Man in Overalls helps you #GrowYourGroceries!

Friday, June 14, 2013

A Word on our Local Food Economy

Good folks,

I've got a quick bunch of stories for you, a couple food garden pointers, and a (workshop) announcement. 

1.) Stories: When I've got a book to write and only got a page
The challenge every time I try to write a newsletter or blog is whittling down the list of possible stories to share. Living amidst the Tallahassee Food Network (TFN), there is so much good work going on and so many dynamic stories to report. We need a documentary and journalism crew on the team just to capture all the stories: from the 75+ community gardens in town to the hundreds of youth that Qasimah Boston has trained in leadership and nutrition, from the Red Hills Tomato "Feastival" this past weekend to the wheat threshing/grinding demonstration today at the iGrow Youth Farm. And that's not to mention the many home gardeners who tell me their stories of family recipes, of their parents who planted by the moon, and their children who, "Just today!" harvested their own bell peppers and ate them "right, then and there."  (If you are a journalist or know someone who would be willing to lend their time to document food movement stories, please let me know).

To prioritize, I found myself inspired today by the open conversation at the TFN Collard and Cornbread Gathering on Farm-to-Table Economic Development, so I'll share a few tidbits from my world in that arena:
  • iGrow Whatever You Like, TFN's youth empowerment and urban ag program has harvested over 1600lbs from their Dunn St Youth Farm and earned over $4000 from produce sales + another $3000 (this year, $14,000 total) from iGrow Bucket Sales. Did I mention that iGrow teenagers are equipped to accept credit and debit cards using an iPad Ap? 21st Century farmers!
  • Sundiata Ameh-El, my friend and iGrow colleague launched his new compost pick-up service business, Compost Community, which takes the food economy full circle. He's working with both individual households and restaurants. The finished compost generated is donated to area community gardens.
  • Red Hills Online (Farmers) Market is doing more business than ever. Last week's sales were the highest they've ever been! 
  • Cetta Barnhart's Seed Time Harvest, a local food distribution company is connecting rural growers who have crops going to waste with customers who want local, fresh produce. She packages seasonal produce from half a dozen farmers into CSA-like bags and delivers her orders weekly. Though she's web-savy (order forms are on googledocs), she's phone calling seniors to make sure they don't fall into the food economy digital divide.
  • Claire Mitchell and Danielle launched Ten Speed Greens Urban Farm this past winter, and their farm (and business) is thriving: bike-delivered produce to local restaurants, workshops, farm t-shirts, potlucks; the "whole nine."
  • Tallahassee Food Network and partners are investigating a possible local food certification program for local farmers as well as for restaurants and grocers who sell local products. The certification would ensure geographic "local-ness" as well as guarantee agricultural standards. With the proper branding, it would provide a marketing advantage to farm-to-table restaurants and other businesses who support the local food economy. Imagine walking into Publix to find a North Florida Grown or TallyFresh section.  Appalachian Grown is a model we're looking into.
  • Whole Foods is looking for local suppliers; their goal is to source 25% of their produce locally.
  • TFN needs more hands on deck to continue developing the Good Food Directory that will help local folks find healthy, fresh, green, fair, and affordable food.
  • People in the Tallahassee MSA (metropolitan service area) purchase $178million* of fruits and vegetables every year. We're talking hundreds (thousands!) of local jobs if we re-root our food economy in the region. (*figure is from the T/LC Econ Dev Council).
The roots for a thriving local food economy are growing, but it's going to take all of us to develop it to its full potential. What's your piece?

2.) Food Garden Tips

If you're leaving on vacation for a while or otherwise don't want to be bothered with food gardening over the summer, plant sweet potatoes. (Man in Overalls YoutTube "How To" video). Plant them anyway; they love the heat, block out the weeds, and serve as a living mulch.  Speaking of which: mulch, mulch, mulch, 2" or 8". (Oak leaves are my favorite). Mulch does three things: it conserves water, blocks the weeds from growing, and regulates your soil temperature against the sun. Cooler, moister soil = healthier plants = fewer pests. (Come to the workshop, I'll explain :)

1.)Workshop Announcement: 

A workshop taught by Man in Overalls, Sundiata (Compost Community), Efrayim (Growing Green Gardens), and the iGrow Youth. Learn to grow food in the heat without headaches or heat exhaustion. 9-11am, Sat., June 29th at the iGrow Youth Farm (514 Dunn St). Registration is $20/Adults ($25 at the door), $5 for children and youth. Sign up on Facebook or by email. Workshop Flier PDF


