Athens taxi drivers support Atlanta Uber lawsuit, cite safety concerns

By Evelyn Andrews

“It was hard to get a ride with Uber when they first came to Athens, but now it’s easier and cheaper than a taxi normally,” said Sydney Browning, who has ridden with the service several times.

Affordability and the easiness of getting a ride with Uber is often cited as a reason people choose the service over traditional taxis, but Uber’s lack of government oversight and background checks has led to some people to question the safeness of using them.

“I did not know that Uber doesn’t have some requirements that taxi drivers have and I do feel a little more worried getting a ride with them now,” Browning, a student at the University of Georgia, said.

Uber, a ride-sharing service, has been expanding across the globe since 2012 and debuted in Athens in August 2014. Uber, a part of the sharing economy such as Airbnb and bike rental services, operates in 55 countries and over 200 cities as of December 2014.

Uber has not been immune to mishaps, including being banned from India after allegations of rape and surge pricing during the hostage crisis in Sydney, Australia. Several taxi cab companies worldwide have sued Uber on the basis that they do not follow regulations. Athens Uber operations also have not been immune to these types of controversies, but no lawsuits have been filed.

“The real question should be is, ‘is it safe?’” said Ted Ledall, a dispatcher for United Taxi Cab in Athens, Georgia. “To be an Uber driver, there are no qualifications.”

Several taxi cab owners and drivers from Atlanta sued the ride-sharing service in September 2014, claiming Uber is operating a taxi service without a license. Many Athens taxi cab owners and drivers agree with their decision and are supporting them, Ledall said.

“We support them 110 percent,” he said.

But taxi companies in Athens are not planning their own lawsuit. Instead, they are relying on Mayor Nancy Denson.

“Everything is on the mayor’s table rights now,” Ledall said.

He said Mayor Denson should require all Uber drivers in Athens to adhere to the same regulation that taxi companies are required to follow. Athens ordinances require taxi cab drivers to receive a background check through the police department and to have a valid driver’s license with no points acquired in order to be issued a taxi license drivers are required to have.

“We check our drivers so much, there is no felonies, nothing in their background,” Ledall said.

However, one in five taxi drivers in Athens have accumulated a number of traffic or other violations within the last 10 years, according to The Red & Black.

No ordinances exist in Athens-Clarke County or state laws in Georgia that stipulate requirements for Uber, but city officials, according to The Red & Black, are reviewing ordinances that could be passed.

Hasan Ahmed, an Athens Uber driver, said the company does have stringent requirements for drivers. They do an internal background check, making sure the drivers have a valid license with a clean record.

“I don’t think you could make the argument that Uber is any less safe than taxis,” Ahmed said.

But some law makers argue that Uber still needs official government regulations, including Rep. Alan Powell (R-Hartwell) who is trying to pass legislation requiring Uber drivers to pass a government background check.

The government also requires taxi drivers to pass a drug test in order to obtain a license. Uber does not make drivers pass these tests, which Browning said is worrying.

Uber drivers are also required to have a car that is less than 10 years old, Ahmed said. Many people have said they feel safer riding with an Uber driver for that reason. Athens’ taxis are often in bad condition, older and poorly maintained, Browning said.

“I have ridden in a few taxis that do not even working gauges for speed and gas before,” she said.

Ledall deflected that argument by arguing that taxis still have more regulation than Uber. Additionally, Uber price gauges riders and charges them exorbitant prices for vomiting in the car, neither of which taxis do, Ledall said.

However, taxis in Athens do not have meters that measure the distant driven and assign a price for the riders. This makes the price taxis drivers tell riders seem arbitrary, Browning said.

No taxi drivers have harassed Ahmed, but he has been stopped by police several times, he said. However, he does not fault the officers, but rather the lack of awareness about the laws guiding Uber.

“Everything is so new and no one really knows what the rules are so sometimes the police just get confused,” Ahmed said.

According to an Athens-Clarke County police report, an Uber driver was stopped by a police officer on Jan. 9 and told to finish the ride and not take any more riders because Uber is not a licensed taxi.

Athens Uber operations has acquired several more drivers since beginning in the city in 2014 and will remain a competitive force against taxis, Ahmed said.

“I think everyone has noticed that they are many more Uber drivers,” Ahmed said.


