Man in Overalls helps you #GrowYourGroceries!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Growing Forward: Who to Call in Tallahassee

(Apologies in advance for the length of this note. It is a resource of who's who info in light of my departure, so save it for another day if you don't have a few moments right now).

Update: As of 2015, I've rooted in Jacksonville, FL where I am now growing and connecting with an awesome bunch of people and efforts related to good food. To stay up to date on my work and dreams, check me out on facebook, instagram or send me an email with subject line "Count Me In" to receive my "semi-monthly" updates which include a story and food gardening tip.

few years back, I drafted a dream for a Tallahassee Center for Urban Agriculture:

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 a 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.

I had a dream, and reality is better. What we've got is an integrated movement, a mosaic of organizations, programs, and businesses making all this and more come to fruition. The growth over the past five to ten years of our community-based food systems and supporting efforts has been exponential.  Tallahassee Food Network (TFN)Red Hills Small Farms Alliance and Online MarketCOPE Coalition, the Frenchtown Heritage Market,Tallahassee Sustainability GroupSeed Time Harvest Farms, TFN's Good Food Directory (community garden listings now online), the Youth Symposium on Food and Hunger, the city andcounty's community garden programs, and TFN's iGrow Whatever You Like youth farm were all launched within the last five years.  Add to these entities the countless producers connected with the markets, the dozens of organizations tied to COPE, the hundred-plus organizational affiliates of TFN, the food-based businesses that are on the rise, and the thousands of individuals and personal relationships that bind us together within and across organizational, network, race, income, neighborhood, age, political-affiliation, and gender lines.

We have a movement on our hands.

- - -

Strangely, in my opinion, people think that my departure is profound enough to call this movement into question. On the one hand, I am honored by the thought that I've had a large enough role in our good food movement that my presence in Tallahassee has mattered; that I'll be missed; that folks are making arrangements for me to serve as a traveling representative of TFN, so Tallahassee doesn't "lose" me.

On the other hand, I am well-aware of two things: 1)The movement daily surprises me by its growth and impact, and I am but one player of many, hardly responsible for its breadth and depth. I'm confident it will continue to thrive without my presence in Tallahassee.  2)We have a team in place that will continue the work, so we shouldn't miss a beat.

Speaking of the team, make a note of the below folks' names and their contact info. Call them. Introduce yourself. Invite them to lunch. Email them with ideas, with questions, with opportunities. Ask them about their life experience, their work with TFN, their dreams. I could write pages about each one of them, but I'll spare you the details. Just know: they are incredible folks who - if they haven't already - will inspire you.

Tallahassee Food Network staff team:

  • Bakari McClendon, coordinator (989.992.7513) ~ Go-to for "who's who," for grants, for partnership ideas, organizational oversight & development. He will be linking up the network.
  • Sundiata Ameh-El, iGrow co-coordinator (850.497.4306) ~ Go-to for iGrow, for urban ag services including compost deliveries, raised beds, community gardens, youth education
  • Alexis Simoneau, outreach coordinator (386.527.3914) ~ Go-to for website, newsletter, Community Food Report, publicity, outreach, sponsorships
  • Kristen Goldsmith, iGrow volunteer coordinator (419.356.9006) ~ Go-to for volunteer opportunities (short term and internships)
  • Edwige Toussaint, iGrow site manager (561.419.4886)
  • Clarenia White, iGrow workday chef and market staff (850.341.4385)
  • Ebony Smith, Finance Administrator (850 629 8665) ~ Go-to for TFN financials
TFN Board of Directors
  • TFN co-founder, Ms. Miaisha Mitchell with Frenchtown Revitalization Council
  • TFN co-founder, Dr. Qasimah Boston with Project FOOD Now
  • TFN co-founder, Ms. Joyce Brown with Cultural Arts Natural Design International
  • Shelley Gomez with Knight Creative Community Initiative and Frenchtown Heritage Market Action Team
  • Sue Hansen from Betton Hills Community Garden and New Leaf Market
  • Martin Chavez, a former iGrow intern from Faith Presbyterian Church, TCC student
  • Reginal Glover from Distinguished Young Gentlemen & COPE Youth Health Leadership Council, recent graduate from Richards High
  • Al Smith with Community Business Service
  • Sandy Porras-Guitierrez from Florida Department of Children and Families
  • Ed Duffee of Duffee Enterprises (aka the farm on Alabama Street)
And, of course, no listing of our team would be complete without TFN's following key partners:
  • Mr. Jim Bellamy, founder of the Frenchtown Heritage Market, President of Frenchtown Neighborhood Improvement Association
  • Minister Charlotta Ivy of Sowing Seeds Sewing Comfort Ministry - also the go-to for Manna on Meridian Garden
  • Chef Shacafrica Simmons with Empowered by Food; continues to workshop and lay foundation for her N. Florida Culinary Incubator project
  • Louise Divine and Katie Harris, co-founders of Red Hills Small Farms Alliance (and online market) and Karen Goodlett, RHO Market manager
  • Cetta Barnhart of Seed Time Harvest Farms
  • Peter Kelly, Maurizio Bertoldi, and Jeff Phipps who comprise the Incubator Group
  • Wes Shaffer of Tallahassee Sustainability Group
  • Betsy and Nikki Henderson of Dent Street Diggers Community Garden, Hi Fi Jazz, & Innovation Reality
  • Kristi Hatakka, Portia Lundy, and Mark Tancig with Damayan
  • Anthony Gaudio with Sustainable Tallahassee, Knight Creative Community Initiative and Frenchtown Heritage Market Action Team
  • Sue Wiley and Betty Addition with the Wiley Sunshine Foundation
Let's not forget:
  • Lindsey Grubbs with Farm to School in FL Dept of Ag and Consumer Services, Food Nutrition and Wellness Division.
  • COPE Leadership Team: Sokoya Finch, Cynthia Harris, Penny Ralston, and Miaisha Mitchell
  • Kathryn Ziewitz and Maggie Theriot in the Leon County Office of Resource Stewardship
  • Cynthia Barber, John Baker, and Lisa Galocy in the City's Office of Environmental Policy and Energy Resources
  • Patricia Byrd with the Macon Community Garden
  • Courtney Atkins with Whole Child Leon 
  • Trevor Hylton with Leon County and FAMU Extension, and 
  • Claire Mitchell, co-founder of Ten Speed Greens and the garden advisor to the iGrow team when they were gardening at Second Harvest.
*I am sure there are key folks that I've forgotten to list. The fault is my own. Just let me know. As I'm able, I will set the record straight.

- - - 

As I make arrangements for my departure, I am struck with excitement about the capacity of our team and the many exciting developments that are in the works. Here's a heads up about a few things on the radar that you should listen out for:
  • The Frenchtown Heritage Market is in negotiations with a restauranteur and the Frenchtown-Southside Community Redevelopment Agency regarding the construction of a permanent central market for Tallahassee.
  • Representatives from Tallahassee's SouthCity; Thomasville, GA; Sarasota, FL; and Americus, GA have either already commenced or plan to replicate the iGrow model in their communities.
  • TFN is in conversations with FDACS about ways that we can replicate TFN and iGrow models around the state.
  • TFN is going to continue coordinating and/or establish Farm-to-Table, urban gardening, and youth engagement working-groups to aid people in connecting with their good food movement peers
  • Leon County Office of Resources Stewardship - in partnership with TFN, COPE, Red Hills and others -- have identified three priority areas for their office to assist community leaders in implementing: 1)A food hub, 2)farmer and consumer education in conjunction with the food hub, and 3)developing the Good Food Directory.
  • A team is in place including Bakari, Sundiata, Peter, Shac, and Alexis to ensure that Collards and Cornbread continues every 2nd Thursday of the month, 1:30pm at the iGrow Youth Farm.
And just so you know: Sundiata, Clarenia, my wife Mary Elizabeth, and I will be representing Tallahassee Food Network in Washington, DC June 16-18th at the Jefferson Awards.  From there, Mary Elizabeth and I will be headed to Glacier National Park to work for the summer season. Following that, we will be embarking on a traveling adventure.  

I plan to stay in touch, and come back through town semi-regularly.We are exploring ways that I could continue learning from and growing the good food movement by serving as a national/international TFN representative. More on that as it develops.