     Happy growing and stay cool, 
    Nathan, the Man in Overalls 
    Magic Compost Mix delivery and topdressing, 1 yard for only $99 + tax 
    PS- Food Garden Questions. Email or FB me.
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    Wednesday, May 1, 2013

    Connecting an Emergent Movement

    What follows is a paraphrase of the presentation about emergent movements and asset-based community development that I gave at the COPE (Childhood Obesity Prevention Education) Coalition meeting on Tuesday evening, 4/30/2013. COPE is a comprehensive coalition of public and private sector agencies, organizations, institutions, and individuals in our capital city working to address childhood obesity. The focus is on holistic prevention strategies rather than weight loss. Many Tallahassee Food Network partners received $10,000 COPE mini-grants to scale-up their efforts.  Learn more on the COPE webpage.

    Tallahassee Food Network hosts monthly Collard and Cornbread Gatherings to connect folks and spokes of the food movement to one another around good food.
    Good Evening!

    My name is Nathan Ballentine. I'm here tonight as a co-founder of the Tallahassee Food Network. Folks around town know me as the Man in Overalls.

    Before I get started, I'd like to take just a moment to recognize, to appreciate the incredible people in this room, the skills they possess, the amazing work that I know they're doing.  I only know a tiny amount of what we're all up to, all the skills in the room, connections they have, and I know it's incredible.  Now, imagine: what if we all knew what everyone else in this room knew? I'm not saying we need to know what they know, but we need to know that they know it. If we know what it is that the other people in this room know, then we can step up our game because then we can call on each other and turn to each other with dreams and ideas that draw off all that greatness.

    Before we get started, to get us thinking along these lines, I have a couple questions for you. I want you to turn to a neighbor that you didn't come here with. You've only got a minute (thirty seconds each), and I want you to share a couple stories with each other. First: What is a skill that you have that's related to food? (You might know how to bake potatoes; you might know where to look for grants related to food security). Then next, you can answer one of two questions: What is a resource that you have, currently, that's food related? (For example, I've got a bag of potatoes at home.) Or, who do you know that has skills related to food? (My mother knows how to cook cornbread in an iron skillet).

    (After a minute).

    What kinds of skills did you hear your neighbor mention? (Cooking. Gardening. Canning. Nutrition. Mentoring. Partnering.)

    What kinds of resources do y'all have or who do you know? (Family land. University departments with student interns and professors. Pots and pans. Gardening tools. Time. Grandparents. The Internet.)

    Wow. Great responses.

    I ask these questions because the Tallahassee Food Network is working to build partnerships amidst the food movement to grow community-based food systems that ensure access to good food, which we define as healthy, green, fair, and affordable. To do so, we're going to need all these skills, all these resources and connections. Everyone has a role to play.

    The Food Network is especially interested in building a movement that bridges lines of division, however you think about those things: race, geography, age, income.

    Those of us who founded the Food Network-- Miaisha Mitchell, Qasimah Boston, Joyce Brown, and I-- realized early on that in many ways we've got parallel movements going on. Let me give you quick example. If I get invited to a white church to do a workshop on gardening, it's because their sustainability committee invited me. If I get invited to a black church to do a workshop on gardening, it's because their health ministry invited me. So we've got similar conversations, similar work going on in different segments of our population. Yes, there is some overlap, but largely we've got disparate, parallel yet disparate movements. So we ask ourselves, how do we encourage overlap, collaboration, relationships, and synergy?

    Let me introduce another way of thinking about these things. It's called "emergence." Emergence is what happens when a collection of individuals are able to asses their local situation, communicate, and take appropriate action. When they do so, they display an intelligence that is greater than the sum of their parts. Think ant hills, bee hives. We do things like this all the time. This is what we're doing amidst COPE.  Emergence is how the food movement is operating. We're all assessing the world based on the information we know, communicating with the people we have access to, and then taking steps: growing gardens, cooking dinner, managing farmers markets, teaching nutrition.

    Given this reality, the question becomes "How do we facilitate an emergent movement?" Especially in light of the challenges.

    For example, folks run in different networks, in different circles. Let's take Facebook for example. I hear people say, "We put it on facebook so everyone will learn about it." Except, not really. For starters, not everyone is on facebook. But even on facebook, if I post something it's accessible only to my network, and by-and-large, my network looks a whole lot like me. For most of us, our networks tend to look a lot like ourselves-- however it is that we choose to identify ourselves.

