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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

School Garden here, School Gardens there

There is more food movement work going on here in Tallahassee than anyone-- including myself-- knows.  Take for instance the number and quality of school gardens here in the Tallahassee area.

Here is a list of the schools at which I know there are school gardens: Hartsfield Elementary, Astoria Park Pre-K, Cornerstone Learning Community, Richards High, Fairview Middle, Nims Middle, Ghazvini Learning Center, SAIL High, Apalachee Elementary, Magnolia Elementary and Middle, School for Arts and Sciences, Grassroots School, Kate Sullivan Elementary, FAMU High, PACE and Roberts Elementary.  Additionally, there are gardens in the works and/or planned at Riley Elementary, Leon High School, Fort Braden, and another garden being dreamed at Astoria Park for the 4th graders.  In no way do I believe this list to be all inclusive; these are just the schools I know and am currently remembering.  *(PS- It should be noted that the Damayan Garden Project has helped start and continues to periodically support several--Nancy George, Damayan Director says "over half,"-- of the gardens in the above list.)*  (If you know of other teachers or schools doing food gardening with their kids, please let me know).

***More School Food Gardens that folks clued me in on via the Man in Overalls Facebook page: Gadsden Head Start, Florida High, Raa Middle, Holy Comforter, Oakridge Elementary, and Trinity Catholic.***

In terms of quality, last week I met with Shannon Gooden, a teacher at Ghazvini Learning Center who will be entirely responsible for the Ghazvini raised-beds and impressive greenhouse.  She shared with me her dream of a "community within the school system of school gardeners" i.e., a network of gardener-teachers designed as a forum in which to collaborate, share ideas and resources, learn from each other, etc; a mutual-aid network of teacher-gardeners.  In attempts to support her vision, I've been touching base with folks here and there that I know (or have heard) are doing school gardens.

Last week, I met with Nims' Mr Williams, who along with Principal Collins, Ms Jones, and Mr Powell is heading up the Nims garden.  I also spoke with Mr Landrum at Hartsfield who in partnership with Ms Elsaka are leading their gardening and agricultural education program that's part of their Hawks after school Program.  Today, I met Mr Brown who is the sponsor of the Phoenix environmental club at Leon.  He plans to start a raised-bed garden with his kids this coming fall. 

Twenty minutes after leaving Leon, I met Ms Dennis, an ESE/EDS teacher at Kate Sullivan.  She's got several raised beds with herbs and flowers.  Her students are growing peppers and tomatoes in old (big) soup cans.  Her visually impaired students are maintaining container gardens with various herbs and other plants.  It's quite the set-up between portables and board-walks.  She was full of stories and great quotes.  As she toured me around her beds, she said, "I can't teach without getting my kids' hands in the dirt."  Around the corner at her prized rosemary plant she told me about the day when one of her "tough, ganster kids" came in and dropped a little baggie on her desk with something suspicious in it. She said, "I was thinking, 'Oh, what is this?' I was worried wondering what I was going to have to deal with...." Things turned out well though: "It was collard seeds.  He wanted to grow greens like his grand-dad."

The point is that there are lots of great folks doing good work.  The extra-exciting part is that we're beginning to discover each other.  It is as though there has been mass-movement of wild-flower seeds planted, we've sprouted, begun to grow and are now beginning to recognize that we're all part of a larger meadow.  Welcome to the food movement.

 (If you know of other teachers or schools doing food gardening with their kids, please let me know).

Monday, May 24, 2010

Crop Mob

Who's up for organizing a Tallahassee Crop Mob?

USA Today, by Judy Keen

The mob descended on Chris Wimmer's farm on a rainy Saturday bearing pitchforks and shovels. They went to work quickly, relocating a compost pile, digging weeds and hauling fencing.

The Jefferson County Crop Mob, a group of mostly urban volunteers, spends one Saturday a month sweating for small-scale farmers such as Wimmer. In return, they learn about the food they consume and tips about organic and sustainable farming.