Georgia laws stymie craft beer sales

By Evelyn Andrews

Many people visiting breweries come in expecting to buy beer or bottles to take home. Laws restricting brewery sales make that impossible in Georgia, a fact Erin Moschak, a manager at Creature Comforts Brewing Company, says causes confusion for customers and ultimately, lost profits for breweries.

“At least 10 people a day will just not understand. They want to walk in and buy a beer,” Moschak said. “They don’t understand that they cannot buy a beer directly and sometimes they will get extremely confused and even leave.”

Instead of selling beer, Creature Comforts and similar breweries sell a glass that the beer is distributed in along with a wristband that allows a customer six samples of free beer since they are not allowed to sell beer to consumers. Moschak said this system “essentially the same” as selling beer directly.

The laws in Georgia restricting breweries that cause these situations were enacted during the post-Prohibition era and have remained largely unaltered since then. These laws restrict breweries ability to sell alcohol directly to consumers, force them to be open to the public for a certain number of hours and do not allow them to sell beer that consumers can take home. Georgia beer brewers and state legislators are hoping to change that.

Sen. Hunter Hill (R-Smyrna) introduced last week the Georgia Beer Jobs Act, Senate Bill 63. The bill would allow breweries, such as Creature Comforts or Terrapin, to sell up to 72 ounces of beer per person. Copper Creek Brewery and other brewpubs, breweries sell food in addition to beer, like it would be able to 144 ounces per person. Both breweries and brewpubs would be allowed to sell a 12-pack of beer that a customer could take off the premises of the business.

Sen. Frank Ginn (R-Athens), one of five co-sponsors of the bill, said Georgia is losing revenue and tourism because of the restrictions.

“I think we are missing some opportunities on growing our industries and, more particularly, a lot of tourism capabilities,” said Sen. Ginn, the chairman of the Economic Development and Tourism Committee.

However, the amount of revenue that Georgia would gain if the laws were repealed is unclear, Sen. Ginn.

Many local brewery owners agree that the laws hurt their businesses’ growth and stifle the creation of new breweries.

Data from the Brewer’s Association shows Georgia is No. 44 in the nation for breweries per capita, a fact many hypothesize as a result of the restrictions placed on the businesses. The state is No. 29 in the nation for total breweries with a total of No. 22, according to data by the New Yorker.

Only five states in the U.S., including Georgia, do not allow breweries to sell alcohol directly to customers, according to statistics from the Brewer’s Association. The last in the Southeast to continue enforcing these laws is Georgia.

Repealing the three-tier system comprises a core part of the bill, which has to be done in order to for breweries to sell alcohol to consumers. The three-tier system divides the groups involved in selling beer into three sections that define their limitations on selling beer.

“The three-tier system keeps a strict line between the people that manufacture alcohol, distribute alcohol and retail alcohol,” Sen. Gill said.

Breweries manufacture the beer that is sold to distributors who then sell the beer to retailers which consumers buy the beer from. This system was created to stifle the creation of monopolies and protect consumers.

Distributors of alcohol comprise the majority of the support base for the current laws, contending that the laws protect concerns, according to a Flagpole Magazine article. However, Sen. Ginn said that while that was a concern during the Prohibition era when the laws were created, enough consumer protection laws now exist to eliminate that issue.

“There were not as many consumer protection laws during the Prohibition era that there are today,” Sen. Gill said. “That is one of the arguments against the three-tier system, that there is more opportunity to protect the public today.”

The three-tier system still in effect, in part, because of the effect religion has on people’s perceptions of alcohol, Sen. Ginn said.

“The way that we treat breweries in Georgia has a lot to do with our history and people’s upbringings and beliefs, such as people look at like alcohol is a sin,” he said.

Passing the bill could be a formidable task due to the power of distributors’ lobbying efforts, according to a Flagpole Magazine article, and could amount to a two-year process. However, Sen. Ginn said the bill has been assigned to a committee and will vote on the bill in the coming weeks.

The supporters of the bill hope that the bill will also define brewpubs restrictions, allow breweries to set their own hours and change tasting room restrictions.

Creature Comforts will still likely have a wristband system to limit consumers’ beer consumption to the legal amount, but the law will still help their business, Moschak said.

“We do not even know yet what we will do if the bill passes, but it definitely will help stop how confused our customers are,” Moschak said.


Buena Vista historic district approved, though many are left unhappy

On Tuesday, March 5th, the Athens-Clarke County commission board voted to designate the Buena Vista neighborhood as an historic district. Fourteen days later, Mayor Nancy Densen allowed it to pass into law without signing it, officially sealing the area’s fate as a protected neighborhood.

