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Showing posts from 2009

"We made it through the depression because we had a garden..."

My grandmother this coming spring will turn 92. She grew up picking cotton on other folks' farms in "LA, Lower Al'bama," south Georgia and N. Florida. She continues to "farm" to this day. Her vegetable garden-- heavy on peas, tomatoes, squash, sweet potatoes and peppers during the summer and collards, mustards and turnips during the winter-- is one of the things that keeps her going. Born in 1918, she "didn't fall off the turnip truck yesterday."


Here she is in her garden harrowing a row with her five-year-old great-granddaughter, Mackenzie.

Ever since I started growing vegetables when I was eight-years-old, food bearing plants-- and the eating that goes along with them-- have been one of the mainstays of our relationship. When we write letters, we always end up reporting on the state of our gardens, sharing things like the purchase of a new fruit tree or a bumper crop of collards. And when I visit her, the first thing after hugging is to dig in…

New Community Garden

Orange Ave Apts community members, supported by Damayan volunteers, installed a 500sq.ft. raised-bed, community garden in their neighborhood. The beds are framed with recycled concrete and filled with mushroom compost. Damayan brought in a few benches. Children and volunteers planted blueberry bushes and a tangerine. Already, the garden in creating a new sense of welcome to a forgotten space in the neighborhood. When I pass through to check in with community folks, I notice people mlling around the garden to check on the growth of the newly planted collards, mustards, and flowers. Here are a few pictures courtesy of Michelle.

Mr. Oliver overseeing the compost dump.


Jacob busting up concrete.


Mr. Oliver and the Man in Overalls talking plants after spreading compost.








Trystann and William bringing over the plants.


Planting collards.


It's been an honor working with the children and adults in the Orange Ave Apartments community that are bringing food movement dreams to life.

Food Garden Certificates

Certificates available for raised-beds, fruit trees, grape trellises, loads of compost, food garden consultations, and brute garden labor.... for your fam and buddies that say whimsically, "Gee... if only I had some help to get started..."



Raised-Vegetable Gardens (4x10)
 *Square Foot Garden
*Assembled and Prepared for you to plant
*DIY Kits (including lumber, compost, and seeds)
*DIY 4x8 Economy Kits (including lumber, compost, and seeds)
Herb Gardens
Fruit Trees
Grape Trellises
Edible Landscape
Mushroom Compost Delivered
*(1/2 Truckload)
Weekly to Seasonal Gardening Services
Gardening Tutorials & Consultations
Neighborhood Garden Workshops


Send me an email with questions and/or to arrange a certificate exchange. ManInOveralls at gmail dot com (For additional services and prices, click here.) Redeemable in Tallahassee or Jacksonville areas. (Not valid without my signature)

Did I ever tell you about the night someone tried to rob me?

Before I get around to that, let me say it was a sunny, crisp and convivial Thanksgiving. My family and two visiting friends ate on the picnic table out front in the garden. The table sagged under the weight of food. Okay, that's a lie. It was, however, loaded. Loaded. Chicken--not turkey-- I daresay, marinated with rosemary, thyme, oregano and homemade white wine, all from the garden. Rosemary flavored sweet potatoes with black beans seasoned with peppers, onions and chilies. Mashed turnips. A mess of collard greens, southern style. Mustard greens, vegetarian with soy sauce. An egg-fritatta with onions, kale and beet greens. Did I mention that everything listed thus far was from the garden save the chicken, beans and onions? (The eggs for the fritatta came from a chicken-raising neighbor the next street over.) And, of course, there was stuffing and cornbread and cranberries, and only God-knows what else, but as-sure-as-I'm-alive, I ate it.

Here's a picture …

Amidst the Construction

Here's one of the greatest things about gardens: Even in the face of neglect, they keep growing.

For most of the past three weeks, I laid the overalls aside to complete a home renovation. In preparation for my sister's belated wedding party here in Tallahassee (she lives and was married in the Seattle area), our family frantically renovated both our kitchen and bathroom. On more than one occasion, I found myself at Lowes before the sun came up and worked well past midnight in order to achieve some semblance of order before the party. Needless to say, I didn't have much time left over to garden. And yet, things continued to grow and to ripen.