"It's like farming 101," says Derek Bryant... Click here for more.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Of Interest

Folks for whom I put in food gardens have been kind enough to send me updated pictures and/or invited me back to take pictures of their crops in full swing.  They clearly are holding up their end of the bargain.  Wow.  The first is Carol's garden:

Next is a picture of Ted, Andreas, and Sandra's garden:

The following photo I took of Mr. Orbien and Ms. Ingram:

This pictures shows Faith and Derry's garden:

The last photo, taken by photographer Inga Finch shows her young tomato, eggplant and squash plants a few weeks back:

Also of interest are the following links and resources related to Community Gardens:

-How to Start a Community Garden (from the American Community Gardening Association
-Start up guides, How to manuals, Sample Forms (also from the ACGA)
-Greater Lansing Food Bank's "Garden Project" administers, facilitates, and supports over 25 community gardens in their area.  They also offer at-home garden consultations and assistance to low-income residents

Plus a magazine and resource related to Urban Agriculture:
-New Magazine: Urban Farm
-Community Food Security's Primer on Urban Agriculture

Saturday, May 15, 2010

"Who loves being a farmer?"

Over the course of this spring, I've had the awesome pleasure of gardening with two different sets of young people-- aged two to eleven.  I.E., I hosted two groups of kids' workshops in my front yard. 

Back in February/March, we met to build, fill and plant raised beds complete with shallots, potatoes, green beans, tomatoes, peppers, and squash.  In April when we gathered again for our monthly workshop, we tended the garden: identified and pulled weeds, staked tomatoes, etc.  Finally, we're meeting in May to do some early spring harvesting.  Our main crops are potatoes, shallots, and green beans.  Although a few banana peppers are ready, the tomatoes are not.  Give it another couple weeks.  In addition, every week, we checked in on the bees in my backyard--managed by Heather Gamper, my neighbor and beekeeper extraordinaire.  Lastly, the workshops visited with my family's new chicken flock-- acquired just two weeks before the first set of workshops.  The kids have nearly seen the chickens grow from "bitties" to "layers."

Today, I had my final session with one of the groups-- that happens to be a self-organized group of homes-choolers that contacted me about doing a series for them.  We picked green beans, washed, and canned them with garlic, dill and vinegar to make "dilly beans" or pickled green beans.  Then, we made a fresh salad out of mustard greens and kale (growing elsewhere in my garden) with some of our shallots, olive oil and a little red-wine vinegar, salt and pepper.

Some of my favorite quotes and moments from the day include:

+Anna-eight-saying, "Who loves being a farmer with Mr Nathan? ... I do." 

+When we washed the green beans (held in a bowl) with the hose, each and every child asked repeatedly to help rinse them.  They wanted to hold the hose, to be at the center of  the action: "Can I?" "Can I rinse them?" "May I hold the hose?" "Can't I?"  And then, after everyone had the opportunity to hold it solo, five sets of hands invited each other to "help" and they rinsed the beans collectively again and again while all holding the hose together.

+Anna speaking about she and her three-year-old sister, "We're the gardening sister-pair.  We like to garden." 

+After all the children left, my father informed me that Anna attempted to leave her phone number with him so he could call her when the chickens started laying.  She held all of them-- even our rooster "hen" whose new head-pieces have given his (!) identity away.

+Silas, Kai, Anna and Macy relaxing on my front porch tasting green beans and mustard/kale salad with occasional grunts of, "Ummmm, this is good.  Can I have some more?" while Stephen kept his distance from the raw food saying, "I like green beans more when they're cooked."

+Kai saying, "Mr Nathan, could we do another recipe?  Oh... okay.  Well... could you give us another one so we could do it at home?"

It's been a blessing, indeed, to garden with such wonderful young people.  Get ready: a new generation of food movement ambassadors is on the scene and they are themselves eating and growing.  I anticipate amazing things.

Below are a few pictures to enjoy.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Food Movement! Food Movement! Read all about it!

Every time I turn around, I learn about some new piece of the food movement.  It's abuzz like nothing I've ever been apart of before.

A few weeks ago, my mother brought home and showed me a box of triscuit crackers.  On the back, there were three pictures.