This decision marks the end of an almost two-year controversy between local home owners and perhaps one of the more divisive issues for Athens in recent years.  Though the decision is now final, home owners and developers on both sides of the issue remain unhappy with the outcome.

“It leaves something that everyone can say they dislike,” said one official.

The issue was first raised in May of 2011, when the Athens Banner-Herald reported that the residents of the neighborhood were considering applying to be a designated historic district.  While the neighborhood itself does contain many historically significant homes, it also contains various contemporary homes and rental properties.  With the advent of the University of Georgia’s new medical campus, residents in the area decided to pursue this designation in order to protect the area from development geared toward student housing.  Other home owners in Buena Vista opposed the decision, fearing that it would take away some of their rights as property owners.

In October of 2012, the designation proposal finally went before the Mayor and county commission, where it was tabled until February due to the amount of dissention between residents.

 “I’m glad that there was no final vote back in October,” said district nine Commissioner Kelly Girtz.  “That window allowed us to track up a lot of important things.”  Girtz, along with commissioners Kathy Hoard and George Maxwell, took that opportunity to take another look at the proposed district in order to reach a compromise.  He also explained that preserving the city’s character and history was part of his reason for redrawing the district map, but that he also wanted to make sure that many of the non-contributing properties and the home owners who opposed the designation would remain out of the area.

The purpose of historic designation is to preserve the look and feel of a community as well as protect property values and promote the refurbishment of historic buildings.  In an historic district, any new development or external change to existing buildings must first be approved by the preservation commission.  In this manner, the preservation commission is able to manage development and preserve the character of historically significant areas.

The new district is roughly bounded by Prince Ave. on the South, Pound St. and Park Ave. on both sides and Nantahala Extension on the Northern side.  With just 62 properties, the approved district is significantly smaller than the Historic Preservation Commission’s original 100-property plan that was recommended last fall.  Proposing a plan that included fewer properties, the commissioners sought to protect the historic homes and cut out the properties that were described as not contributing to the historic significance of the area.

But few advocates or opponents of the historic designation are content with the resulting compromise.

“This is not a compromise, but a sellout,” asserted Melissa Link, a community activist and resident of the neighboring Boulevard district at a commission meeting in February.  Standing her ground, she maintained that the smaller district would only allow the area to be taken over by developers capitalizing on the growing neighborhood.  She also argued that Buena Vista should have been included in the Boulevard historic district when it was designated 25 years ago.

Jared York, Vice President of the Athens Area Home Builders Association, owns properties in Buena Vista and was opposed to the designation of this district.  He argued that this decision would complicate many things in regard to renovation for home owners in the area.

“The biggest thing for property owners is that is creates uncertainty,” said York.  “You don’t know if the commission is going to approve what you are asking for, so you are less likely to ask for it.”

York described the process of having to go through the preservation commission to make exterior changes to buildings as discouraging for property owners.  He explained that the fees and permits involved in renovation of these properties could potentially add two or even three months to certain building projects, even if these changes were approved by the commission.

George Maxwell, who represents district 3 which includes the Buena Vista neighborhood, voted against the new plan.  Though he had previously supported the redrawing of the district, he voiced reservations on the idea of a smaller district.  He ultimately decided that he would support the original plan or none at all.

“That compromise is not serving the district as I feel it should be served,” he explained to the commission when he decided to vote against the measure.

Buena Vista resident Kristin Morales however, is relieved by the recent vote, telling OnlineAthens that she would rather see some of the district protected than none of it.

“It’s certainly the most contentious issue I’ve seen since I’ve been on the commission,” Commissioner Jared Bailey, who represented the area before redistricting this year, told OnlineAthens.  This proposal remained controversial for many property owners of the area throughout the entire process.  At tense public meetings concerning Buena Vista, home owners and activists arrived in large numbers to assert their position.

 “People on both sides of the issue brought up valid arguments,” said Kelly Girtz, “but it got to the point where neither side was listening to the points made by the other.”  He maintained that the decision to create and approve the smaller district was not an easy one, but that the commission had to respect the wishes of the people in the district.  In the end, the issue came down to protecting the historic area without infringing on the rights of the property owners.

“It leaves something that everyone can say they dislike,” explained Girtz, “but that’s what a compromise is.”

The owners of this home proudly display their support sign for the designation of Buena Vista as an historic district. This sign contrasts sharply with others in the area that read, “Say No To Buena Vista Historic District.”


