Man in Overalls helps you #GrowYourGroceries!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

People Showed Up, Now What? -- Facilitating a Community Garden Interest Meeting

Southwood Community Garden looking great (12/2012)
So lets say you're starting a community garden. You've done your homework, so you realize that when you're starting a community garden, the community aspect is just as important as the garden aspect. In that light, before breaking ground or applying for land from the City of Tallahassee or Leon County, you'll likely organize a community garden interest meeting.

A year ago, I mentioned asset-based community development (ABCD) in a post about my friend and mentor, Amanda Edmonds at Growing Hope in Michigan.  At the core of ABCD is the premise that everyone-- and by extension, every community-- has assets: skills, knowledge, resources, people they know, and organizational affiliations that teams can fit together like pieces of a puzzle to better their community.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to put ABCD into practice when I aided Cristin Burns (marketing manager at New Leaf) in facilitating the Lafayette St Community Garden interest meeting. Below is an outline of that meeting:

Lafayette Community Garden Interest Meeting Quick Sketch
  1. Welcome/Names/Introductions
  2. History/Overview of Project: where the idea came from, land availability, pictures of site
  3. Question: Will the Community Garden be Organic? -- Group decides: yes
  4. Knowledge and available resource offers from Betton Hills Community Garden leader
  5. What is your interest? What brought you here tonight?
  6. Names again (+ something you'd like to grow)
  7. Introduce Asset-Based Community Development: "Everyone-- every single person-- has skills, knowledge, resources, and networks that can help this community garden come into being." 
  8. "Raise Your hand if..." Agriculture, communication, and group process skills-related questions to identify knowledgeable folks amidst the group.
  9. ABCD Questions to Group (Record answers with names attached for follow up)
    1. What, specifically, do you know? What knowledge do you have that could help the creation of this community garden project?
    2. What resources do you have?
    3. Who do you know that could help?
  10. What steps will the team need to take between this meeting and an installed, thriving community garden?
  11. What concerns do you have about the project?
  12. What is step #1? -- Group decides: Field trip to Betton Hills Community Garden
  13. Solidify plan to visit the Betton Hills Dec 8th
  14. Ask for volunteer to take sign-in sheet, create email account, send notes out to group.
  15. Closing: What's a word that captures what you're feeling or what you're taking away from tonight

