Man in Overalls helps you #GrowYourGroceries!

Friday, April 30, 2010

God Bless Melissa Angel

Melissa Angel got in touch with me a few weeks back about a project for her photo journalism class. Would it be alright, she wondered, to do her class project on my work around food gardening here in Tallahassee? Indeed. I was honored to be profiled. Upon viewing the final product, I am super-impressed with her work. Thanks Melissa. Anytime you need a reference, just let me know.

Take a look:

Monday, April 19, 2010

Great Things Happening in Jacksonville

A recent article in the Jacksonville Times-Union, Poverty, But Obseity: The Hunger Paradox describes the ways in which the lack of nutrition in "energy dense" foods and the availability of healthy food have contributed to a simultaneous obesity epidemic and increasing food insecurity.  It's a great article about kids gardens, food security, nutrition, and the growing food movement.  Also, take a look at the following video about The Bridge Community Garden.  Great things are happening in Jacksonville.

"He's Definitely Pro-Growth" -- Tallahassee Democrat, 4/15/2010

"The Man in Overalls Wants you to Have a Garden"
By Kathleen Laufenberg

For Nathan Ballentine, gardening began as an elementary school pastime. Now, however, the 24-year-old Tallahasseean is on a mission to grow his own food, convince you to grow your own food — and get everybody to share some of what they've grown. "I love how food is able to bring so many different and disparate communities together," said Ballentine, who also is known as "The Man in Overalls" and is a regular blogger about his gardening adventures at

His gardening career — he makes a modest living mostly by building raised-bed gardens, teaching gardening workshops for kids and adults and, occasionally, substitute teaching — allows the 2004 SAIL graduate to unite his all-consuming interests of community organizing and edible landscaping.

"I really like what he's doing — he's got it right," Brandy Cowley-Gilbert of Just Fruits and Exotics Nursery in Crawfordville wrote in an e-mail. "It's about community and sharing what you know, "I think he'll be quite effective because he approaches what he's doing from a lot of levels; he's working with churches, community gardens and a broad range of people on a one-to-one basis. … He's inspiring a lot of people."

Chuck Jacobson, a teacher at SAIL for 32 years, described Ballentine as "bright-eyed, energetic and optimistic."

"You don't see that kind of optimism and willingness to go and do something that much; it's really the path less traveled because it's not the way to make money."

Ballentine (who really does wear overalls most of the time) earned his bachelor's degree in community organizing from North Carolina's Warren Wilson College in 2008. The small (about 1,000 students) liberal-arts school near Asheville is one of only a handful of colleges nationwide that requires students to work and do public service in order to graduate.

"Nathan is one of a kind," said Louise Divine, who co-owns Turkey Hill Farm with spouse Herman Holley. "He has a unique way of combining social activism and his love of gardening, and to marry those two is special."

Ballentine's unique approach to promoting vegetable gardening includes street-corner sign-holding. In the past year, you might have seen him near the Capitol, New Leaf Market, on Thomasville Road or near Lake Ella holding a sign reading "Will Garden For Food" or "Grow Your Own Food and Share It" or "Honk if You Love Food Gardening."

He does it to "create a buzz" about growing your own. And, he said, people do respond.
"They wave, they honk, they do the thumbs up, they mouth, 'Yeah! Grow that food!'"

Now Ballentine is slated to be a speaker — and probably the youngest one — at a May sustainability conference at the Florida State University Turnbull Conference Center, sharing the spotlight with nationally known activists such as John Robbins (author of "Diet for a New America," "The Food Revolution" and others) and Bill McKibben ("The End of Nature").

Ballentine said the news made him feel "honored and really scared because that's way out of my league."

Others said Ballentine is a good choice to represent local grass-roots efforts.

"My face lights up whenever I talk about him," said Maggie Theriot, Leon County's sustainability coordinator and the organizer of the May conference who invited Ballentine to speak. "He sure is a good mix of passion and reality."

To see more stories about the Man in Overalls, click here.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Gardening 101 at LC Sustainable Communities Summit, May 6th and 7th

(And a couple notes about community gardens and the food movement)

Perhaps you've been wanting to catch me in action or have been looking for an opportunity to get some get-going gardening tips/ideas/instruction.  Volia!

I'll be leading a Gardening 101 workshop at the Leon County Sustainable Communities Summit May 6th and 7th.  Take a look at the website. Should be fun-- planting a raised bed garden inside a conference center.  Heck yeah.  Plus, there's going to be a community garden forum.

The entire Summit is focused on local, sustainable food systems and local economies.  Brilliant.  This is the kind of work that needs to be done.  Read up on the Summit, register, see you there.

It's not everyday that you're included on a list of speakers with internationally renown authors like Bill McKibben and John Robbins as well as with a local super-star like Maggie Theriot, Coordinator of the Leon County Sustainability program.  That is to say, I'm honored to be included in such a fantastic event.

If you already know about it and are ready to register, click here.

PS- Did you know that last night the Leon County Commission appropriated $20,000 for community gardens?  Maggie Theriot and Zack Galloway did the bulk of the legwork on this.  Kudos.  A couple of the commissioners approved of the idea which enabled Maggie and Zack to focus work-time on reviewing the county's landholdings, to communicate with communities, develop a proposal, etc. The funds are focused on supporting a new Nims Middle School "math and Science classroom" Mini-Farm in their backfield, a Fort Braden Community Garden, a Miccosukee Community Garden, and one other site that I've temporarily forgotten.

To read more about the Nim's garden, check out the story by WCTV.

