Man in Overalls helps you #GrowYourGroceries!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

"A Backyard Community Garden"

A couple weeks back, Randy and Irene, got in touch with me about helping them start a garden. Only...they wanted "their" garden to go in their neighbor's yard. Come to find out, they were actually partnering with said neighbors-- in addition to another family across the street to start and maintain a raised vegetable ("community" or "friends") garden. The family with the most sun offered their backyard; Randy and Irene oversaw and joined me in the work of planting, and the other family will help as needed. When harvest time comes, they'll share the bounty.

"A Backyard Transformation"

Took a neglected corner of a Betton Hills backyard and spruced it up with a double, raised-bed Food Garden complete with mulched paths and an arbor. There are kale, brussel sprouts, two kinds of lettuce, spinach, red chard, and snap pea plants; cilantro, parsley, basil; shallot bulbs; and carrot and cucumber seeds. Tomatoes, peppers and squash will go in as it warms up a little.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Head Start, Bees, Calamondins, and the Food Movement

My buddy, John is always chiding me because-- though I wear overalls-- when it comes to sunrise, I am no farmer.  My cousin's boyfriend jubilantly, regularly, invites me to join his "crack-of-noon" club.  Well, I daresay, I'm not that late of a sleeper, but when Jason, who works at Tallahassee Nurseries told me last week that he woke every morning at five so he could get up, drink coffee, greet the day, read, walk his dog, etc... both my mouth and eyes opened involuntarily, and without thinking, I whispered, "Wow."

So, with that grain of salt, I'll go on to tell you that first thing yesterday morning, John and I-- John, my buddy who's running around with me for the month to learn about soil, seeds, and growing food-- we loaded up the truck with tools and compost.  Then, following Sandra Wilton, a fellow gardener and friend we headed to Romac for lumber.  We planned to install a raised-bed garden at the Midway Head Start so the kids-- in Sandra's words, "Can learn where their food comes from."  Apparently, last week when she was there doing speech therapy with some of the kids, one of the little girls was talking about mushrooms. "They're gross!" she said, "They grow on the ground!"  It wasn't much use when Sandra explained that most food grows in, on or out of the ground.  The kids insisted that, nah, food comes from Momma.  And Momma gets it from the store.

And so we built a raised-bed garden immediately adjacent to the little-ones' playground.  After filling it with compost a couple little people came out to join us to plant.  Paris, Dorian, and Shiloh.  For starters today, we planted radish seeds, regular and purple cabbage and brussels sprouts.  Just before planting the purple cabbage, I asked, "Who wants to help plant the purple cabbage?"  All three of them came running around the bed shouting, "I do," "I do," "I do," "I like purple," "I LIKE purple" and "I like purple; it's my favorite."  With so much interest in purple cabbage, I asked, "Do you like purple sweaters?"  The all said yes.  Then I asked about purple mustard greens.  Yeses again.  Finally, I questioned, "Do you like... purple sunshine?"  They were on a roll.  "Yeah!" they said, "I love purple sunshine."

If you see any of that, let me know so I can take it back to the Head Start in Midway.  Meanwhile, Sandra is going to be the primary coordinator for the garden, and, if it works out, another friend, Katie Harris is going to help with the garden from time to time-- not to mention the Head Start teachers who expressed interest and willingness to help maintain the new garden.

In the afternoon, my neighbor Heather Gamper, who's super involved with the Apalachee Beekeepers Association brought me a hive of bees.  (The Association is actually having a short-course on Saturday, Feb 27th, so if your interested, click here.)  Last year I suffered pitiful pollination of my apple trees: hundreds of blossoms and not one fruit.  So, we set up a deal: I give Heather free vegetables, and she's going to help me maintain a hive in my yard.  Amazing.  Plus, with these kids workshops going on, I figured we could all learn about the importance of pollinators (from a distance, of course).

In the ater afternoon, I renovated a different neighbor's garden.  She'd had the compost delivered previously, she just wanted some timbers and some muscle to move all that compost.  Her new garden is 8x14ft.

And what else?  Calamondin marmalade.  Well, first, I've got to share a little story of yet another set of neighbors.  On Monday, John and I took a walk around the neighborhood.  We stopped in front of a house because we noticed what we thought was a giant kumquat tree growing in someone's backyard.  John and I stood there glancing back and forth at the tree (directly behind and just above the house) and talking with each other.  Meanwhile, a woman appeared in her kitchen window where she was preparing dinner.  She looked out at what appeared to be two young men scoping out her house.  Turns out, there's been a rash of home robberies in our neighborhood, so folks are on the lookout.  "Well," I told John, "we've got to go talk to them now."