~ ~ ~

If you're interested in the details and have a few more minutes, I've attempted to recreate a "play-by-play" of the interest meeting, so you can see some of the nuances of community organizing, group dynamics, and the way I facilitate meetings with an ABCD-mindset.
  • Cristin heard through the grapevine (and later confirmed) that Scott, owner of the Moon had a piece of property he was willing to offer to a community group interested in starting a community garden.
  • 4-8 weeks before the meeting, Cristin advertised/announced a community garden interest meeting through the Indianhead and Woodlawn Drives neighborhood associations and their newsletters, via the management at Tally Square Apartments, and in the Parkway Merchants Association network.
  • 15 minutes before the meeting (hosted in the New Leaf Cafe): Cristin set up a powerpoint, a sign-in sheet, and arranged her handouts. 
  • Folks signed in as they arrived. Cristin asked folks already sitting in the cafe, "Are you here for the community garden interest meeting?" She passed them the sign-in sheet and distributed copies of the American Community Gardening Association "How to start a community garden" handout.
  • Cristin briefly introduced herself and asked others to do the same. We went around.
  • Cristin provided an overview of the property: who owns the land, his willingness to lend it for a community garden, where it was, pictures via powerpoint, etc.
  • Folks asked Cristin whether the garden would be organic or not. She deferred the question back to the group saying, "I'm not in charge. I just know about the availability of the land. This is not my project. It only happens if y'all-- if a group of people step up to make it happen. What do y'all think? Should it be organic?" Most folks nodded in agreement.
  • Sue Hansen from the Betton Hills Community Garden offered a few gardening tips and tricks as well as info about free resources like the woodchip "fines" available at the county landfill.
  • After a lull in the conversation, I asked, "Cristin, is it okay for me to ask a couple questions?" She passed the torch to me.
  • I asked the group: "What interests you? Why'd you come out tonight? We've all got something that motivates us, and that's where we need to start because our motivations, our interests will inform the purpose and the design of the garden. So, what interests you?" After asking the question, I left silence. Everyone responded popcorn style (i.e., not in a circle).The answers were varied. Here are a few examples:
    • Because I like to work with my family, to teach my kids how to work
    • Taste
    • I live just down the road and bike by the garden location every day on my way home from work. It'd be really cool to stop, take care of my plot, pick a few veggies, and go on home.
    • I want to know where my food is coming from
    • I want to learn to garden, so I can teach others
    • The price of food is going up, up, up.
  • As folks answered, I echoed them. That's where you repeat back what people are saying in the same words. It helps make sure the group hears the speaker. It also helps the speaker hear their own words, so they can make sure they're saying what they mean.  In addition, it creates a group dynamic where folks feel like a lot is going on. It fills that awkward silence that nobody likes to break. When folks answered with a single word or two, I drew them out, which means I asked them to expand on their idea, e.g., "Could you explain that more?" Lastly, I made sure that every person in the group was given a chance to share. This required leaving space (i.e., silence) after I echoed folks. It also required calling on specific people who were holding back.
  • Next, I proposed that we do names again, more slowly because "I confess, I don't remember any of y'all's names." 
  • Someone suggested that before we said our names, we should shift into a smaller, tighter circle so we could hear each other better. "That's a great idea," I said. Whenever you can incorporate group members' ideas while advancing the core purpose of building the team, discovering and building upon assets, do it. Even small ideas acted upon serve as seeds that can grow into ownership and project leadership. 
  • We shifted in.
  • We went around the circle giving our names.
  • "Okay," I asked, "Who remembers at least two names? Three?" We then went back around, but rather than folks saying their own name, I proposed that the group as a whole chime the names to see if we could remember. "Just say the names you remember." As a group, we were able to name everyone.
  • Next I introduced some ABCD ideas: "Everyone-- every single person-- has skills, knowledge, resources, and networks that can help this community garden come into being. Someone in this circle has grown something before. I'm almost positive someone has a few tools. And we all know people that could help us out. So... raise your hand if..."
    • (agriculture-skill-related questions)
      • You've ever grown anything?
      • You've had a garden for a year or more?
      • You've gardened or farmed for 5 years or more? ("Okay y'all, these are your ag-experts.")
    • (communication-skill-related questions)
      • You've ever talked to anyone?
      • You've sent a bulk email to 10 people or more?
      • You've managed a database? ("Ok, these are your communication experts.")
    • (education/group-facilitation-skill-related questions)
      • You've presented to a group of people?
      • You've facilitated a conversation or led a workshop? ("These are your education and group coordinator experts.")
  • "Okay. So now the question is: What do you know? Specifically. We need to know what the others in this circle know, and we need to write these things down,-- with names attached-- so we can follow up with the right people. What do you know?" Some of the answers included: 
    • I... know how to grow tomatoes
    • I grew up gardening with my parents, so I know roughly what to plant in what season
    • I know how to send emails
    • I can make calls. I do that for a living.
  • Next question: "What do you have? What resources do you have?" Answered included:
    • Shovels
    • a tiller
    • contact information for their neighbors who might help
  • "Who do you know that could help?" I heard folks say:
    • My brother who is a landscape architect could help with a site plan
    • my church family has resources like tools and time and an interest in volunteering
