Man in Overalls helps you #GrowYourGroceries!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Just Finished

Amy (to whom this garden belongs) took the crew and I to dinner at Red Elephant after we'd finished.  (A first for sure!) What a kind lady!  Amy's been gardening since she was a child and this year sought to out-do the potato vine that has (for years) over-taken her in-ground food garden.  With a preliminary tilling, a double layer of cardboard in the bottom of the beds, plus landscape fabric and mulch all around, we've certainly given the potato vine a run for its money.  PS-- Did you notice that the beds are constructed out of recycled plastic material?  (Amy said she wanted them to last "forever.")

Around the edges of building beds, shoveling compost, and planting seeds, I've been in conversation about, I've been exploring the idea of a Tallahassee Center for Urban Agriculture with my local community co-workers. Here's the concept idea that I drafted this afternoon:

The Tallahassee Center for Urban Agriculture will serve as a hub of Tallahassee’s food movement, an incubator, a food “movement halfway house.” Akin to Milwaukee’s Growing Power, Birmingham’s Jones Valley Urban Farm, and Detroit area’s Growing Hope, on surface level, the Center will simply be a functioning urban farm: a farm in the heart of the city. If you take a second look, however, you’d see a institution funded via earned-income that will offer and coordinate an urban ag job training program for the unemployed, "Youth Grow" (i.e., GED ed + urban farming/food gardening training), a community workshop garden, community garden leadership development, school & church garden incubation workshops, cooking classes, community nutrition initiatives, and roundtable discussions to explore policies that would magnify local efforts working to create community based food systems. The Center will be engaged in and engaging its host community. The Center could serve as a centralized farmers’ market location and a staging ground for a local food gardening business. Lastly, the Center will seek to partner with and facilitate the food movement dreams of other organizations, institutions and individuals.

Thoughts?  Got a piece of land in mind that could host such a center?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Jacksonville Community Garden Expo

Saturday, I attended the Jacksonville Community Garden Expo with my girlfriend, Mary Elizabeth (a native and resident of Jacksonville) and my niece.  (Mary Elizabeth coordinates the garden at the Sanctuary on 8th Street, an after school program in Jacksonville's Springfield neighborhood.)  The event was hosted by the Garden at Jackson Square Community Garden, coordinated by the Sulzbacher Center.

From fellow food gardeners to community gardeners to nurseries to the UF extension all manner of garden projects, resources, and initiatives were exhibiting.  I connected most with Pam Kleinsasser who works at Nemours Clinic and coordinates their community garden.  Having just read this article in Organic Gardening  about corporate gardens, I was enthralled by Pam's story.

"If you want to know how it really started...," she started.  "It really started with assembling a team."  Pam, it turns out, is quite the "troop-rallyer"or community organizer.  A few years back she grew uncomfortable with the magnitude of recyclable waste that was being thrown away, especially paper.  She assembled a team that volunteered to coordinate the extra work.  Then, in 2009, while continuing the paper recycling project-- significantly aided by Pam got a new idea: a company community garden.  She re-approached the administration selling the idea with words like "team building," "wellness," "publicity."  With admin approval in-hand, Pam sent out an email to staff saying, in effect, "We're starting a community garden in the grassy patch adjacent to the building. Email back if you're interested in participating."  The first year, if I remember correctly, 30 folks signed up.  This year there are 50 participating (out of 400 staff).

Each year, the gardeners divide the 1300 square feet into equivalent plots.  There is also a common herb bed (which folks share) and a strawberry bed for the children who come to the clinic.  Nemours provides water and yearly compost.  The rest (plants, seeds, etc) is the responsibility of the individual gardeners.  Due to being in the health care profession and due to their location on the St John's River, they use organic practices.

The Nemours Community Garden is a great model from which to develop a garden with your co-workers.  Pam has volunteered to share stories and otherwise assist others in the process of starting community gardens at their work places.  If you'd like to get in touch with her, send me an email with subject line "Pam at Nemours," and I'll put you in touch.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A feast from a church garden's leftovers

Guest post by Lindsay, who's still in Tallahassee, still growing food

About 5 months ago, I took a bus down to Tallahassee just in time to plant a fall garden with the kids from Nathan's church. I learned how to plant collards, mustards, turnips, lettuce, and shallots, and then turned right around and taught kids--from preschoolers who were barely speaking right up to sweet, awkward 5th graders--how to do the same. We planted five 4'x10' raised beds; a year before, the beds had been built and the students decided that they wanted the food they grew in "God's Giving Garden" to get donated to the food pantry that their church (Faith Presbyterian) ran along with other Meridian Rd. churches.

Since then, any month when there's produce ready to be harvested, some students and other volunteers pick the vegetables, wash them, and walk the across the parking lot where they get added to the bags of food. In addition to the canned and boxed staples, folks get to take home healthy produce that's fresher than anything you can get at the store.

The turnips and lettuce we planted in September have long since been picked, the collards and mustards have gone to seed, and the shallots have grown tall and thick. It's time for warm-weather crops: tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, watermelons, zucchini, green beans. And so tonight we found ourselves, once again, in a flurry of children ready to try their hand at gardening.

Of course, before any of those new plants could go in, we needed to clear out the old. Some kids pulled up the greens, and others got to do the treasure-hunt for shallots bulbing under the soil. We set what they pulled aside and started explaining how deep to plant green beans and how much space a watermelon plant needs.

When we were cleaning up, though, we realized just how much food we had: 4 paper grocery bags full of greens and two armloads of shallots. We didn't set out tonight to harvest; we were just cleaning up. And still, we ended up with more food than we could cook ourselves.

