Man in Overalls helps you #GrowYourGroceries!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Blurring the Lines

Blurring the Lines
by Lindsay Popper
Owl and Spade
(publication of Warren Wilson College)

It's like one of those running jokes that you can drop back into without explanation, except that we're serious about it: as we drive around in Nathan's clunky, faithful truck--the one which only recently acquired turn signals and a hatch that opens--we'll pass wide-open sunny patches of grass and say, simply, there. After just a few months growing food in Tallahassee, I'm beginning to see possible gardens everywhere.
             I had grown approximately two things--a cup of grass seed in kingergarten and a kohlrabi in 3rd grade--before I moved down to Florida with just a backpack and a small suitcase to join Nathan Ballentine with his business of "helping people grow their own food and share it."
            Within 12 hours of getting off the bus, I'd sown rows of turnips, beets, carrots, and rutabagas, and within 24 hours I was helping 3-12 year olds at Nathan's church plant a garden of vegetables to give away at the food pantry. Within a week I had learned how to build the raised-bed gardens that serve as the moneymaking center of "Tallahassee Food Gardens," and gotten a good handle on what you can grow in the fall. After two weeks, I had found the first two churches whose community gardens I would be helping to start or expand, learned how to install microirrigation, and helped lead two more workshops (one for patrons of the food pantry, another for teens with developmental disabilities). I was learning. 
Nathan graduated three years ago with an Integrative Studies degree in Community Organizing, and came back to Tallahassee--where he's lived his whole life--with the thought of re-rooting himself in the community. When I ask him how his current business got started, he launches into half an hour of vaguely-connected stories with the take-away point being, "well, I really don't know." (He did, though, jump-start publicity for his business by spending a week standing by the side of the road in overalls with a pitchfork--a la "American Gothic"-- holding signs saying "Grow your own food and share it",
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Monday, April 25, 2011

April in Pictures & Anecdotes

Sat., April 16th I taught a "Is it Too Late to Plant? Not Yet" food garden workshop at Esposito Garden Center.  Ralph, Esposito's owner graciously offered me a demonstration spot to showcase one of my 4x4 economy gardens.  Coming this fall, I plan to take him up on his offer.
MIO demonstrating how to plant tomatoes.
Below, in the Park at 9th and Terrace, you can see the city's smallest community garden.  Back in November, I joined the Midtown Neighborhood Association and friends to install and plan for the development of this garden.  The kale, arugula and oregano are thriving.  If you live in the area and would like to help in take this garden to the next level, send me an email-- I'll put you in touch with the right folks.

Two years ago my friend Daniel Sherman (a student at FAMU at the time called me up): "Nathan, I've got a project in mind.  I wonder: would you be willing to help me get a garden started for the seniors at Bethel Towers?"  "Absolutely," I responded.  Daniel has since left town--moved back to the Orlando near his family-- and launched a growing marketing firm.  Before he left, he ensured that I'd carry the torch.  Accordingly, Ms Bessie (who calls me "her son") and I (and of late: Lindsay; sometimes youth from my church, and others here and there) top-dress, plant and maintain the garden.  Ms Bessie a Bethel Tower's resident is always available to direct us, tell stories about Tallahassee's old Farmers or "Curb" market, how to shell peas and can blackberries.

A couple weeks back, I stopped in for a chat with Mark Mahoney, a Florida High parent who coordinates their garden club, a project of their PTSA.   Looking good: about 20'x40'.  There's is a well maintained prototype for other area school gardens.

The following pictures chronicle a visit to the Havana Community Gardens that I made with the leadership team of the SouthWood Community Garden.  Seeking to learn the ins and outs of what makes a community garden "tick" the SouthWood folks headed to Havana with questions such as: How do you handle watering?  Who is your treasurer?  Who is your fiscal agent?  What tools do you-- as a garden-- have on hand for gardeners that want to stop by to tend their plots on their way home from work?  How do you communicate with your member gardeners?  How did you raise funds?  How did you recruit gardeners? amongst other questions.

April 10th, I joined the Tallahassee Edible Garden Club for their monthly Edible Garden Tour, this month to the home of Libby and John Penrod.  Below are pictures of their gorgeous gardens including their bountiful mushroom logs.  (In case you were wondering: The answer is yes: I'm able and ready to install a similar food garden at your home.)

Amidst the largest projects on my docket these days is the SouthWood Community Garden.  Back in the fall, Brian Ramos, SW Cub Pack Leader and Chief Brand Strategist with Think Creative recruited me to assist SouthWood in the development of a community garden.  Over the months, the team of neighbors and partners has grown.  On Thurs., April 14th, the garden leadership team secured landuse approval from the Community Development District.  In partnership with All Pro Landscaping, the SouthWood Community Garden already has a professional design (below).  Other partners include: the YMCA, ACE Hardware, and Crossbridge Church. Mark your calendars: the ground breaking will be May 14th.

Lastly, to keep you in the loop: a growing network of folks (including myself) are increasingly exploring the possibility of starting an urban farm in Tallahassee, possibly along the Lafayette corridor, possibly in Frenchtown or on Tallahassee's southside.  I foresee that such a venture could morph into a social enterprise modeled after Portland's Your Backyard Farmer or City Farm Boy in Vancouver.  Would you be willing to purchase vegetables from such a urban farming enterprise?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

2nd Annual Community Garden Gathering of the Big Bend: 12-2pm., Sat., 4/23 at the Havana Community Gardens

2nd Annual 

Community Gardening  

(of the Big Bend)

Pot luck, 12-2pm, Sat., April 23rd
on US 27 N. of Tallahassee, on the Right just before you reach Havana (map)

It is time to join again to support one another, to learn, strategize, and chat about community gardens’ contribution to healthy, affordable and good-tasting food in the Big Bend.

Come hear the story of Havana’s Community Gardens; 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.  Already have or or aspire to start a church, school, after school, organizational, donation or business garden?  Hope to see you there.

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 near the trees.  Bring a chair.  We look forward to meeting and learning from fellow community gardeners.

Please RSVP ASAP to Nathan Ballentine, aka Man in Overalls by following this link, by email maninoveralls "at" gmail "dot" com, or phone 322-0749.

Thanks go to the other co-organizers: Jennifer Taylor with FAMU’s Small Farm Program (, 412-5260), Miaisha Mitchell, Director of the Frenchtown Rivitalization Council (, 224-8404), and, of course, the Havana Community Gardeners (

Questions? Contact Us via

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