  • After the group laid some key assets on the table, we needed to develop a plan, an outline of how to proceed. It's always temping as a facilitator or group leader to feel like you need to provide all the answers, in this case a "plan of action." Much of the time, however, not having the answer is the best answer. Even if you feel like you may know the answer, asking a question and allowing the group to create the answer transfers ownership from facilitator to the group itself. 
  • In this light, I asked, "Between now-- this interest meeting-- and an installed, thriving community garden, what steps do you anticipate the team will have to take? What things will have to happen between now and then? (In no particular order.) Folks responded with things like:
    • We'll have to price materials
    • design the layout
    • start a committee
    • have meetings
    • do outreach to recruit others
    • make decisions
    • (For each of these answers, I, again, drew folks out. I problematized their answers: "What kind of materials? What will you do in the meetings? What kind of decisions will you have to make? What might outreach look like?" -- The point is to bring to light the details, depth, and additional questions that lay behind simple words, so the group as a whole can see the tasks before them. This also helps reveal additional knowledge and folks' expertise. If someone is particularly able to answer such follow-up questions, they are likely more knowledgeable on that particular topic. E.g., if someone says regarding materials, "We'll need 10-12 inch lumber to build raised beds plus 2-4 screws or lag-bolts per corner, and we'll have to calculate how much mushroom compost we'll need to fill them, which we can get from such-and-such company" that person clearly knows more than most about building raised beds.)
  • Towards the end of this conversation, someone expressed worry about "Time" and "everything that needed to be done." Rather than gloss over the work and difficulty ahead, we embraced our concerns. "So and so," I said, "is worried he may not have enough time to dedicate to the project.  What other concerns to people have?" Concerns are real. If ignored, they'll often seed the doom of community garden projects even if they could have been addressed had they been out in the open.  On the other hand, If they're on the table along with the groups' assets, the team can likely find a way to plan and build their project-- to arrange their assets-- in such as ways as to over-come or accommodate folks' concerns. Some of the concerns mentioned were:
    • soil contamination -- the group decided that they'd do a heavy-metal soil test and likely build raised beds no matter the results
    • vandalism and theft -- folks with experience in prior (and other) community gardens shared their experiences and best practices
    • having enough time to dedicate -- the group talked about various roles and levels of responsibility. E.g., some people would serve on the leadership team, others would be plot members, others volunteers, and some families could share a plot to reduce the days they had to water.
  • To transition the conversation back towards action, I summarized, "So, we've talked about some of the steps the group will need to take, and we've shared concerns. Keeping all that in mind," I posed, "What is step number one?"
    • A couple folks said, "Another meeting."
    • Sue Hansen offered to receive the group on a tour of the Betton Hills Community Garden. There seemed to be a murmur of agreement with this idea, so I asked, "How's that sound? Next step is a group tour to the Betton Hills Community Garden? So y'all can ask questions of the garden team there...?" Hearing general consent, I questioned, "Is there anyone who doesn't think a tour is a good next step?" No one challenged the idea, and all agreed to the tour with enthusiasm. Note: a field trip to a successful community garden is an excellent first step after an interest meeting. There's nothing quite like seeing things growing and talking to folks who were in your same situation situation not all that long ago for equipping a community garden team with the inspiration and knowledge they need to move forward.
    • To make sure the plan was confirmed, we immediately set a date and time for the tour. Sue gave directions on how to get there and gave out her phone number.
  • "Before we leave, we need a volunteer that can take the sign-in list, start an email account for the team, and send out a summary of the meeting to everyone along with directions to Betton Hills." I made the statement, and then stopped talking. I did not attempt to explain how easy the task would be or minimize the responsibility in any way. I simply let it hang. Rhionon raised her hand after 3-5 seconds. "Awesome! Thank you."
  • Out of the blue, someone else volunteered, "I'll be on the infrastructure committee." Then someone else said they'd be on "the garden committee to help make it happen."
    • When someone offers to do something, especially offers to serve as a leader responsible for making decisions, make a note and acknowledge/appreciate their offer. Don't let it fade. By the same token, if you think someone would likely make a good leader, find a way to ease or request them into a leadership role.
  • To wrap things up, I suggested we close by all offering a word that summarized what folks were taking away or how they felt. I heard:
    • community
    • proud
    • teamwork
    • garden
    • skills
    • It's gonna happen
  • Goodbyes and Details
    • Cristin made a copy of the sign-in sheet and sent it with Rhionon, so she could create the email account and get the notes, etc out to the group. (This is real empowerment and ABCD: passing responsibility to those who have offered their assets and leadership, i.e., leaning on folks in real, non-token ways from the get-go, building on folks' assets to create something positive that didn't exist before)
    • I gave Rhionon my notes.
    • Sue and Rhionon conferenced to make sure she had correct directions to the Betton Hills garden.
    • Cristin and I debriefed and departed.
Just as there is more than one way to skin a cat, there are a million ways to facilitate a community garden interest meeting using asset-based community development principles.  Whatever your method, just remember that at the core of ABCD is a faith that people and groups have or are networked to the things they need to grow a better world -- not to mention a community garden on Lafayette Street.