PPS- FYI: This past Saturday, 38 community, school, and church gardeners joined at the FAMU Orange Ave Community Garden from across the Big Bend to share stories and food, learn from one another, to talk successes and challenges, and to strategize to further the food movement.  There were folks from FAMU, FSU, Damayan, Wakulla Springs Baptist Church, St Stephen Lutheran, Magnolia School, Nims Middle School, Grassroots School, FAMU High, Cornerstone School, Grady County, Midtown, Indianhead, Lotts Community Gardens; There were city  and county government employees, teachers, and students amongst others.  It was a fantastic gathering: lots of shared questions and several group-created solutions.

The Food Movement is astir.

Decent Math Encounters Reality

Last week, I put together this raised bed for Andreas, Sandra and Ted.  It's made of cedar construction treated with linseed-oil.  Take a look.  Also note the micro-irrigation tubing sticking out in preparation for filling with soil and compost

The bed is 8x4x2.5ft.  If you multiply that out you get 32ft x 2.5ft or 80 cubic feet.  My truck bed holds a cubic yard, i.e., 27 cubic feet, so you could reasonably calculate that it would take less than three truck loads of substance to fill the raised bed  (72/27 = 2.9).  Such was my calculation when I began filling the raised bed.

However, the soil I filled the bed with was magic soil, or so it seems because in order to fill the bed, I had to shovel in four truckloads of soil and compost.  That's approximately 108 cubic feet.  

Try to wrap your mind around that.  And in the meantime, you can rid your mind of the notion that mathematics adequately describes the world around us.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Community Gardening Gathering of the Big Bend

Community, School, Church and "Give-Away" Gardener Gathering
Pot luck, 12-2pm, April 10th
@ the FAMU Community Garden
on Orange Ave between Adams and Wahnish Way

It is time we joined to support one another and to chat about community gardens’ contribution to healthy,  affordable food in the Big Bend.

Come hear the history of the FAMU garden; learn and share with fellow community gardeners, garden educators and activists; and explore how we can encourage and further the community gardening movement in our area.

Please bring stories of garden successes and a challenge or question you are currently facing, and if it works, bring a covered dish to share.  Drinks will be provided.   Meet under the big live oak.  Bring a chair.  We look forward to meeting and learning from fellow community gardeners.

Please touch base to let us know your coming.
Jennifer Taylor (famu.register at gmail dot com, 412-5260) or
Nathan Ballentine (maninoveralls at gmail dot com, 322-0749)

Thursday, April 8, 2010

"Food Gardening Expert: Man in Overalls" -- Alley Sprouts Zine

April 2010
"This semester one of the goals of Alley Sprouts was to create a raised vegetable garden.  Local Tallahassee Food Gardener, Nathan Ballentine also known as the Man in Overalls met with us in the alley to give a few pointers on how to create a successful food garden...." For the rest, click here.

Or, to find out more about the Alley Spouts and their Get Green initiative, visit their blog.  They're doing great beautification and food growing work in an abandoned alley behind Fat Sandwich on Railroad Ave.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Community Garden Growing Gang-busters

Driving by, I peeked through the fence to look at a community garden that I set up a month and a half ago.  Take a look.  Warmth and sunshine does wonders for a newly planted garden.  Wow:

Notice the shallots, kale, collards, spinach, cabbage and lettuces.  The tomatoes were recently planted in the back and have not yet popped up into view.  Here's another angle:

And folks worry about the aethetic qualities of food gardens.  Honestly.  I struggle to understand.  With sufficient sunshine, this is the kind of results, the kind of beauty, the kind of food, you can grow.

Compare to the photos taken on 2/18:

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Birthday Party!

Well, today's my birthday.  I turned 25 years old.  For the first nine months of my life, I didn't have a name.  My parents were waiting for me to "tell them what my name should be."  I was known as "Mr. Baby."  For most of the next 23-24 years of my life, folks referred to me as Nathan.  Though my aunt did call me Brian up until I was about 15 because she named me ahead of my parents and thought it would stick if she stuck to it long enough.  Of course, growing up, there were a few "NATHAN WILEY BALLENTINE's" thrown in there and a few "migit's," (I didn't break five feet until 9th grade).  (Just in case you didn't know, "Wiley" means "tricky and cunning.")

Then, last September, I took on this new persona, the Man in Overalls.  Promptly, I began doing things like standing beside the road to drum up business and to create a "buzz" around growing food.

And today's my birthday.

So, I thought, why not revisit the roadside?  Except this time, perhaps, I could make it into a birthday party.  So, I did.  People gathered, we made additional signs, and had a "Honking" good time by the roadside.  Take a look. 

Eshiva and Thomas-- both big into school gardens, school mini-farms to be more accurate-- made more signs.

 Other folks showed up and stopped by.  We had a party.

The young ladies (below) in traffic were beside themselves in celebration of my birthday.  They blew their horn in support of food gardens at least 50 times in a minute.  At least.

Oh, and instead of birthday presents I raised $45 for the Second Harvest Food Bank of the Big Bend via the fantastically generous donations of folks that joined me roadside. 

"Heck yeah," for them.  Take a look at this.  Maybe you're also up for supporting Second Harvest's work to make sure everyone here in the Big Bend gets enough to eat.  It's what the food movement is all about.  Good food, yes, but--just as important--enough food.

I appreciate those folks that stopped by, that donated to Second Harvest, that wished me a happy birthday on facebook, and that continue to support my-- our --work here in Tallahassee.  Thank you.

By the way, do you happen to know today's date?

Wait. What? 

That's right, I was born in November.

Gonight and good luck,
nathan WILEY Ballentine

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