Her husband opened the door before we knocked, suspicion in his eyes.  "Hey there, uh, good evening, my name is Nathan.  This is my buddy John.  I live just around the corner, we were looking at your kumquat tree in your backyard... I wonder, do y'all pick and eat them all or is it possible that we could have some?"  "Kumquats huh?" he responded.  "Is that what you think they are?  They're really sour."  Oh, I thought, must be the sour variety.  "Sure... What'd you say your name was?  Where do you live again?"  He went on and on about how sour they are as he led us into the backyard, and I thought, "poor soul, you don't know."  "Yeah," he continued, "we don't do anything with them.  Truth is, they're just a mess so far as were concerned."

About that time we'd reached the tree, and I tried one.  Wow.  This was no kumquat.  Wow.  Sour.  Black-out-gag and wish for mercy sour.  It's been four days, and my mouth still waters when I think of that first fruit.  Know that knot that forms in your jaw when you eat something sour?  Know how your stomach holds stomach acid?  This thing gave me a knot in my stomach for an hour.  That's the kind of sour I'm writing about.  But, what was it?

In the meantime, we'd gotten ourselves into it, promised to come back with our ladder, climbed the roof, picked it bare and told Bill that we'd try to make somekind of marmalade out of the "stuff."

Calamondins.  We looked them up on the Just Fruits webpage.

And yes, we made marmalade.  It turned out great.  John and I canned it up this evening, 27 jars in total.  We'll be taking some jars back to Bill and his wife for their generosity.  Here's a picture:

I'll leave you with a few additional links about the food movement sweeping the country.

Food from the Hood a youth food gardening/food production entrepreneurial project in LA.
Seminole Heights Community Gardens in Tarpon Springs, FL
"The Food Factor" -- American Planning Association August/September 2009 Special Issue.
Heifer International Urban Agriculture Projects
Michele Obama's Let's Move healthy kids campaign that will be addressing "Accessible and Affordable Healthy Food."
Growing Power's National-International Urban and Small Farm Conference in September
Chicago's Erika Allen discusses the urban ag "potential at hand."

Thursday, February 25, 2010

"The Man in Overalls Grows Food Gardening Dreams in Tallahassee"

Natural Awakenings of Tallahassee's March Issue has a fantastic write up on Tallahassee Food Gardens and... me, the Man in Overalls. I worry that I receive more praise than warranted; it is, however a great synthesis of what I'm up to.  Thanks to Donna Konuch, the publisher.

"Recently gardener, Nathan Ballentine, aka "The Man in Overalls" hosted the first of a series of workshops to teach 5-12 year-old kids in Tallahassee how to build, plant, maintain, and eventually eat from a raised-bed vegetable garden..."  to see more, find the article on pages 22-23 in the March Issue

Donna also mentions me in her "Letter from the Publisher" on page 4.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Roadside Revisited

Over the next few weeks, I plan to make roadside appearances. So, for those of you that have yet to see this video, I thought I'd share.

It's been a busy week. Monday, I caught up with the books, emails, and phone calls, etc. It was, after all, pouring rain. Tuesday and Wednesday we worked on "A Backyard Transformation" (watch for the upcoming video) at a Betton Hills home. Tuesday evening: a community garden meeting in Havana planning for their New Gardener Orientation on Saturday. (At which I'll be doing a little talk about "Cheap and Lazy" gardening maintenance.) This afternoon, just after finishing up the Betton Hills garden-- just before the rain-- we dropped off lumber for a garden renovation in Indianhead Acres. I headed then to a meeting with Jennifer Taylor, Coordinator of the FAMU Small Farms Program at Barb's Ice cream at Lake Ella. We met about bringing the many disparate community gardening groups, resource people and organizations as well as school garden folks together to further the (food) community garden movement. I then ran off for a meeting with another Jennifer to plan second series of kids workshops since the first group is full. Another day in Overalls...