Happy growing,
Nathan, Man in Overalls

Monday, October 22, 2012

iGrow Dunn St. Youth Farm

How does a team of dedicated youth and adults create a major food-producing, educational, and inviting urban agriculture demonstration project on a 1/3rd acre vacant lot? How much food can we raise? How many people -- especially young people-- can we engage in urban agriculture? Can we make money raising and selling healthy, green, fair, and affordable food?

These are the questions we've been wrestling with at the Dunn St. Youth Farm, the main initiative of iGrow-"Whatever You Like," the urban ag youth program of the Tallahassee Food Network. My job as the program coordinator is connecting the team with area experts and arranging hands-on experiences, so we can discover our own answers to those questions.

Youth began work on the farm in July. The picture below shows Tierra, Khadijah, and Martin smoothing out the compost-mix in a 4'x4' raised bed, which they planted with sweet potatoes.

Throughout the summer and early fall, the iGrow team visited other farms and gardens including Mr Duffee's Alabama St. Farm, Turkey Hill Farm, the Salvation Army Garden, the Aaket Center's garden, the Fresh for Florida Kids Food Garden, and the Leon County Extension demonstration garden. Of course, the iGrow Youth also drew from their experience volunteering at the Second Harvest Community Garden.

The next step was design. With the help of the Tallahassee Sustainability Group, the young folks brainstormed farm features like raised beds, fruit trees, a market stand, and compost area. Then they measured the site and designed the layout using Google Sketch-up.

September 15th, 35 youth and adults joined forces for the Dunn St. Youth Farm Cookout and Workday.  Over the course of 6 hours, the team built six 4'x40' raised beds and filled three of them with compost. Below are a couple pictures.

Since mid September, the crew has been planting, hauling compost and wood chips, building an outdoor classroom/meeting space, dealing with caterpillars, building more raised beds and engaging the neighborhood. (I nearly forgot: before the cook-out and workday, the youth did a workshop on door-to-door outreach with Sundiata from E.D.I.F.Y Mentoring, and then promptly knocked on doors and met the farm's neighbors to invite them to the cookout and to solicit their ideas about what kinds of vegetables the youth should plant. This list served as our initial planting list because core to the mission of iGrow is to provide access to healthy food amidst one of Tallahassee's food desert areas).

Currently the Dunn St. Youth Farm comprises 10 raised beds (total planting space of 1150 square feet) planted with collards, cabbage, carrots, kale, chard, arugula, lettuce, turnips, sweet potatoes, sugar snaps and broccoli.  Come check it out. The address is 526 Dunn St.

iGrow has workdays every Monday and Friday, 2:30-5:30. Starting 10/26, there will be a market every Friday, 4-5pm at the farm.

If you're looking for a way to engage in the food movement, or have young people in need of volunteer hours, send them our way. If you know folks who attend church in Frenchtown, please introduce us. Email iGrow for more info.

Monday, July 9, 2012

"Hey y'all. I'm Nathan Ballentine the Man in Overalls. Today we're going to talk about..."

Check it out!

I've been working with the FL Dept of Ag to create a bunch of "How To" Food Gardening Videos.  For example: "How to build raised beds," "How to plant," "How to water," and all kind of other basics.  Below are a few to get your started.  For the rest (and for the ones still to be released), stay tuned to the Fresh for Florida Kids Youtube Channel.

While I'm at it, I'll go ahead and show you a few other things as well.

I'm super excited about this: The City of Tallahassee TV station, WCOT did an "Eco-Smart" program on the new City Community Gardening Program.  It's half an hour and contains loads of info including the new process by which neighborhood groups can apply for and get access to city land on which to start community gardens -- a program that emerged from a partnership between the Tallahassee Food Network and the City of Tallahassee.

Lastly, I've got two more quick press items:

“The Man in Overalls” Bringing Gardening Skills to Tallahassee Communities
- blog post on Florida

"Growing up Green" 
- 6/7/2012 Tallahassee Dem article by Elizabeth Mack highlighting the iGrow Youth and my involvement with their urban agriculture endeavors.

That's it for now.  Thanks for all the continued support -- both for me and my business, and, more generally, for your work amidst the food movement.  Happy growing.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Fresh for Florida Kids Food Garden

My largest and most exciting project this spring has been the Fresh for Florida Kids Food Garden at the Holland Building, downtown on Calhoun Street.

