Update 2018: Nine years ago I publicly launched as Man in Overalls in Tallahassee, FL with this blog post following a few appearances along Tallahassee roadways in my overalls with big, colorful signs that said things like "Will Garden for Food", "Grow Your Own Food and Share it!", "We Can Grow Food!", and "HONK! For Food Gardens!" My dual purposes - rooted in the context of the Great Recession- were: 1)pay my bills by providing food garden support to those who could afford it and 2)develop a persona and business that I could leverage to contribute to efforts in the Deep South's "food movement" to ensure all could eat well. Now rooted in Jacksonville, FL, my locus of work has shifted, my perspective has expanded to think regionally, but these early roots explaining my aspirations still ring true. - NB, MIO
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.
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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-gardening horizons have grown considerably. But more on that later.
From the time I was eight-years-old to at least ten or twelve-years-old, I subjected my family to daily garden tours. Upon pulling in the driveway and exiting his car, I'd invite my father to look at what was new. "Aw Nathan," he'd say. It's the same as it was yesterday." But, I was ready with counter evidence: "No, come look," I'd say. "There are three cucumber blossoms. And look! This tomato plant has a baby tomato. And the beans! Look right here," I'd be nearly whispering with the excitement, "They'll be ready to pick by, oh, probably next week. See 'em?"
I loved it, and I loved sharing it too.
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Before I go any further, I need to state clearly that my aspirations in launching as Man in Overalls is much larger than a business or a profit-plan. Yes, I have to pay my bills like everyone else. But, if it were just about making ends meet, I'd choose another path.
See, I want the Tallahassee to be able to feed itself. I want everyone in our region to end their days nutritionally satiated without worry about their ability to eat in the days and weeks to come. This is more than money can buy. Such a dream requires a mass-based social movement for fruition, a local-based city movement defined by popular participation in raising food for self and neighbor. My hope, therefore, is that my persona and business will serve as a platform from which I can help jump-start and sustain a food movement.
Starting a business with a social mission alongside the profit motive is an exercise in bridging the gap between the for-profit and non-profit worlds. Social entrepreneurship, I've heard it called. The truth is, I don't know how to do it. It's an experiment, like all my food-gardening since I was eight. Will it work? Is it doable?
I have lots of questions, most of which are circulating around this one: Can a food-gardening business stay in the black while it seeks to further a food movement in the Deep South?
Rumi once wrote: "And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without ever noticing it, live your way into the answer."
Perhaps. I welcome your advice, comments, and ideas. If you're wiling to share, I'd also love to hear your food dreams. Perhaps we can make a few come true.
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If I can support you with a grocery-growing food garden dream...
If you'd like to support me...
in freely sharing my stories & expertise, please consider passing along this article to a friend or sharing on social media. Each of my articles take hours of resource gathering, writing, and editing, so I want to make sure they don't just sit on the digital shelf.Respectfully,
Nathan Ballentine (Man in Overalls)
Itinerant Urban Farmer, Entrepreneur, Educator, Community Organizer
Growing in Jacksonville, FL. Connecting Globally.
Email Man In Overalls at Gmail dot com
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