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Day I Went to Prison


My life is moving faster than I can keep up with.  So, for the moment-- against my storytelling nature-- I'm going to resort to a bulleted list for the day:

*Headed to Romac for raised-bed lumber. *Stopped in at Gramling's on S. Adams for plants and seeds. *Dropped lumber in Betton Hills in preparation for a Monday garden build. *Picked up and ordered mushroom compost at Tallahassee Nurseries. *Built and filled an additional raised bed in the kids "Gods' Giving Garden" at Faith Presbyterian Church. *Helped upload dump-truck delivery of mushroom compost in my back yard. *Visited the FCI Women's Prison (out on Capital Cir) to learn about their Horticultural program. *Swung by to check on the Damayan sponsored community garden in the Orange Ave Apts. *Ran an errand for Manna on Meridian food pantry. *Gave away free compost; chatted with friends and visitors about community gardens, the food gardening and urban ag business, spring planting ideas, great squash seed  varieties, and the food movement; and made a fool of myself with my signs and pitchfork in the parking lot of New Leaf Market 4-6pm.

New Woodland Drives Community Garden

This past Thursday, my buddy John and I installed an extra large Square Foot Garden that will serve as a community garden amongst three families in the Woodland Drives Neighborhood.

A couple weeks back, Randy and Irene, got in touch with me about helping them start a garden.  Only...they wanted "their" garden to go in their neighbor's yard.  Come to find out, they were actually partnering with said neighbors-- in addition to another family across the street-- to start and maintain a raised vegetable ("community" or "friends") garden.  The family with the most sun offered their backyard; Randy and Irene oversaw and joined me in the work of planting, and the other family will help as needed.  When harvest time comes, they'll share the bounty.

The new Woodlands Drives community garden is a beautiful model for how families can join together in order to overcome the effort/time, sunlight, and too-much-food-all-at-once obstacles to home food gardening.  This is the fourth such set of families in Southeast Tallahassee (that I know of) who have started their own front-yard (or backyard) community gardens.  If you're interested in such a model and would like to hear additional stories, let me know.  I could even take you on a tour.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Grow a Row for the Hungry Neighborhood Garden Workshops

From the cyber-vine, I hear that lots of folks are interested in neighborhood garden workshops.  If you are such a person, please let me know.  I'm willing to to help organize and/or teach such a workshop, but we've got to move quickly.  Spring planting is upon us come the middle of March.  I could be available on March 6th and/or the morning of the 13th to do a workshop.

Starting in March, I plan to do a bit of fundraising for Second Harvest of the Big Bend (our local Food Bank).  In this vein, I hope to use intro gardening workshops as a means of educating food gardeners and to raise money for Second Harvest' planned new facility that will enable them to distribute 2 million more pounds of food per year.  Central to the food movement is the idea that everyone in town gets to eat good food.  A first step in that direction is to make sure everyone eats something.  Second Harvest does great work in this area, and I want to help make sure they can do even more.

So if you're interested in a food garden workshop in your neighborhood and/or interested in helping to raise money for Second Harvest capital campaign, please let me know.  I.e., email me.

If you'd be willing to host/sponsor a food garden workshop for kids, I'd especially like to hear from you .

Friday, February 12, 2010

Two Valentine's Day Gardens

Two Valentine's Day Gardens this week. 

This one here John Wood and I installed for Mr. O'Brien Monday and Tuesday.  It's a 3x7x2.5ft Raised Herb Garden of cedar construction treated with linseed oil, complete with a micro irrigation system filled with a well draining, nutrient rich and biologically active soil. Look closely to see the micro irrigation.  (Look VERY CLOSELY to see the micro nutrients.)

Upon finishing the cedar herb garden, Mr. O'Brien came out to inspect. "It looks great," he said. He then told us: "Just got off the phone with my wife. I told her, 'Instead of jewelry like you wanted for Valentines Day, I got you a coffin full of compost.' She laughed," he finished. He then explained that she's excited about growing herbs for fresh home-cooking.

We put in this Square Foot Garden as a Valentine's Day surprise.  Fritz, the man with the plan, made arrangements with me a few weeks back.  Then yesterday, he let us into the back yard while his sweetie was away at work.  John Wood and I took it from there: frame, soil, grid lines, plants, seeds, bulbs, labels... placement of the tulip and card.  Covert Gardening success.

Say, what can you possibly be planting these days?  It's February.  In the garden above, we planted broccoli, purple and quick cabbage, spinach and three kinds of lettuce plants.  We also planted radish seeds and shallot bulbs.  About a third of the bed we left unplanted so that come mid-March, I can return to do spring planting without disturbing what we put in yesterday.

For more pictures visit the facebook page.

Meet John Wood

John Wood, a recent graduate of Warren Wilson College is in town for the month to "learn how to grow food."  He's volunteering his time and effort in exchange for a place to stay and the chance to put seeds in the ground.  He has questions about soil, business, and rooting oneself in the broader community. 

