By Lauren McDonald
A young farmer discovered last month at the Georgia Organics Conference that his farm has formed a reputation among Georgia farmers.
“They would ask me, ‘What does your farm do?’” said Nathan Brett, owner of DaySpring Farms. “I’d tell them ‘We produce stone mill flour.’”
“Oh, you guys are the stone mill flour guys.”
Brett laughed and replied, “Yeah, that’s us.”
Customers will return to the Athens Farmers Market on April 4 at Bishop Park, and Brett is one of several young farmers who have emerged as local market celebrities.
“We heard that soon enough, instead of having celebrity chefs we would have celebrity farmers,” said Jan Kozak, manager of the Athens Farmers Market. “And lo and behold, we’ve got some farmers in our local market that are not necessarily celebrities but have done a good job of marketing themselves to where they’re really recognizable.”
DaySpring Farms is one of the nearly 100 small farms in and around Athens-Clarke County, all of which contribute to what Kozak calls a “burgeoning” local food scene.
“In the case of Athens, we have a fairly young farmer scene, and all that really contributes to the really great, vibrant local food scene that we have,” Kozak said.
Brett and his father Murray opened DaySpring Farms in 2011 in Danielsville, about 20 miles outside of Athens.
DaySpring Farms produces organically certified wheat, corn and produce. The 90-acre farm’s most well-known feature is its stone mill, which grounds wheat into flour.
“There may be a handful of other farms in Georgia that are growing organic wheat,” Brett said.
DaySpring Farms has expanded rapidly since it began four years ago.
The farm produced 30,000 pounds of organic wheat in 2014. Brett said they hope to sell 60,000 pounds this year.
But before 2011, Brett had very little interest in running his own farm.
Brett studied music business at the University of Georgia until 2008. He then moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to pursue a career as a musician.
He dreamed of seeing his name up in lights.
“For the better part of my college career and afterwards, I was very intent on making a name for myself as a singer, songwriter or performer,” Brett said. “I wanted to the next Ryan Adams or Bob Dylan.”
His father convinced him to make a career in farming instead.
“He grew up on a farm in South Georgia,” Brett said. “He moved away from the farm to go to school. He says that he wishes he had never left. In about 2009, he got in my ear and talked me into moving back to the farm.”
So the Brett family bought a piece of foreclosed property in Danielsville.
DaySpring Farms sprung up on the local Athens food scene by taking part in the Farmers Market and building a client base. The farm began with just three acres of wheat.
Their biggest buyers have been Heirloom Café and the Independent Bakery, Brett said. Last month, he also began selling to The National and Five & Ten in Athens.
Chef Hugh Acheson, owner of The National and Five & Ten, buys 70 percent of food for both restaurants locally.
He said several new young farmers like Brett have sprung up on the local food scene in Athens lately, many of whom are finding ways to distinguish themselves, just like Brett has done by grinding his own flour.
“There’s a lot of new people doing some really cool stuff,” Acheson said. “As much as there’s new stuff on the rise, though, there’s also a lot of old timers that I still want to support.”
Brett said the Athens community recognizes the stone flour mill as his farm’s trademark, which he said improves his sales, as well as his notoriety.
DaySpring Farms has more control over where it sells crops, Brett said, because it owns its own stone mill. The farm can grind and store the flour because the mill is on-site, rather than outsourcing to a separate mill.
Brett keeps his business viable by storing and then selling the wheat throughout the year.
Brett did not expect to develop a passion for organic, sustainable farming.
In the past four years, though, he said his goal has become to share this philosophy with the Athens community, and he hopes to use his new-found fame to do so.
“Not only is there a need for farmers to produce real food, but it’s also extremely important to be a productive contributing member to society,” Brett said. “Farmers have an extremely unique responsibility in that. They provide one of the most essential things to the local community, and that’s food. Responsible farmers lead to more responsible communities.”
Brett no longer aspires to be a celebrity. Today, he only hopes to sustain his business, educate the community on organic farming and spend time with his wife and 3-month-old son.
“Living with that kind of mentality where you want to see your name in lights can be pretty damaging,” he said. “I’m grateful to have moved away from that, and I don’t really care if people know who I am. If I can provide a good living for my family, then I’m happy for that.”
For activist Gretchen Smith, the environment is something worth fighting for. At a young age, she began to make changes in her life to lessen her own footprint in the environment.
“I have never owned a car,” Smith said. “I have always ridden my bike wherever I need to go. I am building a home in Athens that will run off of Solar Energy and recycle my water whenever possible. I am unplugged to the technological advances that have caused the environmental damages around us.”
The Keystone Pipeline Debate in Washington D.C. has sparked a debate across the country for people like Smith. For activists, the pipeline represents more than an oil line coming through the northern parts of the United States.