Campus Kitchen Fights Senior Hunger and Food Waste in Athens

While one in seven seniors go hungry in the United States, according to a Meals on Wheels report, nearly half the food produced in America is wasted, according to a Natural Resources Defense Council study.

The irony of this isn’t lost on an Athens nonprofit, Campus Kitchen, aiming to solve both– and it now has the recognition of its national namesake.

So far, the organization has targeted a population in need within the community, affiliated with the national Campus Kitchen organization and seen tangible results from its efforts.

“Campus Kitchen has grown a lot and our expansion is really an ongoing process,” Nathalie Celestin, an AmeriCorps VISTA working with Campus Kitchen, said.

Campus Kitchen began at the University of Georgia in the spring of 2011 as a campus organization, but faculty sponsor Cecelia Herles connected the club to her classroom as an initial means of institutional support.

“From the beginning we have been a hybrid of a service-learning course effort and a student organization,” Sarah Jackson, an intern with the Office of Service Learning at the University and volunteer since 2010, said. “It has worked out for the best. Having a student organization and Leadership Team provides the structure and consistency we need to run this level of efforts, but they really wouldn’t be plausible without the support of students from different courses.”

Students completed community assessments in one of Herles’ class to determine the need a feasibility of an Athens Campus Kitchen.

“Campus Kitchen at UGA focuses on seniors in Athens because the rate of food insecurity for seniors is much higher than for other groups,” Talie Watzman, a junior social work major at the University, said. “We wanted to address that food insecurity directly in our operations.”

One of five Athens-Clarke County residents is food insecure, many of whom are elderly.

 “We found that because the senior population is often hidden from society, people tend to forget about them,” Celestin said. “If you think about it, there are so many programs and aid out there geared towards children and young adults because that’s who we see all the time and that’s great but what about the senior population?”

Volunteers pick up food from places it would be otherwise wasted– restaurants, community gardens and Greek housing– and then repurposing the food into meals at a central cooking space. Shifts then take these meals to seniors facing food insecurity.

“The Athens Community Council on Aging already had several programs in place that were targeted at seniors, Grandparents Raising Children and Meals on Wheels are the two we work with, so it was easy for us to get connected with the senior community that way,” Watzman said.

Campus Kitchen benefactors are funneled through these programs, meaning the group can focus primarily on project follow-through and organizational growth.

One major area of growth is the Athens Campus Kitchen’s recent affiliation with the national Campus Kitchen.

“Being affiliated with the national Campus Kitchen was a huge deal for us. It was something that Sarah Jackson and other members of the leadership team had been working for for the better part of 2 years,” said Watzman. “The national organization makes us ‘official’ in a way that we weren’t before.”

And despite a history of service and community connection, that affiliation did not come easily.

“It required a lot of time and a lot of paperwork. We had to submit records of our operations, stuff like the amount of meals we served each month and how many pounds of food we collect weekly,” said Watzman. “A representative of the national organization visited Athens for a few days to check us out.”

Once a school is offered affiliation, the group must pay a $1,200 annual affiliation fee, which covers everything ranging from program support (access to national program managers, on-site training, program materials) to financial resources (in-house grant opportunities and internships) to marketing support (use of national brand and logo, website services, publicity support). In total, Campus Kitchens estimates the value of an affiliation with them to exceed $8,000.

Campus Kitchen volunteers say the training and national management support has been invaluable, and funding opportunities have played out this month. Between April 5th and April 12th, Campus Kitchens across the country are competing against each other to crowdsource the most money in the “Raise the Dough Challenge,” an effort supported by national branding and online funding platforms. The national Campus Kitchen will also give the school that raises the most money $1,000 and the school with the most donors will receive $750 towards their efforts.

Support for Campus Kitchen groups is expensive partially because the projects are so intense, but also because each group is distinct and poses different challenges and needs. The Campus Kitchen at the University of Georgia is no different.

We’re the only Campus Kitchen that focuses on senior hunger,” Watzman said.

Georgia is eighth in the nation for hunger among older adults, and collectively the 166 Campus Kitchen volunteers have put in 680.2 hours of work this semester, according to their own calculations. Many keep coming back because they see tangible effects from their work.

“We were able to remove 32 clients from our waiting list and provide them with two prepared meals, produce from the UGArden and commodity goods to last them the month,” Celestin said. “Thirty-two might not seem like a huge number, but it was a big accomplishment for us and we hope to keep that going.”