John's real job is working with North Carolina Outward Bound as an Instructor with groups of teenagers.  He recently completed an assignment in the Everglades where he lived with eight thirteen-year-olds on a 12x12ft platform atop five canoes.  At the beginning of April, he reports to the Rio Grande in south Texas for his next expedition.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Havana Work Day

This past Saturday, I spent the morning hours at the first Havana Community Garden workday.  In the course of four hours, we ran 100 yards of "hog" fence along the highway to provide enclosure for the garden property; set posts and fenced the garden plot area to keep out rabbits, painted a white-picket fence, built a compost holder, erected the beautiful sign, and had a laughing good time.

I spent most of my morning working with Mr Lynn Coulter and Thaddius.  We ran the hog fence together.  Amidst "sureing-up" the fence ends, pounding posts in the ground, running and tightening the fence and then clamping it to the posts, I got to know the two gentlemen rather well.  Mr. Coulter is an older gentleman who started out his career as an agricultural extension agent in Iowa.  After several years at that, he went back to school to study Agronomy (don't worry, I had to look it up too: "the science and economics of crop production").  Then, he traveled the world advising companies and governments in agriculture.  A while back, he moved to the area in order to teach soil science at FAMU.  And now, retired, he is one of the central leaders for the community garden.

I actually worked more with Thaddius.  He and I hammered in the fence posts.  After he'd done about ten while I held them straight, I realized my laziness and took a go at it.  "Whew," he'd said, "That really gets your arms."  Surely he'd be exaggerating.... Nope.  After two or three, I was intentionally breathing to help my arms out.  He took the post pounder back from me.  And so we traded back and forth every two posts the rest of the way down the highway.  

As we worked I learned pieces about Thaddius. Born in 1973, he is twelve years my senior and has been married for ten years.  He was born in Havana.  At ten, his family moved to Tampa for many years.  Then they all returned.  He has a landscape business and a I-come-to-you auto-detailing business.  Thaddius had come to Saturday's workday because one of his clients suggested he stop by.  He's a member of Salem Methodist and I swear he knows the whole town because he waved to nearly every other passing car.  He claimed, "They go to my church."

One more thing about Thaddius: When he found out that anyone could get their own plot, that plots cost $30/year, and, lastly, that there were only three left available, he set down his hammer with the words, "I'll be right back."  He tracked down Bob Bruggner-- one of the lead organizers for the garden-- and secured his claim to a plot.  

By the end of the day, all the plots were taken.  Thirty-eight in total.

So what about this garden?  How'd the idea develop into its current reality?  Well, according to a fantastic lady named Deborah--one of the leaders and responsible Saturday for the peanut butter and jelly-- it started in Bob Bruggner's head.  He wrote an article in the paper about the idea for a community garden, and from there some folks got in touch with him about how they could and should "make it happen."  A few folks offered a hundred dollars each as seed money; the garden club donated several hundred dollars, and donations continued to trickle in.  But that's just the money.

Things really gelled when Bob and company, including the Havana's city manager and a food pantry (or bank?) leader all took a field trip  to visit Apalachicola's City Square Community Garden.  They were received by Karla Ambos, one of Apalachicola's central garden organizers, the city manager, and one of Apalachicola's food security leaders.  From there, the Havana folks-- with their questions answered and a garden model from which to develop their own--went into high gear finding land, making decisions about plot size, subscription fees, hosting community meetings, placing a temporary sign, and receiving calls of interested would-be gardeners.  Along the way, a family offered the land where the garden sits, and the city installed the water system free of charge.  As the Havana organizers prepared for the workday, Stone's, Havana's seed and feed store, sold supplies at cost.  Because of in-kind donations, the garden budget up to this point is only at $1700.  There are more meetings and a dedication scheduled for March the 13th, but the garden is open for community.  Plot holders are welcome to come start planting

Okay, one last piece. How's this for small-world?  Bob is married to a woman named Betsy.  I know her as Mrs Bruggner because she was one of my teachers at Hartsfield elementary in second grade.  She was at the workday.  And so was a man named Gil, one of my teachers in high school.  He's retired these days.  He was on the crew that erected the permanent sign shown in the picture.  Gil got to laughing about some mis-measurement of the sign, and I, jokingly, called him out : "Gil!  What do you think you're doing?  Don't you know this is a workday?!  What's this laughter about?"

"When you're retired," he said, "Everything's a laugh."

And so grows the Havana Community Gardens: new friendships, white picket-fences, good-will, and laughter.

