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
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