It means opening up more chances for oil and natural gas companies to bring pipelines all over the country and eventually cause harmful environmental changes to the Earth as we know it.
“Pipelines bring the access debris from the burning of oil to the water sources in order to dump it,” Smith explained. “By doing this, the pipeline threatens water supplies all around the country.”
Smith is an advocate with the Georgia Climate Change Coalition (GCCC) which has been organizing protests all over Athens and has staged protests at the University of Georgia Arch. The GCCC is responsible for shedding light to Georgians about the recent statistics involving the changes in the environment because of oil and natural gas practices such as the pipelines.
“If the Keystone bill is passed in congress, more pipelines will stretch through the States. A new pipeline is being debated to come from Texas into the southern states to ruin our waters,” Smith explains. “Texas will profit from destroying our waters with their oil.”
University of Georgia (UGA) Professor in Multi Cultural Literature, LeAnne Howe, knows the effects of laws impacting Native American Tribes. At UGA, she teaches her students about the Native American prespective of being overrun by government for the past hundreds of years through literature. As a member of the Choctow tribe in Ada, Oklahoma, her people’s homelands, natural resources, and waters await the decision in Washington.
Howe was not willing to comment on the impact of the Keystone Pipeline as a whole on the Native American people due to tribal sovereignty, but she was willing to offer her own general prespective.
“The pipeline will affect the wildlife in the areas without creating jobs per se,” Howe said.
Tara Houska is a tribal rights attorney in Washington D.C. In an article on Indian Country Media Network’s, she stated: “The bill will approve a pipeline that will send tar sands oil through traditional tribal lands and the Mni Wiconi Rural Water Project, which provides the drinking water of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, Rosebud Sioux Tribe, and Lower Brule Sioux Tribe.”
GCCC Dan Everett states the overall climate change is something to be aware of as well.
“Climate changes everything. Every person on earth, every non-human species, and everything you care about will be damaged by this unfolding catastrophe,” Everett said. “We need to pay attention to the sheer magnitude of the impacts.”
According to Everett, The projected level of global warming — 4 to 6 degrees Celsius or more will make it difficult to maintain a “functioning and compassionate” human civilization as well.
The Keystone Pipeline and other pipelines like it impact moves to discover a gas better for the atmosphere to try to prevent more lasting damage.
“Oil from these pipelines burns dirty,” Smith explains. “It causes unsafe levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This would mean continuing impacts around the world.”
University of Georgia students have protested with members of the GCCC to raise awareness about the impacts of the pipelines on the environment in Clarke County.
A bike ride was planned by the organization to deliver a petition to Governor Deal to persuade Georgia politicians in Washington D.C. to vote against Keystone.
“By riding our bikes,” Smith said. “We also showed how we were making changes in our routine to save our environment in Athens.”
On Feb. 24, President Obama vetoed the bill to expedite the Keystone Pipeline; however a vote in the senate scheduled on Thursday is expected to override President Obama’s veto.
If you blink, you’ll miss 230 Boulevard. You’ll miss the bags of soil and the saplings waiting in blue recycling bins. The mayor and commission approved plans in February to turn the tiny lot into Boulevard Woods, a community park.
Land is very expensive in the historic neighborhood, but owner Gary Bayard chose not to clear it and sell to a developer; instead he placed it in a conservation easement, a privately owned property that can’t be mined, timber farmed, or developed, per the owner’s request.
Boulevard is only one lot out of more than 800 acres in Athens-Clarke County designated as conservation easements.
But to the average Athens-Clarke County resident, what difference does a conservation area make? Most of the county’s 120,000 residents rent, not own, property.
The answer: land conservation protects biodiversity and ecosystem services such as clean air and water. Athens area conservation protects the water supply in particular.
Many easements border the middle Oconee River or its tributaries. Athens Land Trust protects more than 600 acres along the Oconee in multiple counties.
People care about water, said Dr. Liz Kramer of the Natural Resources Spatial Analysis Lab. “When we start seeing a stress on a resource, it’s going to impact us.”
Georgia’s land and water are stressed more than ever, Kramer said. “Georgia changes a lot because we have a lot of development,” she said.
Permanent easements insure some of Georgia’s resources are maintained.
Because more than 95-percent of Georgia land is privately owned, these easements are the most effective tool for conservation, according Clint McNeal, Georgia Land Conservancy conservation specialist. Landowners retain the rights to sell and bequeath the land, local governments receive property taxes, and registered conservation trusts care for the land and its resources in perpetuity.
The State Assembly introduced the tax incentive program in 1993 to encourage more land owners to protect forests, wetlands, and greenspaces from destruction.
The state offers transferable tax credits for 25-percent of the land’s resale value minus the development or timber value prohibited by the easement, up to $250,000.
