likely find a way to plan and build their project-- to arrange their assets-- in such as ways as to over-come or accommodate folks' concerns. Some of the concerns mentioned were:
      • soil contamination -- the group decided that they'd do a heavy-metal soil test and likely build raised beds no matter the results
      • vandalism and theft -- folks with experience in prior (and other) community gardens shared their experiences and best practices
      • having enough time to dedicate -- the group talked about various roles and levels of responsibility. E.g., some people would serve on the leadership team, others would be plot members, others volunteers, and some families could share a plot to reduce the days they had to water.
    • To transition the conversation back towards action, I summarized, "So, we've talked about some of the steps the group will need to take, and we've shared concerns. Keeping all that in mind," I posed, "What is step number one?"
      • A couple folks said, "Another meeting."
      • Sue Hansen offered to receive the group on a tour of the Betton Hills Community Garden. There seemed to be a murmur of agreement with this idea, so I asked, "How's that sound? Next step is a group tour to the Betton Hills Community Garden? So y'all can ask questions of the garden team there...?" Hearing general consent, I questioned, "Is there anyone who doesn't think a tour is a good next step?" No one challenged the idea, and all agreed to the tour with enthusiasm. Note: a field trip to a successful community garden is an excellent first step after an interest meeting. There's nothing quite like seeing things growing and talking to folks who were in your same situation situation not all that long ago for equipping a community garden team with the inspiration and knowledge they need to move forward.
      • To make sure the plan was confirmed, we immediately set a date and time for the tour. Sue gave directions on how to get there and gave out her phone number.
    • "Before we leave, we need a volunteer that can take the sign-in list, start an email account for the team, and send out a summary of the meeting to everyone along with directions to Betton Hills." I made the statement, and then stopped talking. I did not attempt to explain how easy the task would be or minimize the responsibility in any way. I simply let it hang. Rhionon raised her hand after 3-5 seconds. "Awesome! Thank you."
    • Out of the blue, someone else volunteered, "I'll be on the infrastructure committee." Then someone else said they'd be on "the garden committee to help make it happen."
      • When someone offers to do something, especially offers to serve as a leader responsible for making decisions, make a note and acknowledge/appreciate their offer. Don't let it fade. By the same token, if you think someone would likely make a good leader, find a way to ease or request them into a leadership role.
    • To wrap things up, I suggested we close by all offering a word that summarized what folks were taking away or how they felt. I heard:
      • community
      • proud
      • teamwork
      • garden
      • skills
      • It's gonna happen
    • Goodbyes and Details
      • Cristin made a copy of the sign-in sheet and sent it with Rhionon, so she could create the email account and get the notes, etc out to the group. (This is real empowerment and ABCD: passing responsibility to those who have offered their assets and leadership, i.e., leaning on folks in real, non-token ways from the get-go, building on folks' assets to create something positive that didn't exist before)
      • I gave Rhionon my notes.
      • Sue and Rhionon conferenced to make sure she had correct directions to the Betton Hills garden.
      • Cristin and I debriefed and departed.
    Just as there is more than one way to skin a cat, there are a million ways to facilitate a community garden interest meeting using asset-based community development principles.  Whatever your method, just remember that at the core of ABCD is a faith that people and groups have or are networked to the things they need to grow a better world -- not to mention a community garden on Lafayette Street.

    Happy growing,
    Nathan, Man in Overalls

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