Skip to main content

Man in Overalls - Today is 2 Years in Jacksonville

Today marks two years since my wife, Mary Elizabeth and I rooted ourselves in Jacksonville, FL the city of her birth, the city of my father's childhood. We planted here by way of a 16-month stint traveling the western world to learn language, culture, and community-based food systems. Though I'm still the new guy on the block, I've been welcomed into Jacksonville by an ever swelling network of folks working on issues of food: farmers, gardeners and permaculturalists; chefs and hunger advocates; writers and food desert activists; composters and herbalists; health professionals and neighbors - not to mention a growing base of customers to whom I owe my livelihood (along with my lovely wife-- as business picks up).

This city is teeming with amazing people doing great work! For those who know me well, I might even say there's a movement beneath the surface, a great many seeds planted, sprouting, and looking to grow and interconnect. Rather than my typical story, I'd like to share with you some of the awesome people and efforts I've encountered in hopes that you'll learn about someone or something you didn't know was going on. This is not an exhaustive list, but a start, the first page in Man in Overalls' Jacksonville version of Who's Who:
  • Chef Amadeus winner of Food Network's Extreme Chef competition who is using his celebrity to uplift local chefs by hosting Extreme Food Fights.
  • Duval County Agricultural Extension: Mary Puckett with the Urban Gardening Program, a great and (free) educational resource on edible gardening. She and the master gardeners run a fantastic demonstration garden just around the corner from the the McDuff Ave HQ. Also: Ashley Johnston is Program Manager of Family Nutrition Program, which has a little grant funding available for youth and community gardens in low-income communities.
  • Lauren Husband, former convener of the Duval County Food Policy Council. She's an amazing woman who knows how to make things happen in, with and for community.
  • At a meeting of the Coalition to End Senior Hunger in NE FL, hosted by Eldersource, chaired by Dr Tannenbaum, I learned that over 1000 seniors in Duval county are on a waiting list for feeding programs. While there, I met Sherrie Keshner. She's an amazing woman who is senior-by-senior, helping hungry elders sign up for SNAP over the phone (since the application process is online and, often, confusing for older folks). If you know folks who need a little extra grocery money but aren't computer types, have them give Sherrie a call: (904) 391-6688.
  • Diallo Sekou, founder of Urban Geoponic and the Sankofa Initiative is a community activist, entrepreneur, and former farm manager of Newtown Urban Farm. He's making plans for an urban teaching farm in Durkeville.
  • If you're a foodie, you've got to know about Edible Northeast Florida. Amy Robb, publisher, and Lauren Titus, editor are an awesome team that puts out the most delicious farm-to-table magazine!
  • I've been pleased to cross paths with a handful of peers who are also helping people grow food themselves: Val Hermann of The Food Park Project and Tim Armstrong of Eat Your Yard Jax.
  • And I'm glad to have made the acquaintance of farmers Brian Lapinksi of Down to Earth Farm, Caria Hawkins of Abundant Harvests Farms, and Simon of Urban Folk Farm.
Here are a few more folks you've just got to know about:
  • Ju'Coby Pittman's Clara White Mission feeds over 500 hungry people every day and runs a culinary job training program. A few years back, they started White Harvest Farms, a initiative to grow food (and offer education) in the midst of Jacksonville's northside.  (Note: Val Herman was just recently hired as White Harvest co-farm manager).
  • This past spring, I was honored to assist Melissa Beaudry in launching Fleet Farming Riverside, a program that converts people's front yards into micro-market-farms in exchange for a portion of the produce.
  • Betty Burney, director of I'm a Star Foundation, a youth-driven leadership organization. I first heard about them in 2015, when they presented their ideas on how to improve childhood obesity rates to the Surgeon General in Washington DC.  Every Friday, to combat lack of access to food, they operate a fresh-food market at the downtown Rosa Parks bus station, and they're making plans to launch a youth farm in NW Jacksonville. This fall, I've had the honor of doing a few workshops with the "Stars."
  • Kurt D'Aurizio is executive chef at Sulzbacher Center (for the homeless) and president of Slow Foods First Coast, which coordinates the Tour de Farm. I love their vision by the way: Good, clean, and fair food for all. Powerful words. I could take them as my own.
  • Karen Landry of War on Poverty is working with Agape Health Clinic and other partners to launch a vegetable prescription program, based on the national Wholesome Wave model that will prescribe fruits and vegetables (and provide vouchers to buy them) to patients in order to improve family health... as well as support the local farm economy.
  • Meanwhile, Florida Organic Growers' Fresh Access Bucks program is partnering with a number of area farmers markets to a)allow low-income customers to buy local produce with SNAP/EBT at farmers markets and b)to "double their bucks." (In other words, for every $10 a SNAP recipient spends with, for example, Riverside Arts Market's farmers, they can buy $20 worth of produce.) It's a food access, local farm development program rolled into one.
Lastly, I've found these great local sources for vegetable plants & seeds, herbs and fruit trees:
  • Standard Feed. On Kings Road, source for vegetable starts and seeds + baby chickens, coops, and feed
  • Gores Nursery. On Jax NW side, source for fruit trees
  • Hall's (ACE) Nursery, on Blanding, source for veggies starts, seeds, and herbs
  • Bluebird Growers, frequents farmers markets, source for tomato starts + great herb starts.
This list is too long, and I'm nowhere near finished. But, the rest will have to wait for another day. In apology, all I can say is that there are "too many" people doing good food work in Jacksonville. Haha. But really: it's wonderful!

