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


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.

- - -

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.

Still do.

- - -

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.

- - -
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.
(904) 240-9592
Email Man In Overalls at Gmail dot com
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Why Can I Eat Bread in France, but not the USA?

Updated 10/31/2017 as the National Organic Standards Board meets in Jacksonville, FL. This may well be the most important thing you read this year for your health. (Originally written in 2015 while I was traveling-- and eating bread-- with my wife in France.)

I've got a food riddle for you from Paris, France: Why can I eat bread over here when it makes me sick at home?

I'll share my best guess in a minute, but first, a little personal background.

Since my senior year of high school, I've not been able to eat much bread at all. For five years, I was severely hypoglycemic, and everything I ate had to have more protein than carbohydrates. That meant, in effect, that I spent my years of college beer-less and eating lots of salad with meat on top. I ate tons of vegetables, very little fruit, basically no carbohydrates to speak of, meat, nuts, eggs, and cheese. If I accidentally ate, say, meat loaf that was, unbeknownst to me, made with bread in it, I'd spend the next 2-3 da…

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I smile and think about a mental model I've been working on: Growing your groceries is like washing your dishes.

While they're raving about how many plants they've killed, I'm thinking, "It's not your thumbs. I bet you don't have a sink. And if you do, are you using decent soap or that garbage from the dollar store? And did you mention you've never washed dishes before in your life? And you're surprised you broke a couple wine glasses with no more experience than a four-year-old?" My eyebrows furrow involuntarily belying my thoughts, "Really? That doesn't seem all that surprising to me." But, of course, not only would saying all that confuse people, it'd kill the moment, so I just smile som…

Man in Overalls - The Valley of Food & Ag Startups: Warren Wilson College

If you're interested in tech, pay attention to Silicon Valley. If you're interested in food and agriculture, Swannnoa Valley, more specifically Warren Wilson College, is the place to keep on your radar.
I'm an alum and proud of it, class of 2008. I studied community organizing, wrote a 140 page thesis about social movements as my capstone.
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Per the "triad" of Warren Wilson's educational system,…

Man In Overalls - My Compost System

Composting, they say, is an art form. But, truth be told, I'm just too lazy for all that. My own compost philosophy is, "Crap rots in the woods, doesn't it?"

But really. :)


Whenever I think of home gardening systems, I always reflect back on my grandmother. She gardened up until the week she died at 93. She planted by the signs and assured me that's why her collards were not eaten up by bugs and were able to grow for 3 years running and up to 8 or 9 feet tall. She had a little rototiller, planted straight rows, mulched by spreading leaves to keep the weeds down. She threw out a little 10-10-10 from time to time and kept the cabbage worms at bay with Sevin dust. She hoed if the weeds called for it. But mostly, she harvested. Her pots were always full and her freezer always stuffed with produce: collards, mustards, turnips, peas, tomato gravy, squash, you name it.

Now, I don't use 10-10-10 or sevin dust, and I'm not big on tilling. However, the thing I cont…

Man in Overalls - Growing Great Soil

Good soil will basically grow your groceries for you, but how do you build great soil? 
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So we're on the same page, I'm continuing my #GrowYourGroceries The Easy Way series by digging into the how-tos of growing great soil. These stories and techniques will likely make the most sense after reading Geeking on Good Soil, my last update. (I outlined where I was headed in The Big Picture.)


As I was saying, the easy way to build a great soil is to fill raised beds with a terrific compost-based soil mix like my Magic Mix to jump start your food garden productivity from year one. From there, seasonally, you simply top-dress each season before planting with another few inches of compost-based soil mix. This is how I manage my own food garden and those of my customers. Why? Because at the root of things, I'm a lazy food gardener, and long ago I decided to embrace it. ­čśÄ

But if you're not in th…

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Welcome to mid summer in the Deep South! If you're anything like me, you're actively looking for excuses to avoid going outside this time of year. The heat doesn't so much radiate down from the sun as it seems to rise from the side walk. Rain helps- for about ten minutes- and then simply adds to the humidity as it vaporizes on the payment, so that it feels like you need a snorkel to make it from the house to the car, but of course, it only gets worse when you turn on the AC, and that first puff of hot air feels as though someone just wrapped your face in a plastic bag - not to mention that if you cut your grass yesterday, you're going to have to do it again... tomorrow. And, lets not even talk about how fast the weeds grow this time of year! Or the insects seem to multiply! Oh, home... :)

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Man in Overalls - What to Do When it Freezes in N FL

Here's the short version: If you've got tender warm-season plants growing (think tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash, and the like), water thoroughly and then throw a sheet over your warm-season veggies & tropical fruit trees (especially if they've only been in the ground 1-2 years).

I can't count how many people I've met who have a complex about "killing plants" and who think, "I don't have a green thumb." What they don't realize is that anyone (EVERYONE!) who grows their own groceries is well-versed in killing crops (myself not-withstanding). Why do you think there are entire USDA funding streams for crop loss insurance and crop-loss loans? Even the best of farmers-- much less gardeners-- inadvertently kill things from time to time.

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Man in Overalls - How to Start a School Garden: Design

Before you get to build your school garden like this,
before you can help kids get their hands dirty like this,
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(If you want a fall planting guide, sign up for my semi-monthly updates at the bottom of this post. Also, if you want to learn more from me directly, check out my facebook events for upcoming workshops and speaking engagements.)
But let me back up. Beyond the greater range of fall options, why do I love growing food in the fall? It's s…