"Magnolia Students Break Ground on a Pizza Garden" -- Tallahassee Democrat, 3/1/2010

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By Teresa Youngblood, special to the Democrat, previous Magnolia School Teacher

When his father asked him about his school day, Caleb Mathison, 13, replied, "I feel good. I moved a lot of dirt."

And he and 15 of his classmates have the muddy shoes and dirt-caked fingernails to prove it.

On Friday, the middle-schoolers along with two teachers, two parents, and Nathan Ballentine, "The Man in Overalls" behind local gardening business Tallahassee Food Gardens, transformed a 20- by 15-foot unused yard into 10 individual raised garden beds at the Magnolia School on Tharpe Street.

The school has one of the longest-standing school gardens in the area, first started in 1990. But the current class of middle-school students wanted to break ground on an additional garden to make better use of a sunny space and to have something of their own to contribute.

The teachers were delighted to help, but had their own aspirations for the project.

"Hopefully, we'll grow enough food to eat a meal together on Fridays," said Sharon McQueen, one of the middle-school teachers. "We wanted them to get outdoors, and learn about food, but also, to do something real and hands-on where they were working together, something that builds community."

McQueen asked Ballentine to help create the garden, which the students designed and will maintain themselves. When he arrived at lunch time, he wore his trademark dungarees and brought a truck full of compost. He got right to work, putting tools in students' hands and showing them how to till and weed the soil.

"I want everyone to be able to eat good," said Ballentine, "and that's going to mean an increase in the number of people who grow their own food."

How to grow food is part of the human knowledge base, he said, and that information comes not only from people who consider themselves farmers, but also those who learned how to grow food as children.

"I got started gardening when I was 8, as part of a homeschooling project," said Ballentine. He smiled remembering his early efforts: "I grew nasty lettuce and weird, split carrots that first year."

But from that humble beginning he learned how to grow his own food, a skill he is now committed to sharing with others.

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