The collards will be passed out at the weekend's "Manna on Meridian" food pantry; we took the mustards and some of the shallots to Haven of Rest men's shelter; tomorrow we'll drop off another armload of shallots at Grace Mission Episcopal Church for use in their regular free meals. On our way back home, we stopped in at New Leaf Market to see how much green onions were going for ($2 for a bundle of 6). A little bit of quick math told us that we'd harvested $100 worth of shallots which cost $5 to plant; the greens easily would have cost the same.

Not too bad of a return, especially considering it's just what needed to be pulled out to make room for a fresh planting.

Here's a few extra photos of Nathan, seeds and young hands:

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Will Allen Workshop

What a workshop!

Man in Overalls standing in the shadow of Will Allen
Will Allen, pre-eminent urban agriculture leader, MacArthur Genius presented, Sunday, Mar. 6th, on the work of his Milwaukee-based non-profit, Growing Power.  Additionally, he led a workshop on how to develop a compost-producing/food-raising initiative to address the ills of urban decay-- including a hands-on composting and worm composting segment that involved over 75 participants.

Here are a few notes:
-Every year Growing Power diverts 22 million pounds of food (waste) residue from landfills and uses it to grow compost for their Milwaukee, Madison and Chicago sites.
-Vegetables today are 50% less nutritious than those of the 1950's due to agricultural soil degradation and depletion.  Thus, the need to grow healthy soil (i.e. compost).
-Growing Power started as a youth empowerment organization: when they found that the kids in their Youth Corps struggled in school, they implemented a reading/writing program wherein participants began reading and writing about the subject area they were engaged in, for example: seed-starting, soil micro-biology, worm life-cycles, plant/pest relations, etc.
-Their budget is $4.1 million a year; half is earned-income.  In the beginning "No one would give us any money, so we had to make it through providing goods and services."  They continue the tradition by earning revenue through sales of micro-greens, sprouts, vegetables, fish, goats, chickens, honey, worm castings, compost, consultation services, workshops, tours, publications, educational programing, and more.  Twenty revenue streams in total.  Social entrepreneurship for sure. 
-Each year they earn $5 per square foot from field production; $50 per square foot from their green houses.
-"We need 50 million additional growers to fundamentally change this [food] system."

After the close of the official workshop, per our request, Will met with the 20 of us young folks so we could a)meet each other, b)exchange contact info, and c)share stories about current projects we're involved with and/or dreams that we hold for Tallahassee's future food system.  There was energy in the air about a cooperative compost operation.  Folks were also strategizing to bring together area teacher-gardeners with students from FAMU, TCC, and FSU for an idea and story sharing session to explore the successes and challenges of local school gardening efforts.  There's already a FB Group.

A Few Recent Jobs

It's been a busy spring already, and we're just running into March.  Below you'll find a sampling of work that my team and I have been up to.  First off, take a look at the slide show of Tina and Claudia's raised-beds constructed of concrete block, thee blocks high.  Their wish was for their beds to last "forever."  Though you may not be able to see it, these beds are equipped with micro-irrigation complete with an automatic timer.

Next, view Suzee's 4.5'x35' raised beds-- also out of concrete block.  The "fence" is a permanent tomato/cucumber/pole bean trellis.  Suzee's beds are also complete with micro irrigation.

Lastly, size-up Paula's 4x10 raised beds.  If you'd like an economy garden raised bed (or beds) just like this, follow the link to my Economy Garden page. Under step #2, select "4x10." Voila.  Simple as pie.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Man in Overalls Quick Update: Launching $105 Economy Gardens

Happy March (Pinch and a punch for the first of the month:)

Three things:
1)Want to be on my email update list? Please send me an email with subject line: "Count me in." At most, I'll "update" once a month. As I dislike excess emails myself, I'm making my list an opt-in affair.

2)Will Allen, Founder of Milwaukee's Growing Power, Pre-eminent Urban Ag Leader, MacArthur Genius, who was amongst Time's 100 Most Influential People of 2010 will be in town on Sun., Mar. 6th at the FAMU Viticulture Center to present on his 3-acre urban farm in Milwaukee that raises sufficient food for 10,000 people and conduct a workshop on soil building via composting and vermi(worm)composting.  Will Allen is one of my heroes.  Here's the MacArthur Genius video:

Click here for more info on Will and his visit. Email Jennifer Taylor with FAMU's Small Farms Program to register (pay at the door).  If you're willing to sponsor a student or low-income individual, please email me.

3)Starting March 7th, I'm offering a trial run of 20 4x4 Raised Bed Economy Gardens.  For $105, you get a 4x4 raised bed, installed, filled with nutrient-rich compost mix (Ready to plant); additionally, you'll receive a packet of Tallahassee-specific info-sheets to demystify food gardening for beginners including "What Can You Grow in a Square," (which provides a garden planning map, covers seasonality and plant spacing) and "Food Gardening 101" (which covers subjects like selecting your site, how to plant, watering, growing vertically, etc).  To learn more, click here

The air is warming. The days are lengthening. The cabbages are swelling. Tomatoes are just around the corner. 
Grow your own food and share it--

Remember: Send me an email with subject line: "Count me in" to be included in future updates.

Nathan Ballentine (aka The Man in Overalls)
Tallahassee Food Gardens
maninoveralls a t gmail dot com
Man in Overalls on Facebook

Questions? Contact Us via

Email. Phone: (850) 322-0749. Facebook. Or, Form.