By Betty Boyd, Owner of Boyd Writing Services
Man In Overalls Nathan Ballentine and his wife Mary Elizabeth are on a journey to cultivate a new generation of gardeners.
Here’s the dirt on Nathan Ballentine: He has been gardening since he was eight. He was known as the kid who gardened on the corner. For him a great workout is working in the dirt and being a part of the land.
His gym clothes aren’t a Nike Dri-FIT shirt and Adidas Techfit Chill Shorts. It’s a little less breathable and a lot more rugged. It’s a pair of overalls. Nathan Ballentine is, “Man In Overalls” and if you can keep up with him you’ll likely be breaking a sweat doing maximum reps and getting dirt on you too.
The concept for Man in Overalls came about because his grandfather wore overalls every day of his life. In fact, he was buried in his overalls, and his children put seed packets into his breast pocket. This influenced Nathan to envision himself dressed like the farmer in the American Gothic painting combined with a sign saying, “will garden for food”. The concept was a hit and today inspires a growing number of people who want “locally sourced” food to be the fruit of their own hard work.
Ballentine isn’t just physically active and growing good food. He is busy being an influence in his community and beyond. Nathan is a skilled gardener who was honored in May 2014, as the Tallahassee Democrat Volunteer of the Year. He received the Jefferson Award for Public Service for Tallahassee Food Network's efforts in growing community-based good food systems. Another achievement was the Warren Wilson College Alumni Distinguished Community Service Award in October 2013.
Nathan is the author of, So You Want to Start a School Garden, which was published by the Florida Department of Agriculture. He has been featured in the ABC Documentary entitled, A Peace of Bread, Urban Farming Magazine, the Tallahassee Democrat, and Natural Awakenings. Man In Overalls with a message to share is however just part of the picture. His wife (the other half of his American Gothic picture) rounds out a vision that is being embraced by many couples and individuals.
Nathan and Mary Elizabeth Ballentine’s story begins when they knew each other in high school. Their friendship grew while at Montreat Presbyterian Conference Center. They got married in 2014. Since then, God has led them to their present journey of helping their community and other communities improve where they live.
The Ballantine’s both have a passion for food. They were raised in gardening families. So exercise to raise highly nutritious food has figuratively and literally been a very organic workout for them. However, it was the 2008 economic crisis that served as the catalyst for Nathan to start his food gardening business. He saw a need in his community and a Bible passage from the book of James, “Faith without works is dead” inspired him to make sure people could as he says, “grow their own groceries.”
In the fall of 2009, Nathan started his food gardening business. It was an obvious thing for him to do for two reasons: one it helped generate an income and “pay the bills”, and two, he wanted to foster a stronger connection with those in his community.
Nathan and Mary Elizabeth, want local faith communities to start doing garden ministry as a way to offer a fresh expression of how ‘church’ can be experienced. They say, “Churches should organize health ministries within their congregations, incorporating fellowship, diet, wellness and exercise. Wellness is a broader term that encompasses the components of medical, mental, emotional and eating healthy.”
- Love and serve
- Build community
- Make disciples
- Form church
- Do it again
Read Kaya Prasad’s full article that more fully explains each of these tips.
Mary Elizabeth relates, “In American culture we are taught not to accept gifts. However, when someone gives you their extra produce from their garden, this develops a point of connection.” Sharing produce with others along with recipes gives a true spiritual meaning to their work.
For more about Nathan's session at Faith & Fitness Magazine's Redefined Conference go to our Redefined Conference site.
While gardening is a dynamic form of Christian mission and community engagement it is also a great form of exercise. The Ballantine’s do box gardening. So each season they shovel lots of compost to mix into the beds. This utilizes biceps, triceps, quads, glutes and the back. In the off-season when they are not growing a garden, they turn compost, which is equally a great workout.
Beyond the garden, Nathan and Mary Elizabeth enjoy keeping active in other ways. Their daily workout includes walking and stretches. They also like to swim and bike as part of their fitness routine. Living near the beach gives them the opportunity to play in the waves. Mary Elizabeth loves all forms of dance, especially Irish. Together, they choreograph a workout that brings focus for people to have a stronger, more intentional and valuable way of living.
Nathan describes it this way, “In today’s culture people have hectic lives and do not have time to cook. So, they look to fast food to meet their basic food needs. I'm on a journey to cultivate a new generation of gardeners and farmers. If we grow it, we'll eat it. We desperately need a diet change in this country for the sake of our life expectancy.”
Nathan and Mary Elizabeth live, work, pray, and play in Jacksonville, Florida. Learn more about Nathan's work on his Man In Overalls website.
This cover story appears in the August/September 2017 issue of Faith & Fitness Magazine.