Man in Overalls helps you #GrowYourGroceries!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Whew, hot!

It's been an exciting week.

Last Friday morning, I visited Astoria Park.  Guided by the leadership of Merlin John Baptiste, new director of Astoria's afterschool program, they're organizing a school garden. My role was to present-- along with Ms Miaisha Mitchell, who's done extensive childhood obesity and diabetes work-- on the values (health, academic, behaviorial, etc) of gardens.  By the end of the presentation two more teachers had volunteered to help make it happen.

Saturday, I took a trip to the UF Ag Extention in Quincy for an "Edible Landscape" workshop hosted by The Gardening Friends of the Big Bend, Inc.

Later that afternoon, I visited the FAMU Grape Harvest Festival with two students involved with Tallahassee Sustainability Group, an official Florida State student group.  While walking the vineyards, we discussed how to find FAMU students talking/working on urban agriculture and community gardens in order that students from both FSU and FAMU might coordinate or eventually partner on common endeavors.  How to network with FAM folks?  But duh!  We were walking on FAMU property.

Inside the research building we met Ms Harriet Paul, Dean of International Ag who has been involved with urban gardening for decades.  (Next year her department will be starting an urban gardening program at four area high schools in four different counties.  The students involved with the best garden will qualify to apply for a trip to visit South Africa's urban gardens.)  Ms Paul also referred us to Dr Ray Mobley, FAMU Extension Agent responsible for community gardening and to Mr Damon Miller, who oversees the Orange Ave (FAMU) Community Garden.

Sunday, my friends, I took a day off.

Monday, bright and early, the first time in a while, I returned to the roadside.

Standing beside the road is just too much fun. From the rolled eyes, to the honks, to the questions ("What are you growing this fall?"), to the double-takes, to the lady saying, "I wish I could vote for you," to waves, congratulations, head nods, and looks of utter confusion; I love it all. Even the sweat at 12-noon in the middle of Apalachee Parkway.  Every day since Monday, I've been out on the roadside at rush times and will be through Thursday afternoon.  In between roadsiding...

Monday mid morning, I met with Marc Dick with TCC's Workforce Development.  He offered me the opportunity to teach food gardening classes within the Workforce Development "Green Academy."  I'm excited to see how this might develop.

Later Monday morning, I swung by to meet briefly with folks in the City of Tallahassee's Environmental Policy and Energy Resources Office to discuss the possibility of creating a sanctioned process for the establishment of community gardens on public land (e.g., vacant lots, city parks).

At noon on Monday, I joined the rest of the Tallahassee Food Policy Council (FPC) at Second Harvest Food Bank's new facility on Four Points Way to update one another on conferences (Small Farms conference in S. Florida, the American Community Gardening Association annual conference, and others), to talk about a "Local Food Guide" in development by members of the FPC, and to discuss how to link interested parties with already existing community garden and small farm space.

Tuesday, I joined up with students leaders in the Tallahassee Sustainability Group again-- this time at Ghazvini Learning Center's school garden and green house.  Our task was to pull weeds and summer crops to prep the garden for fall planting.  The Ghazvini teachers Gale Albritton and Shannon Gooden and the FSU students should get an award for their good work.  In addition to overseeing the planting eight or ten raised beds by students, they also coordinate seedling and propagation activities in their green house-- plus have a demonstration hydroponic system they're looking to turn into an Aquaponic system complete with Tilapia.

For lunch on Tuesday, I met up with Mike Herrin, Goodwood Museum's Director of Horticulture.  There's talk of hosting a Leon County horticultural afterschool program at Goodwood if a grant comes through.  So we dreamed about possibilities.

Wednesday morning, I met with Tracy Haley, science teacher at Cobb Middle School.  She dreams of having a school garden wherein every four kids could have their own 4x4 raised beds to maintain in order to observe, compare, experiment, etc.

And today, lunch, I met with Edward Accoff, representative to CONA, Council of Neighborhood Associations to plan for an upcoming presentation on Sept 13th regarding the Tallahassee Delegation's attendance to the American Community Gardening Association in early August.

Thing are moving forward y'all.  It's hot.  I'm sweating doing what I love.  Garden Consultations Thursday Friday.  Next week I'll be putting in my first fall garden.  Get ready for fall.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Growing Movement

Back home from the American Community Gardening Association annual conference in Atlanta, GA.

Below you can see our Tallahassee Delegation (left to right): Qasima P. Boston, Robbie Estevez, Nathan Ballentine, Joyce Brown (to see Joyce's reflections on the trip, here's her blog), Thomas Lynch (below), Mark Tancig (above), and Merlin John Baptiste.  After a day and a half of the conference-- where we joined over 250 other community garden leaders from 38 states and five countries--folks began responding to my introduction ("Nathan, from Tallahassee) by saying, "You're another person from there.  How many of you are there?!"  Aside from New York-- which brought a bus of 40 people-- we were one of the larger groups.

The conference was tremendous, both in terms of the quality of the people, the presentations/workshops and the tours around Atlanta.  Here's a partial list of links to organizations/ farmers/ programs that presented or were referenced: Growing Hope in Ypsilanti, MI; GRuB (Garden Raised Bounty) in Olympia, WA; Farmer D Organics in Atlanta, GA; Johnathan Tescher with Georgia Organic's Urban Agricultural Training Program also in Atlanta, GA; Truly Living Well farm in Atlanta, GA; Austin, Texas' Sustainable Food Center; Portland, Oregon's Parks and Recreation Community Garden Program; and Sankofa Vision in Shreveport, LA.

