#GrowYourGroceries - I'll help!

Friday, September 25, 2015

It's back to Collards and Cornbread

After 16 months traveling, Mary Elizabeth and I are Florida bound. Our home base will be Jacksonville, and I look forward to rooting in a new community. I will, however, continue to support the good food work in Tallahassee. I remain on the board of Tallahassee Food Network (TFN). (This past year I served as TFN ambassador to connect with and learn from community-based good food efforts around the world.) More than remaining connected from afar, I intend to be in town monthly for TFN's Collards and Cornbread Gatherings, which means I'll be in Tallahassee on the 2nd Thursday of the month, 1:30pm, Oct 8th at TFN's iGrow Whatever You Like Youth Farm (514 Dunn Street). Will you join me?

On a side note: if you would like a food gardening consult, a garden built, or you are dreaming of a community garden in Tallahassee, or, of course, in Jacksonville, by all means, send me an email or ring me: 850-322-0749. To the extent that my ability and location allows, I'll jump right on it as fast as my overalls can carry me. Encouraging and assisting folks to food garden- though not the limit of my community food system development skills- is still a passion of mine. Now, back to the blog:

Tallahassee Food Network's board sent me as an ambassador to connect and learn, and did I!? Below is a smattering of people and organizations I am privileged to have encountered:

Matt Macioge with Sustainable Food Center in Austin. They have 30 staff who work in 3 departments: 1)Grow Local: Everything production including drought tolerant sustainable agriculture research, a "garden at every school" partnership with the district, and a community garden association. 2)Farm Direct: Everything distribution including 4 farmers markets that they manage, local food brokering between farmers and institutional buyers, and a possible future online farmers market (which of course, reminds me of Tallahassee's RHOMarket.com). 3)The Happy Kitchen: Everything about consumption and education including a partnership to introduce a chef into all district schools and an educational kitchen that teaches groups and produces resources in both english and spanish.

Sligo, Ireland, Tallahassee's Sister City. Driving down the highway in Ireland on the way to my grandfather's birthplace, not an hour away, we happened upon this sign saying that Sligo is "twinned" with Tallahassee, FL. Wild! We stopped in at City Hall to bring greetings and were able to connect with a few staff in the Local Enterprise Office. Additionally, we found a monument to "those who died and those who fled" the Potato Famine, of The Great Famine. 30,000 people-- folks similar to my grandfather-- emigrated from the port of Sligo. I emailed pictures to Ms. Whitaker in Mayor Gilum's office, and she- ever so sweet- promptly responded, "Nathan, what an awesome experience of "home away from home." I will share your email and picture with our Chief of Staff Dustin Daniels who also serves as the Mayor's Office Sister-City liaison. Be safe and enjoy the journey of learning more about your heritage. Thanks for sharing. You are a great representative of Tallahassee."
Barbara Turk, NYC Mayor's Director of Food Policy. We met at a talk she gave at Union Theological for the Faith Leaders for Food Justice group. Her program's 3 tiered priorities are developing policy and supporting efforts to ensure NYC's food systems will provide 1)enough food to eat (1.4 million New Yorkers are food insecure), 2)adequate nutrition, and 3)be sourced from just sources. There are over 1700 urban gardens on public land: 800 on Housing, 700 on Park, & 200 on School land. They produce 100K lbs of food annually. "I fight for urban gardens not just for the food, but for the community value. They are the cheapest way to build a community center, to promote intergenerational connections." For more complete notes, click here.

Craig Willingham with Shop Healthy NYC, a health dept. program that is a systems approach to encouraging healthier eating in NY neighborhoods. Craig's team works with distributers to help them note foods that meet health standards and connect them with marketing tools to promote those options. He works with retailers by providing technical assistance, store shelving that will better display healthy options, and by connecting them to distributors that sell healthy options. Lastly, Craig works with community by blanket marketing and encouraging neighborhood groups to support stores that have healthier options. Supply and demand side strategies. Here is an implementation guide, adopt a shop guide, and program report.

Josette Bailey with We Act, an environmental justice organization based in Harlem. Ms. Bailey and her team attended the Faith Leaders for Food Justice meeting. We Act was the first environmental justice organization to be founded in New York City. They joined together to address the institutionalized racism regarding the oft-repeated practice of locating environmentally hazardous sewers/dumps/plants/etc in and near black neighborhoods. For them, the catalyzing situation was a sewer. Ms. Bailey spoke up boldly that black neighborhoods don't need people coming in to "teach" them about healthy, economical eating. Folks are doing the best they can within the context of (often) working multiple jobs & being faced with living in food deserts. She challenged the group to check any patronizing approaches to working on issues of food justice. We Act is starting a food coop and is looking for places to garden.