    Geography is a challenge. There are the neighborhoods that we know and tend to stick to and there are those where we don't tend to go.

    Communication mediums. Some people communicate through facebook. Others get their information via front porches or folks walking up and down the street; others through fliers, others by emails or the radio.

    We're also dealing with different languages.  I'm not talking about spanish and french and english. I'm talking about styles. A few weeks ago, Efrayim the farm manager at the iGrow Farm -- a so-called black man was talking on the phone with Jen, a so-called white female FSU student intern. At the close of their conversation Jen said, "Ok, so I'll see you Friday," and Efrayim said, "Alright." Then Jen said, "I guess we've got our plan then," and Efrayim said, "A'right." Then Jen closed, "So I'll see you Friday. Sounds good," and Efrayim responded, "A'right...." They were both trying to get off the phone, but they didn't speak each others' languages.

    So again, the question is: How do we facilitate an emergent movement amidst all the challenges?

    One strategy that we use in the Food Network-- though we don't talk about it all that much-- is ABCD, Asset-Based Community Development. The idea is that every one of us in here, everyone in Tallahassee no matter where we are has skills, resources, and connections to bring to the table. This is where those stories we shared with one another come in. This is where knowing what it is that your neighbor knows fits in. This is where your grandmothers' recipes fit in. In the Food Network, the idea is that the more folks we have at the table from all walks of life* and the better we all know each other and know what the others know, the better we'll be able to grow those community based-food systems because we'll be able to partner, we'll be able to fill each others' gaps and enable each others' dreams.

    Let me give a quick example of how we do this. On the second Thursday of every month, the Food Network hosts a Collards and Cornbread Gathering where we share stories, ideas, and projects with one another amidst the food movement. At our last gathering, Mr Bellamy, who coordinates the Frenchtown Heritage Market gave a two minute update about how he's working to make it so folks could purchase fresh veggies at his market using SNAP/EBT. (As y'all know, a lot of people buy groceries with SNAP/EBT; unfortunately, to date, none of our farmers markets in town accept SNAP/EBT. Largely, this is because most of our farmers markets are in parking lots or fields or other places where access to a phone-line is hard to come by. But comeon! We've got YouTube on our phones, and iGrow can accept credit cards with a device that plugs into the ear phone jack on an iPad. As it turns out, FL Dept of Children and Families is working on a wireless device for SNAP/EBT for farmers markets, and Mr Bellamy is one of the first to act on it.) Sitting across the circle from Mr. Bellamy was Claire Mitchell who works with the Red Hills Small Farms Alliance, which also wants to accept SNAP/EBT for their online farmers market.  Claire says, "Wait, who did you talk to at DCF?" Then a minute later, "What was the website? Where was the office?" In a manner of minutes, because we're sharing what we know-- because we know each other and get together-- we're growing the movement and the community-based food systems that will ensure access to healthy, green, fair, and affordable food."

    - - -

    A few after thoughts:

    *In the realm of assets, amongst the most overlooked skill-sets and knowledge bases are indigenous mores, customs, patterns of speech, historical knowledge, visual aesthetics, friendship networks, music preferences, and long-standing neighborhood tensions, i.e., generally, knowing the culture of a community.

    Having grown up in Indianhead Acres (which was one of Tallahassee's first segregated suburban developments, and, consequentially, remains predominantly Euro-American) I know the folks on the neighborhood board as well as the unofficial leaders who others will follow because they're known and respected. I know where the creek is in the park and the place where I made a fort as a child. I know who bought my sister's Girl Scout Cookies, and who was diabetic-- or said they were. I know how to pronounce "Chowkeebin Nene" and can find my way from Koucky Park to Hartsfield Elementary and chime off the names of 20 neighborhood families in between.  People know me because I gardened on "the corner" from the time I was eight until I graduated high school.

    Post college when I returned to the neighborhood, given my roots, I could conceive of community initiatives and projects that were within the understanding and acceptance of "my people" because, to a certain extent, I thought (and think), how my neighbors think.  The same is true of folks in Frenchtown and Killarn and Betton Hills and South City. Such localized community expertise is irreplaceable in growing a food movement that will work for everyone.  This is why, amidst my life and work in Frenchtown (a predominantly African-American community), as much as possible, I take my direction from-- I defer to folks who have roots and/or long-standing ties in the neighborhood. Although I've developed and investigated lots of successful community food projects and found many working models-- I wasn't raised in Frenchtown, so I don't know, de facto, what will work here, especially in light of Frenctown culture, with all the intricacies inherent.