Below are a few pictures from my own food garden. The bounty astounds me; I find myself surprised that so much goodness could self-create outside my windows while I struggled to refinish old cabinets. Take a look.

Turnips. We ate greens at my sister's party. Last night, we ate some of the roots in a stir-fry with onions and …

Economy of Kale

If I'm not mistaken, this past summer, the universities' budgets in town were struck by 95 million dollars. Add to this the collapse of the housing boom and reductions in state government spending, and what you get is a Tallahassee economy heading for hard times. In fact, for many, times are already tough. This is our current reality.

In the midst of such a financial situation, does it make sense to food garden? Is it worth it to shell out a few extra bucks upfront to either a)hire someone to plant a garden for you or b)to dig, sweat, make a run to the seed store, and plant your own garden? If money is already tight, if we're facing a tough economy, is growing food a good idea?

Think for a moment about the places hardest hit economically over the last several decades. If I had to brainstorm such a list of US cities with the worst economic fortunes, I'd name towns like Flint, Michigan, Detroit, New Orleans and inner-cities in New Jersey.

Interestingly enough, in a…

A Little Note on the Weekend with Damayan

I spent this past weekend at Lichgate with the Damayan Garden Project to receive folks stopping by as part of the 2nd Annual New Leaf Farm Tour. Amidst guiding folks through the demo garden, talking about good soil and compost, encouraging folks to peruse the silent auction tables, pointing out the labyrinth, and providing snacks, we volunteers had a bit of time to brainstorm. One idea that came up was this: as an organization, Damayan could increase its notoriety and ability to encourage food gardening by attending neighborhood association meetings all over town with a standard presentation. Said presentation would highlight a) WHY we should garden; i.e. the reasons (economic, health, environmental, communal) for food gardening, b) HOW we can garden; i.e. models of home and community gardens, and lastly c) THE WAYS DAMAYAN CAN HELP get things rolling.

Thus, if you serve on a neighborhood board and would be interested in having Damayan present, please let me know-- or email Damayan…

"Tallahasseean Gothic"

"American Gothic" was painted by Grant Woods from 1930. The key components as you can clearly see are a farming couple, the pitchfork, and the background cottage "with a distinctive upper window." Notice, the man in overalls. According to Wikipedia, the painting "is one of the most familiar images in 20th century American art and one of the most parodied artworks within American popular culture."

You don't say.

Let's call it "Tallahasseean Gothic" staged from 2009. The key components as you can see are a food gardening couple, the pitchfork, and the background capital "with distinctive upper windows and dome." Notice, again, the man in overalls.




(...with major thanks to my partner in crime, Mary Elizabeth... and my mother who's behind the camera...)

Bringing Garden Dreams to Fruition

A friend wrote me to ask, "Are you getting any business amidst all the 'awareness-raising' that you're doing?"

I am, I'm happy to report. Below is one garden project I worked on this past week: a food garden in Carol's backyard.


Carol wanted two raised beds with a small fence around them to keep her pups from digging up her winter greens. The day before I started digging, she called with a question: "Are you familiar with the Square Food Gardening (SFG) method?" "Yes," I responded,"more or less." Many people have called my attention to Mel Bartholomew's gardening approach over the years, and I'd just perused his website at length the week before. Additionally, without even knowing it, I'd been incorporating many of his ideas into my own practices in my home garden.

Carol offered me Bartholomew's book, which she'd purchased thirty years previously. "I wonder," Carol submitted, "if I coul…

Homecoming and NC Community Gardens

This past week, I made a trip up to North Carolina to my alma mater, Warren Wilson College for homecoming with two friends, fellow alums. Warren Wilson is a work college, which means that all students on campus have a 15-hour-per-week job. Most of the routine maintenance and tasks are performed by students. For example, there's a plumbing crew, a library crew, cafeteria (dish-washing) crew, etc. And, as there is a working farm and a three-acre garden on campus-- both which supply food to the dinning halls-- there are farm and garden student crews as well. I actually didn't work on either. Instead I spent two years on Electric and two years on Landscaping. As part of my duties on Landscaping, I managed an edible landscape around a student dorm.