Although the conference offerings were exciting, the piece that caused me the most enthusiasm was bonding and strategizing with our Tallahassee Group.  (Below is a picture of us at the "Taste of the South" party Friday evening at one of Atlanta's Urban Farms.)

At the close of every day, we gathered for "report backs," at which we would update each other on the various workshops we'd attended, people and ideas we'd encountered and/or the local community gardens we visited separately.  By splitting up, we were able to cover more ground, seeping up as much information and inspiration as possible.

On Sunday, just after the close of the conference, we gathered again; this time the conversation was focused on hopes and dreams for Tallahassee.  We each filled out an index card with two prompts (#1 Inspired by the conference, what do you want to work on upon your return to Tallahassee?  And #2 What is a challenge or question that you anticipate that you'll encounter as you strive for your dream?) and then presented our ideas to the delegation.   I'd like to record here the dreams and challenges that we shared with one another.

Qasima wants to start a Youth Food Leadership Institute that will train young people to be community garden, healthy eating and living, and urban agricultural leaders; she hopes to involve and inspire them through the arts.  She anticipates difficulties fundraising for such a project.

Mark wants to help "further promote community gardens in Tallahassee by getting more people involved.  He anticipates there will be challenges associated with "finding out what people want and relating it to gardening."

Merlin John Baptiste wants to champion the founding of a school garden at Astoria Park Elementary.  She also wants to create an agricultural "extention" program whereby Astoria Park students could travel to the Virgin Islands to learn at the many sustainable farms which Merlin knows about.  Funding is an anticipated challenge.

Robbie would like to see the core group (our delegation to the conference) of "like-minded" community garden activists expanded.  He also wants to establish regular meetings to solidify current and future relationships with other food garden/ community garden leaders.  His question was: "Are you with me? and When's the next time we can meet?"  A man of action.

Joyce wants "to create a product that will enable us to engage the community in community gardens" possibly employing the arts as a medium through which to approach/involve people.  She anticipates it will be difficult to recruit stakeholders who have enough time to contribute meaningfully.

Thomas Lynch wants to champion a Farm to School Program for Leon County Schools.  He anticipates challenges with "politics."

My dream is this: "I want to help develop and facilitate a series of workshops in Tallahassee that will network, inspire and equip emerging community garden leaders (specifically targeting teachers, religious communities, neighborhoods, youth centers and companies interested in starting community gardens)."  My question is: "How do I make sure the groups I recruit represent a cross section of neighborhoods, race and income categories so as to ensure a dynamic process?"

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Thanks to all who supported our trip by purchase of Food Garden Consultation Certificates.  It was a huge help.  All told, the certificates covered the cost of three registrations.  That's huge.  Thanks.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Community Garden Conference

This coming weekend, I'll be leading a Tallahassee delegation to the American Community Gardening Association (ACGA) annual conference in Atlanta, GA.  (Conference website for more details). Mark Tancig and Robbie Estevez, representing the Damayan Garden Project, Qasima P Boston (Project Food) and Joyce Brown (CANDI), both with ties to the Greater Frenchtown Revitalization Council, Merlin JnBaptiste, teacher at Astoria Park, and Thomas Lynch, a teacher at Riley Elementary will all be going.  The objective is a) for us to return inspired and equipped to be stronger community garden leaders and b) to build an inter organizational/institutional team to further the food movement here in Tallahassee.

The conference will cover a cross section of community garden topics (including one especially interesting workshop to me: Making More Gardens: Cooperation/Collaboration In Challenging Times: How typical non-profits, governments, businesses and congregations can find common ground to grow food, improve diets and support healthy neighborhoods-- hosted by a Portland, OR ecumenical group).  In addition to workshops, the conference will include tours to a select few of Atlanta's 250+ community gardens.  I hear three to four hundred practicing and aspiring community garden activists from across the country are registered.

I attended the ACGA's train-the-trainer event back in January, and I continue to draw on the folks I met, stories I heard, and information acquired.  I can only see great things fruiting in terms of our attendance to the ACGA annual conference, especially with the discussion of community gardens, urban farms, and other means of improving the Tallahassee food environment popping up ever more frequently around town.

Would you help support our trip?  I've paid for four of our six registrations, and anticipate footing a significant portion of our travel expenses as well.  If I were organized as a nonprofit, I would solicit donations, but that's not my business structure.  So here's what I wonder:  Would you be willing to purchase a $50 Food Garden Consultation Certificate for yourself or a friend to help fund our trip?  In so doing, you'll support the development of Tallahassee community garden leaders.

Here's how it works.
1) Using the Paypal button above, you purchase a Food Garden Consultation.
2) I send you a certificate.
3) We arrange a time for the consultation, and I stop in for an hour to advise and answer questions you may have about soils, sunlight, food garden placement and design, seasonally appropriate vegetables, regionally appropriate fruit trees, composting, etc.

My hope is to raise $500 through Food Garden Consultations.  That's ten certificates.  Please pass word if it's something you deem worthy of your endorsement.

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