    I'll give you a simple example: Wendell, a friend with family roots in Frenchtown asked me a while back: "You ever notice how black folks never have picnics?" He explained to me that the word "picnic" is associated with "Picking a nigger," say, for a hanging party. Wendell educated me that black folks have "cookouts." For obvious reasons, had I mistakenly attempted to organized a "picnic" in Frenchtown as part of my work with iGrow, I would not have been received well by my neighbors.

    The latter is an extreme yet real example of the importance of localized community expertise. (This is closely tied to ideas of cultural competence.) In such light, we need Wendell; we need Joshua and Clarenia on the iGrow team; we need Ms Mitchell and Mr Bellamy, long-time citizens of the neighborhood as well as Pee Wee and Bruce on Dent Street-- all Frenchtown neighbors with very different lives and perspectives-- as much we need the inspiration, models, and ideas provided by folks like Will Allen, Louise Divine, Malik Yakini, Mark Tancig and Vandana Shiva.

    The beauty of ideas like Asset-Based Community Development, localized community expertise, and cultural competence is that we're all competent within the realm of our own experience, communities, and cultures. All of us have community-rooted and network-tied cultural skill-sets to bring to the table.

    This is why, when it's time to grow the good food movement in your communities and circles, we need you on the team.

    - - -  

    If you're interested in this conversation about localized community expertise, cultural competence, and the challenges of building an emergent food movement that bridges lines of division, I've compiled a few items for additional exploration that have shaped my understanding:

    Lastly, below I've listed a handful of organizations with similar models and philosophies to the Tallahassee Food Network worth checking out:
    Blessings as you grow and intertwine the movement,

    Thursday, March 28, 2013

    Chinese "Secret Garden" & Spring Planting Tips

    Hey there good folks,

    I've got a quick little story for you and a couple of pointers as you begin your summer garden.

    1.) Story: A Hidden Garden

    Last week, Sundiata Ameh-El, co-coordinator of iGrow and I were installing raised beds around town together. Because we were in the area and because my father had told me about it, we swung by for a look at an unlikely farm. It's hidden behind a Tallahassee shopping center, behind a hedge on a steep hillside above a storm drain. It's absolutely gorgeous, everything a mini farm should be, and it's maintained by a gentleman from China who doesn't speak any English. (To protect his privacy, I'm being intentionally vague about his farm's location.)

    Aside from the beautiful produce, the most impressive aspect in my opinion was the terracing itself. I've always wondered how indigenous peoples the world over have farmed on hillsides without loosing their beds to the first rain. Take a look.
    Notice that there is a storm drain (aka the pathway) that's dug into the hill above the bed to divert water around. Wow, I thought, a subsistence Chinese farmer right here in Talahassee who's relocated following family, and has found a place to plant once more.  Well, not quite: after a failed attempt to communicate directly, Sundiata was able to locate his daughter who is bilingual. As it turns out, the man was a banker in China, and these days, "Was bored and wanted something to do." His daughter told us, "He is out here every day gardening, but we don't know what we're doing." She communicated her father's frustration with fava beans and cabbages that took too long to grow; she shared about chinese lettuce varieties that don't suffer from pest problems like our own. Sundiata asked questions about their methods of composting and shared his own practices... and so it turned into an agricultural exchange.

    That's the power of food. If you step out a bit, it has a way of bridging lines of division.

    2.) Food Garden Tips

    It's spring planting time! Tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, bush beans, squash, zucchini, watermelon, and all that other good stuff. See the attached "What Can You Grow in a Square" resource for specifics on planting including how much space things need, what to plant when, and a cool planting grid to plan your garden. Also attached is my "Food Gardening 101" that covers the basic 10 steps to go from grass to garden. -- If you're planting in a raised bed, the best/easiest way to maintain fertility is to top it off with mushroom compost. (Just fill it back up). If things grew well last spring, but didn't produce quite like how you'd want, you could add a little greensand or granite dust (say, 5lbs per 20square feet) to up the potassium and micro-nutrients that get overlooked. -- Last tip: Okra and sweet potatoes love the heat, so wait until May/June to plant them, preferably, plant them on the heals of an early spring crop like sweet corn or bush beans (i.e., after you grow and harvest the early crop, topdress with a little more compost, then plant your okra).



       Happy planting, 
    Nathan, the Man in Overalls 

    PS- I was recently published in Urban Farm Magazine's "One Thing" column of their Spring 2013 issue. Check it out. And check them out. Great magazine.

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