The extended weekend was a great chance to catch up with friends, professors and old crew-bosses. I shared the "dollars and cents" of Tallahassee Food Gardens with four friends who are investigating the possibilities o…

An Emerging Food Movement

Folks, the food movement is growing quickly in Tallahassee; however it is not root-bound within our home town. A few years back, I read a book named Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software by Steven Johnson. It's about how semi-connected individuals can work together as a coherent whole; the system can and usually displays an "intelligence" greater than that held by the component pieces and a productivity greater than the sum of its parts. In this light, think about yourself... or even all of us in Tallahassee who are "experimenting" with and "just beginning to" food garden. At first glance, it seems we are all fumbling with pests and heat and humidity beyond our abilities. Most food gardeners I talk to comment upon how they're not growing "that much." But, if we take a step back and look at the entirety of the city... or the country (or the world for that matter) we begin to gain a sense of the great a…

Notes from the Roadside...

Monday through Friday this week, I spent hours-upon-hours on roadsides in Tallahassee clad in overalls, holding an upended pitchfork in the vein of the "American Gothic" painting. I simultaneously held signs with catch-phrases about food gardening like, "Grow Your Own Food and Share It" and one with a picture of Rosy the Riviter that said "WE CAN GROW FOOD." Another one, an infomational sign refered people to this blog, "Man in Overalls" on Youtube, and Man in Overalls' Facebook fanpage. Yet another one read, "HONK! for Food Gardens."

On Monday around lunch time I wrote: "I made my roadside debut this morning. It was a stunning success. I connected with all number of folks that I otherwise would have not had access to. I remained shocked by the numerous honks, waves, fist pumps, smiles of humor, and quizzically-puzzled looks aimed my direction."

I also remained impressed by the sheer quantity of passing vehicles. I kept …

"Taking things into their own hands and backyards"

Last year CNBC ran a news story called "New Victory Gardens."

It tells the story of how folks are "taking things into their own hands and backyards" by starting more and more gardens in 2008-- a year before, mind you, 2009 when the sale of home vegetable garden seeds jumped over 30% by some sources. According to the CNBC news report, there were 25 million households with home vegetable gardens.

Now is as good a space as ever to mention briefly the outrageous economics of food-gardening. As the news report mentions, a large tomato at Whole Foods cost $3, and a package of tomato seeds in the same produce section cost $2.50. "So even if only one of these seeds turns into a plant," the reporter states, "then I'll have tomatoes all summer long." Okay, fine, but we don't have a Whole Foods in Tallahassee nor do most folks shop for organic produce. More and more folks buy organic, granted; the majority, however, still do not. So let's t…

"All in a Day's Work," or "A Day in Overalls"

It was a busy day today. First, I built, filled and planted a raised-bed vegetable garden at Jackie's house. Collard and cabbage plants, carrot, mustard, radish and lettuce sees. You can see the finished bed to the right.


And then, I moved on to spruce up Faith Presbyterian's -my home church- children's garden before the young folks arrived for Wednesday night program: Planting the fall garden. We planted brussels sprout, collard, lettuce, rosemary, and a few late winter squash and basil plants; carrot, radish, and snap pea seeds. Last spring, the kids named it "God's Giving Garden." Any surplus food will be distributed through a food-pantry being developed in partnership with St. Stevens Lutheran, a church across the street. Take a look at the kids at work.

Around the edges of work, I made a little stop-action video. It makes me laugh. If I can figure out how to upload it... Ahha!

Who is that guy? and for the record...

Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Nathan, Nathan Ballentine. Tallahassee's home.

Here's the gist of it: I love food. I love growing, smelling, giving, cooking, tasting, sharing, and eating food. And I live under the impression that other folks at least like food too. It's pretty universal.

- - -

I've been food-gardening since I was eight-years-old. My mother who grew up on a farm in west Florida, set me on the task of creating a vegetable garden in our front yard as a home-schooling project. As I remember it, I grew some bitter carrots, bug-eaten lettuce and a few bush beans. The next year, I carried on the project, but- back in school- it was no longer an obligation. It was just "my garden."

The second year, I planted sweet corn and watermelon. In the years to come, I grew tomatoes and peppers, potatoes, squash and cucumbers, beans, onions, pumpkins, collards, parsley and basil and every year: more sweet corn. In the years since, my food-g…