I'm glad to be moving and shaking among such a wonderful network of great folks. More power to you, and keep up the good work!

Nathan Ballentine, Man in Overalls putting down roots in Jacksonville, FL

Nathan Ballentine (Man in Overalls)
Urban Farmer, Entrepreneur, Educator, Community Organizer
Growing in Jacksonville, FL
Connecting globally
Contact Me
Man in Overalls on FBBlog - About - Services - Projects - Resources--
If you would like to receive my "semi-monthly" updates, which include a story and food gardening tip please email with subject line "Count Me In."

Most viewed Man in Overalls posts of all time

Why Can I Eat Bread in France, but not the USA?

Updated 10/31/2017 as the National Organic Standards Board meets in Jacksonville, FL. This may well be the most important thing you read this year for your health. (Originally written in 2015 while I was traveling-- and eating bread-- with my wife in France.) I've got a food riddle for you from Paris, France: Why can I eat bread over here when it makes me sick at home? I'll share my best guess in a minute, but first, a little personal background. Since my senior year of high school, I've not been able to eat much bread at all. For five years, I was severely hypoglycemic, and everything I ate had to have more protein than carbohydrates. That meant, in effect, that I spent my years of college beer-less and eating lots of salad with meat on top. I ate tons of vegetables, very little fruit, basically no carbohydrates to speak of, meat, nuts, eggs, and cheese. If I accidentally ate, say, meat loaf that was, unbeknownst to me, made with bread in it, I'd spend the n

Man in Overalls - It's Like Washing Your Dishes

I often hear folks joke, "Yeah, I had a garden once. I put in all this money & effort, and I only got a handful of tomatoes. Each one of them cost $27!" And they usually end by saying something about not having a green thumb. My first tomatoes of the season I smile and think about a mental model I've been working on: Growing your groceries is like washing your dishes. While they're raving about how many plants they've killed, I'm thinking, "It's not your thumbs. I bet you don't have a sink. And if you do, are you using decent soap or that garbage from the dollar store? And did you mention you've never washed dishes before in your life? And you're surprised you broke a couple wine glasses with no more experience than a four-year-old?" My eyebrows furrow involuntarily belying my thoughts, "Really? That doesn't seem all that surprising to me." But, of course, not only would saying all that confuse people, it&#

Man in Overalls - The Valley of Food & Ag Startups: Warren Wilson College

If you're interested in tech, pay attention to Silicon Valley. If you're interested in food and agriculture, Swannnoa Valley, more specifically  Warren Wilson College , is the place to keep on your radar. Man in Overalls with (L to R) Mary Elizabeth, my wife and Rachel (Williamson) Perry, WW alum and herbal tea entrepreneuer I'm an alum and proud of it, class of 2008. I studied community organizing, wrote a 140 page thesis about social movements as my capstone. Nathan, as college Freshman on WW Electric Crew. (Look for the blue water bottle) It's a work college, one of seven in the country. Think universal work-study, so in addition to whatever one's academic track, students are also working in the cafeteria, the library, admissions, as carpenters, lock smiths, lab techs, and-- per the agricultural legacy of Warren Wilson-- as row crop, animal, and vegetable farmers, gardeners, and edible landscapers.  Personally, I worked on the electric crew a

Man in Overalls - Growing Great Soil

Good soil will basically grow your groceries for you, but how do you build great soil?  The answer is that there are two options:  a quick & easy way and a DIY, hard(er) way.  So we're on the same page, I'm continuing my  #GrowYourGroceries The Easy Way  series by digging into the how-tos of growing great soil. These stories and techniques will likely make the most sense after reading Geeking on Good Soil , my last update. (I outlined where I was headed in  The Big Picture.) As I was saying, the easy way to build a great soil is to fill raised beds with a terrific compost-based soil mix like my  Magic Mix  to jump start your food garden  productivity  from year one. From there, seasonally, you simply top-dress each season before planting with another few inches of compost-based soil mix. This is how I manage my own food garden and those of my customers.  Why? Because at the root of things, I'm a lazy food gardener, and long ago I decided to embrace it. šŸ˜Ž