Wendy Stayte with Transition Town Totnes (in S. England). While in Britain, Paul Beich, a partner from Tallahassee reminded me that the Transition Town Movement originated in Totnes, so with the help of Transition Tallahassee's Rachel Walsh, I went digging. Wendy is active in Totnes' food group, specifically the "Incredible Edible Totnes" group which is: "an inspired bunch of people getting veggies and edibles growing in public and unused spaces in Totnes for the common plate."

The Intervale in Burlington, VT. It's an "agricultural ecosystem" of 350 acres that are home to 12 organic farms, a community garden, Vermont's largest composting operation, food and fuel production from agricultural waste, an educational center that hosts youth programs, the Intervale Food Hub, and a garden center (nursery). Collaboration and mutual support is all the more possible due to proximity.

Kathryn Scharf, Co-Founder Community Food Centres Canada. CFCC works across Canada to cultivate community food centers, or "welcoming spaces where people come together to grow, cook, share, and advocate for good food." They combine 3 focuses: 1)food access, 2)food-skills, and 3)engagement. This looks like "dignifying" emergency food assistance (think family style, chef-prepared community meals, or no-line food banks) with training on gardening and/or cooking with community organizing & advocacy training to give "individuals and communities voice and agency on hunger and food issues." Here's a list of their 80+ "Good Food Organization" Partners that they have networked and amongst whom CFCC has facilitated organizational mentoring. CFCC's flagship community food center is profiled in the book The STOP by Nick Saul, their Director.

Laura Lengnick, author Resilient Agriculture (& my former professor at Warren Wilson College). Interested in the impact of climate change on sustainable agriculture, Laura captures the stories of farmers who have noticed temperature shifts and other "strange" changes in climate in their lifetime. She then shares the stories of how said farmers have adapted to floods, droughts and other changes.

Jessica Bonanno with Democracy Collaborative, which was instrumental in establishing the Evergreen Cooperatives in Cleveland that launched in 2009. Evergreen includes three for-profit worker-owned cooperative businesses whose major customers are "anchor" institutions (i.e., hospitals, universities, and other entities that are very unlikely to up-and-leave). There is a hydroponic operation to grow veggies (which is how I first learned about them), an industrial LEED Certified laundry, and a green energy/building contracting business. They employ a combined 100+ worker-owners.  All three coops feed 10% of their profits into a nonprofit that works to expand asset-based economic development in Cleveland. Democracy Collaborative has great publications like this Worker Cooperatives: Pathways to Scale and Policies for Community Wealth Building. And FASCINATING: did you know they were hired by the former Mayor of Jacksonville to report on cooperative business possibilities?

Susan Sides, founder The Lord's Acre in Asheville, NC. Susan contacted me to share her dream and ask a couple questions five years ago when they were just starting out. Since then we've been in loose contact. I've kept hearing good things, so it was a joy to finally see their Acre that donates food to their local pantry, a sharing market, a community Welcome Table, and a chef training program for folks with barriers to employment. What a gorgeous, prolific place! They produced 9.5 tons of food last year alone! Susan shared that at their first harvest, they cheered as they gave away food to the first 70 people, but then realized, "We should celebrate when there are no more hungry people in our community." In this light, they garden & give food away as a stop-gap measure; however, their "best yield," according to Susan, is bringing people together to work, thereby building relationships & cultivating civil discourse around the need to affect the root causes of hunger.

I also connected with a former iGrow youth leader in Germany, the world's largest cooperative in Spain, an organic tea-growing farmer friend in Virginia and her husband that makes local jam for a living, a campesino organization in Ecuador, several fair-trade, economic development organizations and a fantastic community in Nicaragua, just to name a few-- all of which I've already mentioned on my blog or on my facebook page. Just click the links above.

Connecting with new (and former) friends and learning about all the many ways that people are engaged in growing community-based good food systems was one of my favorite things about our travels. The models are organizational and individual, for-profit and for-purpose, agricultural and policy-oriented. What I love is that all of them build on their strengths and strive to support the ecology of other efforts in their networks. Speaking of which...

To close, I'll offer this food garden tip: Meet other food gardeners. Develop your ag network.
Stop when you see people in their gardens- even in you're driving (turn around!). Tell them that their tomatoes or collards or flowers are beautiful! Point and ask, "What's that?" Inquire about what they like to grow the most. Quiz them about when they planted this or that. Ask what their favorite source is for seeds. Inquire about why they grow or how long they've been gardening. Share about your love of growing food; your favorite crops, and about your squash that recently died without any warning. Ask if they know why. Offer leftover seeds. Tell them you're going to the nursery tomorrow, and do they need anything? You'll learn new varieties, new techniques. You'll find food garden answers and ideas that won't surface on google. You'll get free food. You'll hear family stories; your neighbors will become your friends. And your food garden will prosper.

Don't hesitate to reach out to me if you'd like me to come speak to your group, want support with a school or community garden, or, simply, have an idea you'd like to pass by me-- especially if you're in Jacksonville, but then again, I'll be in Tallahassee once a month :)

Nathan, MIO


Questions? Contact Us via

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