A Growing Movement

Back home from the American Community Gardening Association annual conference in Atlanta, GA.

Below you can see our Tallahassee Delegation (left to right): Qasima P. Boston, Robbie Estevez, Nathan Ballentine, Joyce Brown (to see Joyce's reflections on the trip, here's her blog), Thomas Lynch (below), Mark Tancig (above), and Merlin John Baptiste.  After a day and a half of the conference-- where we joined over 250 other community garden leaders from 38 states and five countries--folks began responding to my introduction ("Nathan, from Tallahassee) by saying, "You're another person from there.  How many of you are there?!"  Aside from New York-- which brought a bus of 40 people-- we were one of the larger groups.

The conference was tremendous, both in terms of the quality of the people, the presentations/workshops and the tours around Atlanta.  Here's a partial list of links to organizations/ farmers/ programs that presented or were referenced: Growing Hope in Ypsilanti, MI; GRuB (Garden Raised Bounty) in Olympia, WA; Farmer D Organics in Atlanta, GA; Johnathan Tescher with Georgia Organic's Urban Agricultural Training Program also in Atlanta, GA; Truly Living Well farm in Atlanta, GA; Austin, Texas' Sustainable Food Center; Portland, Oregon's Parks and Recreation Community Garden Program; and Sankofa Vision in Shreveport, LA.

Although the conference offerings were exciting, the piece that caused me the most enthusiasm was bonding and strategizing with our Tallahassee Group.  (Below is a picture of us at the "Taste of the South" party Friday evening at one of Atlanta's Urban Farms.)

At the close of every day, we gathered for "report backs," at which we would update each other on the various workshops we'd attended, people and ideas we'd encountered and/or the local community gardens we visited separately.  By splitting up, we were able to cover more ground, seeping up as much information and inspiration as possible.

On Sunday, just after the close of the conference, we gathered again; this time the conversation was focused on hopes and dreams for Tallahassee.  We each filled out an index card with two prompts (#1 Inspired by the conference, what do you want to work on upon your return to Tallahassee?  And #2 What is a challenge or question that you anticipate that you'll encounter as you strive for your dream?) and then presented our ideas to the delegation.   I'd like to record here the dreams and challenges that we shared with one another.

Qasima wants to start a Youth Food Leadership Institute that will train young people to be community garden, healthy eating and living, and urban agricultural leaders; she hopes to involve and inspire them through the arts.  She anticipates difficulties fundraising for such a project.

Mark wants to help "further promote community gardens in Tallahassee by getting more people involved.  He anticipates there will be challenges associated with "finding out what people want and relating it to gardening."

Merlin John Baptiste wants to champion the founding of a school garden at Astoria Park Elementary.  She also wants to create an agricultural "extention" program whereby Astoria Park students could travel to the Virgin Islands to learn at the many sustainable farms which Merlin knows about.  Funding is an anticipated challenge.

Robbie would like to see the core group (our delegation to the conference) of "like-minded" community garden activists expanded.  He also wants to establish regular meetings to solidify current and future relationships with other food garden/ community garden leaders.  His question was: "Are you with me? and When's the next time we can meet?"  A man of action.

Joyce wants "to create a product that will enable us to engage the community in community gardens" possibly employing the arts as a medium through which to approach/involve people.  She anticipates it will be difficult to recruit stakeholders who have enough time to contribute meaningfully.

Thomas Lynch wants to champion a Farm to School Program for Leon County Schools.  He anticipates challenges with "politics."

My dream is this: "I want to help develop and facilitate a series of workshops in Tallahassee that will network, inspire and equip emerging community garden leaders (specifically targeting teachers, religious communities, neighborhoods, youth centers and companies interested in starting community gardens)."  My question is: "How do I make sure the groups I recruit represent a cross section of neighborhoods, race and income categories so as to ensure a dynamic process?"

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Thanks to all who supported our trip by purchase of Food Garden Consultation Certificates.  It was a huge help.  All told, the certificates covered the cost of three registrations.  That's huge.  Thanks.