The credit especially helps “land-rich, cash-poor” individuals who can sell the credit for about 80 cents on the dollar, said McNeal, although as few as eight easements in the state qualified for credits last year.
Limited liability corporations also contributed to the increase in number of easements in the last two to three years, said Athens Land Trust Conservation Director Kyle Williams.
Although people tend to think of conservation areas as large tracks of land like Bear Creek Reservoir, the average size of an easement in Athens-Clarke County is 67 acres, that’s about two city blocks.
In the Boulevard neighborhood, less than half an acre makes a difference. Boulevard Woods will provide a greenspace in Athens’ urban center, a unique role in the growing city.
Boulevard is an affluent pocket in a mixed student, townie, and low-income area. Williams says the conservation easement is a really a community easement.
“Recognizing a tree is valuable, or a flower, gives them a greater sense of stewardship of resources.”
By: Aaron Conley
The information desk at a local bookstore is not the first place that anyone would expect to find one of the most polarizing political figures in a community, but that is exactly where you will find Tim Denson, and that is exactly how he likes it.
Standing behind the information desk at the Barnes and Noble, his signature beard makes him instantly recognizable, more so than by the simple “Tim” emblazoned on his nametag. His job further exemplifies his status as a political outsider, a central role in his 2014 mayoral campaign.
That campaign failed, and left Tim Denson with a lot of ideas, and a lot of questions, but no answers. Those answers are exactly what Tim is still trying to provide to his supporters today, nine months after the election. Read the rest of this entry »
By Clay Reynolds
Jill Helme brings a unique mix of skills to her new position as director of the downtown Athens based nonprofit AthFest Educates.
A former English teacher and school administrator, she left her job working with a school system in Orlando Florida to pursue a masters degree in nonprofit leadership – a step she took with an ultimate objective of becoming the executive director of a nonprofit organization centered around education or youth.
A nonprofit like this one was exactly what she had in mind.
“My entire path has been leading me to this,” Helme said.
Helme, named director of the organization this past week, replaces previous director and founder Jared Bailey, who stepped down earlier this year. She takes over the position April 15.
She comes into the job hoping to help the organization set a more of a future vision in its efforts at sponsoring music and arts education programs for kids in local schools.
AthFest Educates supports grants to local educators through its two well-known fundraisers: the AthFest Music and Arts Festival each summer and the AthHalf half marathon every fall.
Highly successful with those events, the organization’s board wanted to bring in someone who could help better translate those dollars into the community impact they want to make.
Helme fit into their plan perfectly.
“Their mission is so clear. They just want to make sure they can achieve that mission,” she said. “I felt like I was a big piece of that puzzle.”
Helme moved to Athens last year when her husband took a job with the University of Georgia’s Dept. of Student Affairs.
She joined in on his trip to interview for the position, and made sure to bring along their 2-year-old son so they both could scout out Athens as a place to live, work and go to school.
It made the cut.
“It was really important to me to feel like we could live and work in a college town even though we were not directly connected to the school,” Helme said.
She graduated with a bachelors degree from the University of Florida – a college town atmosphere she said is totally different from Athens.
“Living in a place like Gainesville, truly the whole culture was the college,” she said. “Athens has a complete separate identity. People who aren’t connected to the university still have a whole separate culture.”
Quite a bit of that culture will reside just outside the door of her new downtown office, housed in the AthFest headquarters on Clayton Street. She’s only been there a few times, but is still new enough to not have memorized the address.
Helme expects the change in leadership to be largely transparent, especially since she’ll leave much of the organizing work behind this year’s already-scheduled music festival and race to those who have done it in years previous.
She will mostly throw her efforts behind evaluating the programs AthFest helps fund for effectiveness and purpose, and look to develop long-term plans for improving them.
“They’re clear on who they want to serve and the kind of impact they want to have,” Helme said of the AthFest board’s objectives. “What’s not perfectly clear is where they want to be in three years. They want somebody to help pull all those ideas together and to get it into some kind of vision.”
She describes her passion as working with youth, ages 13-20. She realized that in five years spent teaching English and language arts, four of them in Orlando and a fifth in Valencia, Venezuela.
Helme eventually moved out of education to do more work dealing with youth development and after-school programming. Her family spent time living in Orlando, Philadelphia and Chicago before making their most recent move to Athens.
They felt attracted to the Classic City for a number of reasons, especially the low cost of living, which has enabled them to spend more time together. But she was most intrigued by the sense of community she noticed in all spheres of Athens life.
“It’s definitely a community effort,” Helme said. “Everybody is focused on doing what’s going to build and better their community.”
Athens is different from places she’s previously lived, but is great in its own way.
“There are a lot of things I miss,” she said. “But a lot of great things about living in a smaller town that you couldn’t replicate anywhere else.”