One picture showed a few people in a vegetable garden, and the other two depicted a single person tending container herb gardens in their window seal.  Under the pictures, the box read: "Join The Home Farming Movement."  The small print is worth quoting at length:

Everyone should have the chance to experience the simple joy of growing your own herbs and vegetables, no matter where you live.  Whether it's in your own backyard, on your windowsill, or in a plot you share with your neighbors, that's what home farming is all about.  Triscuit is working with Urban Farming to create over 50 community-based home farms across the country.  To find tips and to connect with other home farmers, visit

What were talking about is a product line of Nabisco--owned by Kraft Foods, the largest industrial food processor in the United States-- endorsing a movement that, long term, could prove counter to their bottom line.  Fascinating.

The website they put together is worth exploring.  Urban Farming, a non profit based out of Detroit did their homework, and together with Triscuit, they put together some great short-video resources on raised beds, container gardening, soil preparation, plant spacing, seeding, etc.

. . .

Below are some other pieces of the food movement:

*Washington Post: "D.C. Council launching campaign against childhood obesity" by Tim Craig

*From "A Good Food Manifesto" by Will Allen, CEO of Milwaukee's Growing Power:

I am a farmer.

While I find that this has come to mean many other things to other people – that I have become also a trainer and teacher, and to some a sort of food philosopher – I do like nothing better than to get my hands into good rich soil and sow the seeds of hope.

So, spring always enlivens me and gives me the energy to make haste, to feel confidence, to take full advantage of another all-too-short Wisconsin summer.

This spring, however, much more so than in past springs, I feel my hope and confidence mixed with a sense of greater urgency. This spring, I know that my work will be all the more important, for the simple but profound reason that more people are hungry.  The manifesto continues on the Growing Power Blog.

*"Seattle City Council Announces '2010: the Year of Urban Farming'"

*A pair of young guys in San Fran earning their living like me:

*New York Daily News: "Bronx students, volunteers plant seeds for Hunts Point urban farm" by Daniel Beekman.

*Video about the NYC "Green Markets" (Farmer's Markets):

A list of some of their locations:
And a map displaying all of them around the whole city.

Hartsfield's HAWKS visit the Garden

On Wednesday this past week, Hartsfield Elementary's Hawks, one of Hartsfield's after-school groups came for a visit to my garden.  We chatted about everything from legumes fixing nitrogen to pollinators to varieties of corn to seasonally available produce to bees and chickens.  They were especially interested in the methodology of grafting fruit trees.  Meanwhile, we tasted snap beans, fennel, sorrel, horse-radish greens, basil, and smelled rosemary and thyme.  What a great afternoon!

The Hawk's visit was part of a larger program they're doing to investigate healthy food options via research on local and organic vs. conventional agricultural practices and by maintaining the Hartsfield school garden.  The culmination of their project will be to plan, prepare and serve a healthy meal to their parents that integrates local and organic produce.

They were shepherded by their incredible teachers Mr. Landrum, Ms. Elsaka, and Ms Olivia.  If you know these folks--or someone else that's working with school gardens-- give them a high-five of congratulations the next time you see them.  They're doing fantastic work.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Food Gardening-- The Age Defying Workout

Grand Opening: 
ABSolute Food Garden Gym

Regular cardio exercises can help keep you fit, but food gardening is an essential, age-defying activity that should be a consistent part of your weekly routine. Food gardening not only will help chisel your body into a bathing-suit-worthy physique — it will make other activities like holding your kids, climbing stairs and carrying your groceries much easier down the line.

"Food gardening should be one of the central components of your entire existence," says the Man in Overalls, a personal trainer at the Tallahassee ABSolute Food Gardening Gym. "When you food garden, your whole life is going to be easier. It will even make everyday activities more fun."

Food gardening also improves cognitive functioning and helps prevent bone and muscle weakening — not to mention that it will give you a confidence-boosting midsection that looks good in (and out of) your clothes. 

Food Garden with the Man in Overalls
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. . .

Yeah, so I've been working with Paul Peacock the last few days at his house.  Today we shoveled six cubic yards of compost and dug trench line for a micro irrigation system.  We keep laughing about how I should start a side-line revenue stream charging people to "workout" with me in gardens all over town.  "Gold's Gym," he joked pretending to speak for me, "charges $20 a month.  You can work out with me for $10.  Half price.  See me jump onto this shovel-- that's agility training, aerobics.  We're not digging; that's a trap strengthen regimen."

Any takers?

Frame Construction, i.e., forearm strengthening.