Here are a couple pictures:

The garden has received a lot of press:
Florida Helps Mom with Age Old Message (Tampa Bay ch 10)
 Commissioner Putnam Opens Fresh for Florida Kids Food Garden (Capital Soup)
Adam Putnam Plants Healthy Eating Gardens in Tallahassee (Sunshine State News)
     Adam Putnam on YouTube
Florida School Garden Program (WCTV)
Learning We've Got to Get Ourselves Back to the Garden (Tallahassee Democrat)

Amy Campbell-Smith at the FL Dept of Ag and Consumer Services (Food, Nutrition, and Wellness) has been doing a superb job of overseeing and writing about the garden.  Here's a sample of one of her fun updates written to her fellow gardeners:

Happy Wednesday, everyone!

Kathy Sanders and I were just outside gathering good things from our garden!  There are strawberries, blueberries and a couple peppers on the filing cabinet outside my cubicle, rinsed and ready to eat. Some of the strawberries have been munched on by ants BUT—they are still good to eat. Just cut away the bad parts!

We also noticed the first tomato starting to ripen. It is a pretty yellow and may ripen to red or a beautiful school bus orange. We shall see!

There was a GIANT zucchini that Kathy is taking home. With its size, she may have enough to make 10 loaves of zucchini bread!  Haha!

The elongated eggplants are growing every day. They are not quite big enough to pick yet, but I’ll keep my eye on them for you, Jackie!!!

There are hot and mild peppers galore, so please help yourselves. Monday night, I made stuffed peppers with two green bells from the plant in the mosaic bed (the high bed over towards the picnic tables) and they were delicious. Nothing beats ultra fresh produce in taste or health!

Here's a picture of today’s bounty!  Gorgeous!

We will soon be having a bounty of yellow squash. There are more zucchini forming. I hope they all become the size of Kathy’s prize!

There are tons of cucumber blooms, which means that the cukes themselves aren’t far behind.

The corn in the bed in front has completely tasseled and we saw bumblebees all over the blooms, pollinating the heck out of it. You’ll start to notice tiny ears growing along the sides of the corn stalks before you know it. Then we’ll have to be extra vigilant and keep the squirrels and birds away! The other beds of corn aren’t far behind—everyday they seem to grow another inch or two.

We also picked a family-sizes serving of tender green beans. Once you pick green beans, more and more grow so keep an eye on them. They’re best picked when the beans are about 4 to 5 inches long.

The zipper peas and black-eyes peas are blooming and starting to form pea pods. The soy beans are coming along nicely and a couple of the plants already have tiny flower buds. The potatoes are flowering and working hard to produce their tuberous roots. I noticed a couple okra pods also.

If you poke around in the beds, you’ll notice quite a few ants. What they are doing is “farming” colonies of aphids. The aphids produce what is termed honeydew (no, not melons!), which is the aphids’ waste from munching on the plants. The ants then take the honeydew back to their nests to feed their queens, so that she will perpetuate their colony. It’s very interesting to watch them for a while. The ants were especially prevalent in the lettuces we had planted (which have been removed to make room for more okra plants and herbs).

I’ve seen many ladybugs munching on aphids. Ladybugs are “beneficial” insects in that they consume nothing but naughty aphids. Here’s a picture that my husband took while we were weeding one weekend. 

Here’s also another picture of our resident mockingbird. 

Be careful—Abbey was closely swooped earlier this week when she was enjoying some warm strawberries. I think the bird is getting ready to roost in the trees above the outdoor classroom!

Have a great rest of the week!  Enjoy the garden!


- - -

If you're searching for the movers and shakers behind the scenes who navigated Florida state bureaucracy and had the vision for such a cool garden, you're looking for Robin Safely and Katrice Howell.  Kudos to them.

I'll be in the Fresh for Florida Kids Food Garden every Friday, 4-5pm tending and teaching.  Stop by, lend a hand, ask questions. See you in the garden.  -- Nathan, the Man in Overalls

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Few Late Night Thoughts on Food Movement Success

Pushing three years ago, I clambered into overalls to earn my living encouraging and assisting folks to grow food for self and neighbor. I got my start standing beside the road with a pitchfork and sign that read, "Will Garden for Food."

