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Nathan Ballentine is an urban agricultural entrepreneur. A renaissance man, he is part food gardener, part educator, part community food organizer. He creates raised vegetable gardens, plants fruit trees, installs herb gardens, and develops edible landscapes. However, he also supports community and school gardens, offers food gardening workshops, and volunteers and fundraises for local food security initiatives.
Nathan designed his own Integrative Studies major, called “Community Organizing and Leadership.” During his time at Warren Wilson, he worked on electric crew and the landscaping crew, with his focus being the Eco Dorm garden, creating an edible landscape. By his second year, he was crew leader. “It was conferred on me that even if I didn’t know it all, I knew enough to get by and keep going and learning. Without that experience I wouldn’t have thought about starting my own organization and doing gardening as a food venture,” Nathan says, “Warren Wilson was huge in enabling me to do what I am doing.”
While at Warren Wilson, Nathan also did a great deal of service with churches in the area. Much of this work was youth mentoring. Nathan volunteered with Montreat as a small group leader and worked with Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church’s middle school aged children. “I facilitated a small group of 25 to 30 kids, engaging them with their faith in a meaningful way,” Nathan says, “I facilitated an open space to ask tough questions about their lives and what things meant.” Nathan also volunteered with BorderLinks, an organization that uses experiential education to deal with the issues of immigration, community formation, development, and social justice in the borderlands between Mexico and the United States.
After graduating, Nathan worked the summer at Glacier National Park driving a 1936 convertible tour bus and giving tours about the mountains and the history. He then traveled back South to the border where he had studied with BorderLinks when he was a student at Warren Wilson. Nathan worked with Humane Borders, a humanitarian organization that is motivated by faith to offer assistance to those in need through the deployment of emergency water stations on and near the US-Mexico border. He helped people who were destitute in the desert, doing water and first aid runs for the migrant workers walking sixty to eighty miles through the desert heat. In Nogales, he also worked at a soup kitchen run by nuns who fed deportees and kids whose parents worked in the Free Trade Zone factories.
After this service work, Nathan moved back to his hometown of Tallahassee. Having studied organizing and social movements, he wanted to be able to contribute in a significant way. Nathan spent a year dong projects and volunteer opportunities while scraping together to make it work. Then he started a social enterprise that he calls Tallahassee Food Gardens, which facilitates community and school gardens and enables local folks to raise food for self and neighbor. This has provided a platform to for Nathan to earn a living doing something he loves.
“I would not be doing what I’m doing now, if I hadn’t gone to Warren Wilson College. Warren Wilson provided a space to learn on my own and through the structure of classes, the work program and service. Warren Wilson helped me to have the confidence to think I could try something like this on my own.”
To visit Nathan's website for the Tallahassee Food Gardens, click here!