In closing, as you have supported me, I simply request that you find ways to support TFN, its programs, partners; and that you continue to connect and grow the movement across lines of division.

Keep up the good work my friends,

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Adventure Continues

Last week, I was honored by Tallahassee Democrat as Volunteer of the Year and given the Jefferson Award for Public Service, an honor that highlights my work, yes, but was certainly given based on the impact that our whole Tallahassee Food Network team is making in our work across lines of division to grow community-based good food systems. Much thanks to Nancy Miller and her aid SarahKeith Valentine who nominated me.

Sue Dick, President of the Tallahassee Chamber delivered the following words (prepared by Leslie Smith) at the Volunteer of the Year Luncheon:

Nathan Ballentine, co-founder and volunteer co-director of the Tallahassee Food Network has been working for local food security since 2009.  Along with the Tallahassee Food Network, Nathan coordinates monthly Collards and Cornbread gatherings, facilitates the Community Garden Network Circle and Farm-to-Table team.  Nathan has cultivated roughly 260 organizational partnership and 740 personal relationships among those organizations, which are being leveraged to grow community-based food systems.

Nathan strongly insists that he and his team work across lines of division and bring people with varied perspectives to the table, especially across race, neighborhood, and income lines given the community/network segmentation. He is also volunteer coordinator of iGrow Whatever You Like, Tallahassee Food Networks youth empowerment and urban agriculture program which is responsible for the Dunn Street Youth Farm.  17 young people were trained as urban agriculture leaders as part of iGrow’s Leadership Corps.   Nathan says, “You help me, I’ll help you and we’ll all get further than we would by ourselves.”

Surprised and honored, I offered a few statements of thanks:

Wow. You sketch out notes, but you never expect to use them. Wow. Thank you. Thank you, Nancy for the nomination. I'm grateful for the recognition that this award brings our team. My name is on the paper because this award highlights individuals, but this honor is for our whole team and key partners amidst the Tallahassee Food Network, who are working across lines of division to grow community-based good food systems.  Thank you to my mother, Sue Wiley and father, Tom Ballentine who continue to model big picture thinking paired with bottom up grunt work. Thank you to my new wife, Mary Elizabeth who helps me workshop everything, who tolerates my schedule, who takes me on adventures. Thank you to Tallahassee Food Network. Thank you to my fellow board members, Miaisha Mitchell, Qasimah Boston, Joyce Brown, to the people who-- through under paid or unpaid entirely-- are functioning as staff, to the iGrow Whatever You Like team, to all the people who are both my co-workers and mentors. Thank's y'all for making it all possible, or being all-stars in my life, for allowing me to walk in the spotlight that rightfully belongs to us all for both our private and public work to grow and sustain a better world. It's an honor to run this race with y'all. Thank you for what you've done to support and shape me. Thank you for what you do and for all the reasons that your name should be in the hat for Volunteer of the Year. Thank you to the Tallahassee Democrat, to CenturyLink, and to all of you here. It's an honor to be recognized alongside so many amazing volunteers. Thank you.

To extend that thanks even further, I'd like to thank you-- the folks reading this blog, folks who receive my e-newsletter, my community-partners, friends, and co-conspirators in the effort to grow a better world. Thank you. You've encouraged me, inspired me, challenged me, helped me pay my bills, workshopped programs, business models, and movement tactics. You've waded through meetings, shoveled compost, planted seeds, empowered young people, and cultivated community-based food systems with your creativity, sweat, and resources. You've been the threads of the food movement fabric of which I'm a part. Thank you for doing what you do. Keep up the good work.

~ ~ ~

In what is perhaps the height of ironies, in twenty minutes I'll walk next door to participate in my last Collards and Cornbread Gathering for a while. At the beginning of June, my wife, Mary Elizabeth and I will embark on a traveling adventure for the coming year (or two). Though Tallahassee will always be my home, I will be laying my head elsewhere for the foreseeable future.  If this is the first you're hearing of my departure, don't be too alarmed; I'll remain linked to Tallahassee. I'll simply be connecting and learning across a larger geographical arena. ...You can trust Ms. Miaisha Mitchell not to let me get too far.

Questions? Contact Us via

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