Hauling Compost, i.e., quad and bicep development

Bed Preparation, i.e., pectoral and deltoid training.


Planting Seeds, i.e., tuning fine-motor technique

Sunday, May 2, 2010

CIW Freedom March - Food Justice

Two weekends ago, I marched with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers ( in overalls.  They were marching to hold Publix accountable for the supply chain from which they purchase their tomatoes.

Centered in the town of Immokalee, FL, the tomato fields of Florida are home to some of the more blatant injustices of our day.  Folks-- folks I have been getting to know over the past year-- must pick 2.5 tons of tomatoes to earn $50.  In the worst cases-- cases that have been tried and led to prison sentences--farmworkers have been forced to work without pay; they were chained at night to prevent escape.

The thought that keeps returning to me as I consider my weekend marching with farmworkers, students and church allies is this: "How absurd is it that folks who handle thousands of pounds of food a day go hungry on a regular basis?!"

The reason I started Tallahassee Food Gardens was to highlight and work towards a food resilient community, one in which whatever might happen-- we all get to eat-- and eat well at that.

Then, I learned about the tomato supply chain in Florida, about the meager wages paid, the abuses... and  other details.  For example, I learned this past weekend that workers in Immokalee pay between $150-$350 a week for housing.  Don't be mistaken as I was: this is not for a house, apartment or even a room.  This is the cost for a space in a house, a house that is woefully overcrowded with 8 to 12 people.  Add it up: $50 x 5 or 6 days a week = $250-$300.  In order to pay for rent, one must pick 2.5 tons of tomatoes everyday for five or six days a week.  What about clothes?  Shoes?  Food?

The sick irony of Florida's tomato fields is that due to top-down mass purchasing by companies like Publix, McDonalds, Taco Bell, Subway and WalMart, folks who handle our food can hardly purchase any food for themselves.

And so I marched with the Coaltion of Immokalee Workers.  The Coaltion requests Publix sits down with them and the Florida Tomato Growers to form a three-way agreement that will insure farmworkers are paid one more penny per pound.  Not so much to ask, eh?

Taco Bell, McDonalds, Burger King, Subway, Whole Foods, Bon Apetit, and Aramark have already formed agreements with the CIW.

The Coalition of Immokalee was born in 1995 the night after a young, fifteen-year-old kid had returned from a tomato field brutally beaten.  Nearly dead, a bloodly pulp, the story emerged.  Amidst the hot mid-day sun, he'd asked his crew boss for a break from picking to get some water.  The crew boss retaliated by beating the boy with a stick to within an inch of his life.  That night, the community came together-500 strong.  They marched to the crew-leader's house where they said, "A golpear a ono es golpear a todos." An injury against one is an injury against all.  The next day, not one worker in the town of Immokalee went to the farm of the offending crew boss.  Though some farmworkers had been attempting to organize the coalition before this brutal incident, it was the community's overwhelming response that birthed the spirit of the CIW that lives on today.

If you want to read up more on the CIW's Freedom March, take a look at any of the following articles:

"Activists target Publix's tomatoes," Orlando Sentinel, 4/21/10
"Farm Workers Fight for an Extra Cent," Inter Press Service News Agency, 4/20/10
"Pickers want Fla. chain to pay more for tomatoes," AP story in ABC News, 4/16/10
"Protesters Pressure Publix to Sign Deal," Lakeland Ledger, 4/19/10
VIDEO: "Farmworker Freedom March rallies at Publix Headquarters in Lakeland," Tampa CBS affiliate, 4/18/10
"Farmworker Freedom March: PUBLIX! Listen to the workers!," Huffington Post, 4/18/10
"Farmworker march ends but fight continues," In These Times, 4/19/10
"Farmworkers March Across Florida for Freedom, Fair Wages," In These Times, 4/19/10
"Coalition of Immokalee Workers to march at Publix headquarters," Ft. Myers News-Press, 4/16/10
"Hundreds show up in Tampa to support tomato workers in Publix battle," St. Petersburg Times, 4/17/10
"Farmworkers march for a penny," Tampa Bay Tribune, 4/17/10

Lastly, here's a video of the CIW Women's Group and children in the April 16-18th Farmworker Freedom March:

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