To learn more, visit their website.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Three Stellar Women and a Community Garden

1)This morning, I met with Maggie Theriot, Sustainability Coordinator for Leon County.  She heads the Office of Sustainability.  A large part of her job right now is event planning for the Leon County Sustainable Communities Summit 2010 which will focus on "how to foster a sustainable local economy and the importance of sustainable food systems." 

Last fall, Maggie got in touch with me about being involved with the Summit.  She was looking for referrals for farmers and other folks engaged in making our local food system more sustainable.  She also indicated that I might could serve in some kind of public capacity at the event itself-- whether exhibiting or speaking-- since my food gardening entrepreneurship happened to overlap so perfectly with the Summit's two main focuses.

But that's not why I met with her today.

We met today to talk about her ongoing work in partnership with and under the direction of the County Commission and and the Leon County Agricultural Extension Agency to identify county land that could be used for community garden space.  The working idea is to conduct three pilot or "test" community gardens in order to get their (community gardening) feet wet. 

How about that, eh?

2) At two, I met with Elizabeth Swiman in FSU's Center for Civic Engagement.  The reason for the meeting was twofold.  First of all, last fall Elizabeth coordinated an excellent forum about how to facilitate partnerships between professors and community agencies in order to open service learning opportunities for students.  With hopes to bring together the many disparate individuals and organizations working in, on, and around community gardens here in the Greater Tallahassee area, I hoped to pick Elizabeth's brain about how she coordinated the forum last fall.  And, the second reason for the meeting: business.  I heard from a mutual friend that she just might want my expertise in starting a garden.

Turns out, Elizabeth is also interested in bringing the many community gardening coordinators, organizers and activists together because an increasing number of her students are interested in learning to grow food, community gardens, urban farming, etc.  And she needs agencies and programs to direct students towards.  Synergy?

3)After months of communication by email, I finally stopped in to visit Gayle, one of my down-the-road neighbors.  She gave me a tour of her garden: raised-beds filled with kale, huge heads of cabbage, sugar-sweet carrots, onions, broccoli, mini-turnips, and lettuces.  Gayle also has pear and mahaw trees, loquats, raspberries, an orange tree, lemon, satsuma, and a giant fig tree.  And get this: she makes fruit wine.  Lots of it.  She graced me with a taste of her "cherry pie wine."  I swear, just smelling it caused my cheeks to pucker and start gushing just as if I'd taken a big ole bite of delicious pie.  Wow.  Tomorrow she's making orange-ginger wine.  Whoa.  In case you're interested, on Sat. Feb 27, she's hosting a benefit wine tasting just after the Big Bend Community Orchestra's 4pm performance at TCC.

4) Okay, I lied.  There was a fourth woman.  And a man.  After chatting with Gayle about gardens and homemade wine, I ran over to the 4th Ave Frenchtown Community Garden to see my buddy, Mark Tancig and Anna Lee.  Mark Tancig is the garden coordinator, and he's out there gardening with the kids from the community center every Thursday after school from around 4:30 to about 5:30/6.  (You can read his stories on the Damayan Garden Project Blog.)  Anna Lee, who works at the Healing Center on Park Ave has recently undertaken to create an edible landscape according to Permaculture principles on her personal land near Chaires.

Mark, Anna and I-- along with the kids of the community center and FSU students referred to the garden by Elizabeth Swimann-- tended rows of collard greens, prepped soil, planted seeds, and watered the garden. 

It was an appropriate ending to a great day.  Food gardens: that's what all this work is about.

Visit to Art Alley


On Monday, I stopped in for a visit with Paul Rutkovsky's Get Green Art class/workshop.  They have adopted two alleyways connecting Railroad Ave. to Gaines St.  The alleys were abandoned by the city and overrun by litter and invasive plants.  So, Paul, his students and other volunteers and artists cleaned up, planted, and decorated the alleys with artwork.  They continue to do maintenance and integrate new artistic and landscape ideas on a regular basis.  It's amazing how aesthetic and inviting the alleys are per their work.

Paul invited me both because he likes what I'm up to generally and because some of his students are interested in food gardening in the alleys.  So I chatted with the folks in the picture-- Chris, Dana, Lauren, Echo (sigh, I can't remember remember everyone's name)-- about sunlight, drainage, seasonal vegetables, where fruit trees and where a raised-bed garden could be planted.  We also talked about urban food production in other cities, community gardens and the food movement.

I recommend you take a look at their webpage.  Here's just a taste.  Amazing, right?  (I love this image.)

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