On one level, I launched my business to earn an income*. On a deeper level, however, I got into food gardening, I reclaimed the overall-style of my grandfather because I sought to develop a platform of legitimacy from which I could support the food movement by connecting and aiding the many local players working to grow a resilient, community-based food system. (Much of my food movement facilitation work these days I do through the Tallahassee Food Network and with iGrow-"Whatever You Like," a Frenchtown-based youth-empowerment and urban ag project.)

The iGrow Team just after hearing the news that they had won the Junior League's Big, Bold Idea Grant.
The past few years have certainly been an exciting time to do food movement work. There's so much happening. I'll note a few highlights. (Just to be clear, I can in no way claim responsibility for all these happenings; I'm just privy to the info. Only in a few instances am I a co-conspirator in the work.)
If you'd like to connect with any of the efforts you see, let me know.

*Folks regularly ask, "How do you make money?"
I've consulted with folks about where, when and how to plant and maintain their food gardens; I've built raised beds, reseeded existing gardens, planted fruit trees, berry bushes, grape vines and herbs.  I've aided workplaces, neighborhoods, churches, schools, and recently, the Florida Department of Ag  to develop community food garden projects. As needed, I've provided community organizing, team-building, leadership development, design, supply sourcing, installation, planting, maintenance, instruction, and youth engagement services.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Tour of Spring

Front yard gardens, school gardens, community gardens, church gardens, workshops and iGrow Buckets... it all happens at once in the spring time.  Below is a sampling of what's been keeping Wendell and I busy the past several weeks.

Fresh for Florida Kids Dept of Ag and Consumer Services (Holland Building) Garden
(which is going to serve as the set for You Tube Food Garden Education clips to be shared state-wide with students and teachers as part of the DOA's new Farm to School program).

Seminole Montessori Preschool Garden
(Lots of fun working with parents and children throughout the day.)

Faith Presbyterian Church Garden
(Kids grow food to give away through Manna on Meridian food pantry. Also the location for workshops that we offer on distribution Saturdays with folks coming to get food.)

Whole Child Leon/ Wesson VPK Garden -- TD article
(Engaging kids in the 95210; encouraging children to get their five fruits and veggies every day.)

Dena and Jenna's Garden
(Jenna's a pro.  I showed her once, and from there she had the knack.)

The Space at Feather Oaks Food Garden
(Eight family plots.  We have a workshop at the start of each season.)

iGrow Bucket Building Workshop at New Leaf

Esposito Workshop Garden

Like I said, a sampling.  Spring is always a whirlwind of planning, planting, teaching, and supporting new growers.

And lest I forget, we keep getting press here and there.  Much thanks to all those who have offered me and others amidst the Tallahassee Food Network a chance to share our story:

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Child of a Farmworker

My mother grew up in Jackson County on a small farm.  Her family grew cotton, corn, and peanuts like everyone around them.  Unable to pay the mortgage, her family planted crops in the spring; laid them by; headed to Michigan for the summer to pick cheeries, strawberries, peaches and the like before returning to harvest their crops in north Florida.  With the onset of winter, the family loaded up for a temporary move to south Florida to harvest citrus before coming back to north Florida in the springtime to repeat the process.

I was raised by a farmworker who taught me to identify with folks tending our food, to recognize the skill and ceaseless work necessary to grow and harvest the groceries we can easily take for granted. 

I was raised in a faith that is rooted in the cries of the enslaved Israelite people who were expected to make bricks without straw. From an early age, I heard words such as, "In Christ there is neither slave nor free...."

It is with such a background that I stand in support of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers as they fast to encourage Publix to hold their tomato suppliers accountable for poor (i.e. outrageous) labor practices in Florida's fields, not least of which is modern-day slavery.  The coalition asks that Publix enter a three-way agreement with them and Florida growers to pay 1 penny more per pound for tomatoes that will deliver farmworkers the first wage increase they've seen since the 1970's.  Instead of 1.5 cents, they'll be paid 2.5 cents for each pound of tomatoes they pick.