Man In Overalls - My Compost System

Composting, they say, is an art form. But, truth be told, I'm just too lazy for all that. My own compost philosophy is, "Crap rots in the woods, doesn't it?" But really. :) Whenever I think of home gardening systems, I always reflect back on my grandmother. She gardened up until the week she died at 93. She planted by the signs and assured me that's why her collards were not eaten up by bugs and were able to grow for 3 years running and up to 8 or 9 feet tall. She had a little rototiller, planted straight rows, mulched by spreading leaves to keep the weeds down. She threw out a little 10-10-10 from time to time and kept the cabbage worms at bay with Sevin dust. She hoed if the weeds called for it. But mostly, she harvested. Her pots were always full and her freezer always stuffed with produce: collards, mustards, turnips, peas, tomato gravy, squash, you name it. Now, I don't use 10-10-10 or sevin dust, and I'm not big on tilling. However, the thi

Man in Overalls - Summer Garden Blues & What To Do

Welcome to mid summer in the Deep South! If you're anything like me, you're actively looking for excuses to avoid going outside this time of year. The heat doesn't so much radiate down from the sun as it seems to rise from the side walk. Rain helps- for about ten minutes- and then simply adds to the humidity as it vaporizes on the payment, so that it feels like you need a snorkel to make it from the house to the car, but of course, it only gets worse when you turn on the AC, and that first puff of hot air feels as though someone just wrapped your face in a plastic bag - not to mention that if you cut your grass yesterday, you're going to have to do it again... tomorrow. And, lets not even talk about how fast the weeds grow this time of year! Or the insects seem to multiply! Oh, home... :) Here's the good news: If your garden looks a little worse for wear, it's okay. Really. Mine does too. As much as I aim for- and largely achieve- a productive & beauti

Man in Overalls - When to Plant Tomatoes

" Plant 'em in the spring. Eat 'em the summer. All winter without 'em's a culinary bummer ," as John Denver sings in "Home Grown Tomatoes."  So, just when should you plant* your homegrown tomatoes? Or, more generally, when should you plant your spring food garden? (For an abbreviated version of this post revised & published in Edible Northeast Florida, click here. ) Since tomatoes along with other spring favorites like squash, corn, green beans, cucumbers, peppers, and the like are "frost sensitive" (in other words, they'll die if it freezes), it's all about the "last frost date" for your area. Unless you're a weather savant and remember the last freeze for the past twenty years, you'll have to do some investigating. You could look up your Plant Hardiness Zone  on this cool "interactive" map from the USDA, and you'd learn that Jacksonville is in zone 9a, Tallahassee is in 8b, and At

Man in Overalls - How to Start a School Garden: Design

Before you get to build your school garden like this, before you can help kids get their hands dirty like this,  or teach kids in your school garden like this, there are a few things you've got to take care of first. The #1 most important thing you've got to do is build your team. I say- with no exaggeration-- that human infrastructure is THE most important aspect of developing a successful school garden. But, I already wrote about building your school garden team last time. Assuming you're on track with that, a simultaneous step is to begin developing your school garden design. Here are a few things to should consider as you develop a school garden design: Purpose In your school garden interest meeting, one of the first questions you should ask is: "Why are you interested in a school garden?" Interestingly, this question serves two purposes. First, it helps the team gel because there will likely be a lot of overlap in answers. This will

Man in Overalls - An Ode to Collards (Now with my recipes)

I love growing my groceries in the fall - watching the miracle of growth, having ready-access to the freshest produce money-can't buy, the many flavors, getting to try new varieties - all while the temperature drops to more and more pleasant levels. I enjoy growing most anything in the fall, but, if I had to choose just one thing to grow every fall for the rest of my life, it would be collard greens, hands down.  It's a health thing and an effort-to-yield calculation, but in the beginning, the roots of my collard green passion were seeded by family. When I was a kid about 9 or 10, just a couple years into gardening in the front yard , my aunt, the family documentarian showed me a clipping of my late grandfather from the Graceville New (or was it the Jackson County Times?) beneath his 9ft collard greens that he had kept alive multiple years, growing them into small trees. Not to be outdone, my grandmother grew a collard forest of her own. Seizing the moment, my