As someone who loves food, my normal TV rotation includes Cooking Channel and Food Network. Beyond loving to consume food, I love the art of cooking; from the precision of the knife cuts to the architecture of the finished plates. Whether you are an Iron Chef or a home cook, it is common knowledge that a good meal starts with quality ingredients. There is nothing better than “fresh from the garden” produce, unless you are like me and have a black thumb. The opportunity to pick up a couple of tips made me more excited to meet Jacksonville’s Man in Overalls, Nathan Ballentine.
Nathan’s business, “Man in Overalls” has been helping North Floridians refine their gardening skills for about 10 years. He has helped with around 100 gardens in Jacksonville alone, providing services ranging from turnkey to more DIY options. Much of what Nathan does is install raised bed gardens for folks who’d love to have fresh greens all season. Interested in having him install one at your house? Head over to his website www.maninoveralls.com. I asked him what his best tip is for someone starting a garden. He told me to grow what is in season and to think of elementary school- sunlight, soil (he sells his own “magic mix” compost, soil, and nutrient mixture!), and water.
In addition to helping others with their gardens, Nathan has created a large neighborhood garden. Ten families in his community have a membership to the garden where they can come and pick what they want, when they want. This is truly Nathan’s passion- bringing the community together through food. The garden helps people find commonalities that push past typical boundaries. They hosted a farm to table dinner recently and he teaches workshops for all ages and skill levels (for more details, check him out on Facebook).
Beyond the community aspect, there is an economic value to gardening that Nathan is passionate about. “You can’t plant a quarter and expect money to grow, but you can take a piece of food, put it in the ground and grow more.” He used collard greens as an example. If you were to buy them in the store, you would be paying over $3/lb for the organic version. With his 12 plants. Nathan grew over 150lbs in one season! Fun fact- collard greens have a notable amount of protein for a vegetable.
To Nathan, gardening is so much more than just growing food. It is teaching solutions to issues like health, money, and sustainability. Once you know what you are doing, it is easier than you think. He compared it to washing dishes. If we do them daily it doesn’t take too long, but if we let them build up, it can be a monumental task. If you spend two minutes a day tending to your garden, you can avoid major work. The Man in Overalls can help the lazy gardener do nothing, the novice gardener start from scratch, the “know enough to be dangerous” gardener maintain, and the knowledgeable gardener excel (check out his “what you can grow resource” on his website, http://maninoveralls.blogspot.com/!). Nathan has taken his passion for gardening and his community to grow something great.