I'll be passing up lunch this week to honor the CIW's dedication to just food. Learn more by watching the below video about their fast.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

March 2012 Natural Awakenings Features Man in Overalls and iGrow Buckets

Food Sovereignty
Nathan Ballentine
"Though we do not talk about it much in the food movement -- even, for that matter, amidst the Tallahassee Food Network -- what we are working on is the democratization, the decentralization of our food system, soil to seed to harvest to dinner.
        The big question is, "Who controls your food?"
        ...more on page 28 in Natural Awakenings.

Grow Your Groceries
"The iGrow Bucket is a self-watering mini food garden build using two five-gallon buckets.  It was a water-reservoir at the base that allows for bottom-up watering, which encourages the roots to grow down and helps ensure consistent moisture for maximum food production.

"The buckets -- a product developed by Wendell Mitchell and Nathan Ballentine of Tallahassee Food Gardens -- are being manufactured by the Frenchtown based iGrow- "Whatever you like"- Youth in order to underwrite their dream to start an urban farm in Frenchtown....

The iGrow team is making three versions of the buckets, all available for sale via their website ( and the below paypal buttons.

$32 Just Add Water 
iGrow Bucket. Filled with magic compost-mix. Pre-planted with heirloom tomato. Comes with built in trellis.
$24 Ready To Plant 
iGrow Bucket. Pre-filled with magic compost-mix. 
$20 Do it Yourself 
iGrow Bucket. Fill. Plant. Water. Eat. 
Feel free to email with questions."

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Post Industrial Cities and Food Movement Roles Models

Amidst the growth and details of plants, gardens, recipes, farmers' markets, kids' gardens, workshops and the like, I am sustained by encountering and re-encountering a few of my food movement role-models.  Let me introduce (or re-introduce) you to three people/organizations that I draw on regularly.

Last Thursday evening, I joined the FAMU Environmental Sciences Student Organization for a screening of Urban Roots, a film about Urban Farming in Detroit.

The film suggests that Detroit is paving the way and providing an example of what post industrial cities will or could morph into-- especially in terms of resilient, community-based food systems. An inspiring movie of possibility.  I was especially attuned to the words of Malik Yakini, Executive Director of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network since we met and had lunch last November out in California at the CFSC conference in Oakland.  He is especially interested in involving black folks in urban agriculture, which he believes offers a chance of individual and community self-determination and control over one's food system.  My favorite section in the movie was when Malik related a McDonnald's commercial he'd seen that stated, "Leave breakfast to the experts."  He suggested that implicit in that tagline is a dangerous-- albeit possibly true--assumption that we don't know how to cook or are incapable of cooking our own food. Talk about a vulnerable and dependent position to be in!

Point being, a great movie of challenge and growing success.

For additional inspiration, take a look at what Rashid, Eugene, Carol and their fellow accomplices are up to in Atlanta at Truly Living Well.

Also take notes on Will Allen at Growing Power in Milwaukee.

I was blessed to chat with both the Truly Living Well team and Will (and his cousin Gary) from Growing Power this past weekend at the Georgia Organics conference in Columbus, GA.  More on that later.

The food movement grows, feeds, and sustains.

Locally, stay abreast of what's going on by tuning into the Tallahassee Food Network Calendar.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Man in Overalls Grows 390lbs of Food in Small Garden

For Immediate Release
Monday, January 23, 2012
Nathan Ballentine

Man in Overalls Grows 150lbs of Food in Small Winter Garden
The yield was harvested in only three months during the height of winter.

(Update: Upon moving away just 9 months after we installed and planted our 80-square-foot, front-yard food garden, my wife and I had harvested (and meticulously recorded) 390lbs of fruit, veggies, and herbs, an estimated produce value of over $1600.)

