Last week, I was honored by Tallahassee Democrat as Volunteer of the Year and given the Jefferson Award for Public Service, an honor that highlights my work, yes, but was certainly given based on the impact that our whole Tallahassee Food Network team is making in our work across lines of division to grow community-based good food systems. Much thanks to Nancy Miller and her aid SarahKeith Valentine who nominated me.
Sue Dick, President of the Tallahassee Chamber delivered the following words (prepared by Leslie Smith) at the Volunteer of the Year Luncheon:
Nathan Ballentine, co-founder and volunteer co-director of the Tallahassee Food Network has been working for local food security since 2009. Along with the Tallahassee Food Network, Nathan coordinates monthly Collards and Cornbread gatherings, facilitates the Community Garden Network Circle and Farm-to-Table team. Nathan has cultivated roughly 260 organizational partnership and 740 personal relationships among those organizations, which are being leveraged to grow community-based food systems.
Nathan strongly insists that he and his team work across lines of division and bring people with varied perspectives to the table, especially across race, neighborhood, and income lines given the community/network segmentation. He is also volunteer coordinator of iGrow Whatever You Like, Tallahassee Food Networks youth empowerment and urban agriculture program which is responsible for the Dunn Street Youth Farm. 17 young people were trained as urban agriculture leaders as part of iGrow’s Leadership Corps. Nathan says, “You help me, I’ll help you and we’ll all get further than we would by ourselves.”
Surprised and honored, I offered a few statements of thanks:
Wow. You sketch out notes, but you never expect to use them. Wow. Thank you. Thank you, Nancy for the nomination. I'm grateful for the recognition that this award brings our team. My name is on the paper because this award highlights individuals, but this honor is for our whole team and key partners amidst the Tallahassee Food Network, who are working across lines of division to grow community-based good food systems. Thank you to my mother, Sue Wiley and father, Tom Ballentine who continue to model big picture thinking paired with bottom up grunt work. Thank you to my new wife, Mary Elizabeth who helps me workshop everything, who tolerates my schedule, who takes me on adventures. Thank you to Tallahassee Food Network. Thank you to my fellow board members, Miaisha Mitchell, Qasimah Boston, Joyce Brown, to the people who-- through under paid or unpaid entirely-- are functioning as staff, to the iGrow Whatever You Like team, to all the people who are both my co-workers and mentors. Thank's y'all for making it all possible, or being all-stars in my life, for allowing me to walk in the spotlight that rightfully belongs to us all for both our private and public work to grow and sustain a better world. It's an honor to run this race with y'all. Thank you for what you've done to support and shape me. Thank you for what you do and for all the reasons that your name should be in the hat for Volunteer of the Year. Thank you to the Tallahassee Democrat, to CenturyLink, and to all of you here. It's an honor to be recognized alongside so many amazing volunteers. Thank you.
To extend that thanks even further, I'd like to thank you-- the folks reading this blog, folks who receive my e-newsletter, my community-partners, friends, and co-conspirators in the effort to grow a better world. Thank you. You've encouraged me, inspired me, challenged me, helped me pay my bills, workshopped programs, business models, and movement tactics. You've waded through meetings, shoveled compost, planted seeds, empowered young people, and cultivated community-based food systems with your creativity, sweat, and resources. You've been the threads of the food movement fabric of which I'm a part. Thank you for doing what you do. Keep up the good work.
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In what is perhaps the height of ironies, in twenty minutes I'll walk next door to participate in my last Collards and Cornbread Gathering for a while. At the beginning of June, my wife, Mary Elizabeth and I will embark on a traveling adventure for the coming year (or two). Though Tallahassee will always be my home, I will be laying my head elsewhere for the foreseeable future. If this is the first you're hearing of my departure, don't be too alarmed; I'll remain linked to Tallahassee. I'll simply be connecting and learning across a larger geographical arena. ...You can trust Ms. Miaisha Mitchell not to let me get too far.