How much money has your front yard grown this winter? Gardeners in one Frenchtown household harvested over 150 pounds of food--a $600 value--in the past three months. In three raised beds with a total area of 80 square feet--the size of a very small bedroom--Nathan Ballentine, aka the Man in Overalls and Mary Elizabeth Grant-Dooley grew broccoli, collards, cabbage, carrots, herbs, and a host of other plants to eat, sell, and donate.
"It's way easier to grow food than folks tend to think," explains Nathan, who has been gardening in Tallahassee since he was eight years old. "There's this idea that you have to have several acres and toil for hours in order to grow food for dinner. People also always think the only time to grow food is springtime. None of that is true." People can grow food anywhere there's at least four hours of direct sunlight; a garden can be a single container with one tomato plant, a compost-filled raised bed, or a large plot of land divided into rows. A garden the size of the one in Ballentine's front yard only required about 15 minutes a week of active gardening--watering, weeding, and harvesting--once the initial planting had been done.
For $30 spent on plants and seeds, they grew far more than enough vegetables to feed themselves through the winter. Interested to see just how much their small garden could produce, the pair systematically weighed and recorded everything they harvested. The final breakdown included 4 pounds of broccoli, 18 pounds of cabbage, 10 pounds of root vegetables (turnips, carrots, and beets), 27 pounds of salad greens, and 90 pounds of cooking greens (collards, turnip greens, mustard greens, and kale).  They ate 75lbs, gave away 60lbs, sold 10lbs, and only about 5lbs were stolen. At Tallahassee prices for local, organic produce, this is approximately $600 worth of fresh, healthy food.
The spring planting season--the best time to grow tomatoes, peppers, green beans, cucumbers, and many other favorites--is right around the corner. Nathan Ballentine is known around town as The Man in Overalls, and is the founder of Tallahassee Food Gardens, a business that builds and plants raised-bed food gardens for people hoping to grow their own vegetables. He maintains a blog with gardening resources and stories from Tallahassee's food movement; it can be found at
(written by Lindsay Popper)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Looking Towards Spring - Topdressing

Spring is around the corner.  It'll be time to plant potatoes in February.  Most of the charismatic vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, green beans, squash) go in, in mid March to Mid April.  Come May, it'll be time for okra, sweet potatoes and the like. (Planting Guide here.  Additional resources here.)

If you're gardening in raised beds, whether your garden currently looks like this...
 Or this...

...before you get around to spring planting, you'll want to fill or topdress your beds with an extra layer of compost.  How much?  My general rule is to add as much as it takes to re-fill the frame.  Depending on how long it's been and how deep your raised beds are that measure can vary quite a lot.

But in general, how do you figure out how much compost you need?  It's a simple length x width x height = quantity.  The complexity is that you've got to get your units all on the same page for your math to work.  Multiplying inches by feet by yards will produce a number that's of no use whatsoever.

Let's work an example: We're going to top-dress a 12ft x 4ft raised bed with 2inches of compost.  First off, we need all the units (ft and in) to be the same; let's use feet because that will prove the most useful on down the road.  The 2 inches is the weirdo, the non-feet measurement; thus, our question is how many feet is 2 inches?  Well, clearly less than one foot, so we'll use that are our "Did we mess up badly?" check.  What we've got to do is convert inches to feet like this:

(because there are 12in in 1 ft): 2in x 1ft/12in 
(the inches cancel each other out): 2ft/12 = 
1/6ft or .167ft
(Does it pass our "Did we mess up?" check?  Yes, less than 1ft).

Okay, so now we can do length x width x height:
4ftx12x.167ft = 8cubic feet.

So, to top dress a 12ft x 4ft raised bed with 2 inches of compost-mix, it will take 8 cubic feet of material.  But what's that mean?
Bagged soils tend to come in 1cubic ft bags, so you'd need 8 of them. In the store, mushroom compost typically runs $5-$7/bag, so $40 to $56.  And, of course, you'd have some shopping and hauling to do.

Or, if you purchase bulk mushroom compost (from Local Sources), you'd have to purchase 1 cubic yard (i.e. 3ft x 3ft x 3 ft = 27 cubit feet), which you can pick up with a truck or have delivered. After topdressing your 12ftx4ft you'd have more than 2/3rds of your yard of compost leftover, which you could use for extra gardens or alkaline-loving shrubs. If you've got your own truck, this option is great.  If not, the delivery charge (typically about $40) + the chore of shoveling compost will likely make you think: there's got to be an easier way to top dress my raised beds.

Voila: if you don't want to deal with calculations or hauling or shoveling compost, give me a shout, and we'll take care of it.

PS- For in-ground gardens, one or two inches of compost topdressing will mostly do the trick.  Same length x width x height calculations. However, given our area's potassium-deficient soils, I'd also add 5-10pounds of green sand from Natural Matters per 100square feet.

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