Even before those seniors were added to the meal list, in 2012 that totaled 5,745 meals that Campus Kitchen prepared and delivered to community members in need, a result of collecting 27,623 pounds of surplus food, again, according to their own calculations. Those involved also benefit from the work, which Watzman calls “the most rewarding volunteer experience” she’s ever had.

“So many student groups on campus are focused primarily on fundraising and while that is incredibly important, I really wanted to do hands on work with members of the Athens community,” Watzman said.


Social Shops: Local Businesses Use Social Media to Stay Competitive

Megan Ernst would not have patronized Red Dress Boutique had it not been for a Facebook post.

The shop runs giveaways for customers who share a designated picture on Facebook. The first time Ernst, a junior journalism major at the University of Georgia, entered Red Dress was after winning an item through this system and shopped for more items while there.

“I realized it wasn’t as expensive as I thought,” Ernst said.

For small boutiques like Red Dress in Athens, Ga., walk-ins and window shoppers are still relevant, but the driving source of customers is shifting to social media.

“Social has now been adopted pretty much universally,” said Sarah Giarratana, a junior copywriter at IQ, a digital advertising agency. “It makes perfect sense. You want to be on people’s feeds, to remind them, to make them say ‘I want that.’”

The trend is clear. Over 80 percent of Americans now use a social network and with audiences moving online, local shops are doing the same. In a retail environment dominated by the low prices chain economics afford, small businesses are using social media to compete. It’s working, and Athens businesses are no different.

“We have people call in a few times a day saying they saw something on the Facebook page and asking the price of it and if we still have it in stock,” said Katelyn Moore, a sales associate with Heery’s Clothes Closet.

Name a social media platform and you’ll find a presence from Heery’s.

“There’s something for everyone– we do Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram. The majority of our focus is on Facebook because that’s where we see the majority of our results,” said Lindsay Lucas, the boutique’s Director of Marketing and Social Media. “None of it is hindering us at all, it’s only appealing to different people.”

Lucas, a three-year veteran of the shop, said this position was created for her upon graduation, so social media has been at an all-time high during her past year as director. Lucas runs giveaways directed through social media outlets and promotes merchandise with pictures, especially during seasonal shifts.

“When it’s cold outside still and people are looking forward to spring, that’s when people go a little crazy on the social media,” Lucas said.

All the hype– and the online interactions with customers– is far from anything Heery’s ever did when it was founded in 1959, but it’s proven worthwhile.

“We definitely see the results,” said Lucas, referring to increased store traffic and revenue.

Facebook is the dominant social media platform for Community Boutique, a vintage and sustainable fashion boutique in downtown Athens, but for owner Sanni Baumgärtner, it’s about selling an image rather than items.

“Customers ‘like’ things and they come in a week later just in general to see what we have,” said Baumgärtner. “I don’t know that we’re selling the individual pieces so much as we’re selling a general aesthetic and image for the store.”
Baumgärtner feels social media marketing is less likely to draw customers into the store for specific purchases because the at vintage stores, sizes are fixed.

“Someone may ‘like’ something, but it’s on a size four model and she’s a size ten,” Baumgärtner said.

Still, for Community, social media has been a marketing necessity for a small business operating on smaller funds.

“We started so low budget, there wasn’t ever a budget for paying for advertising,” Baumgärtner said. “I was a musician before I opened the store, so I was already familiar with the concept of promoting something on social media.”

But familiarity with social media for one purpose does not mean you know how to use it for another.

“Just because we’re native to it, because we’ve been using it our whole life, doesn’t mean we know how to use it,” Giarratana said of social media-based marketing. “There’s an immense amount of strategy.”

Giarratana suggests local storeowners pay attention to search engine optimization, keyword usage, tagging, hashtagging, user-generated content, including creating contests or opportunities where customers are asked to tweet out or post themselves using a product.

“The ones who are going to survive and thrive create engaging content,” said Giarratana, suggesting boutiques utilize trend forecasting and fashion advice.

Business owners agree.

“Rather than just putting tons and tons of stuff on there I think it’s important to create more content that’s meaningful,” Baumgärtner said. “People are on social media because they want to see what’s going on with their friends, they’re not on social media to see ads. We don’t want to overwhelm people.”

To differentiate their online presence from big chain stores, Baumgärtner recommends local businesses emphasize what customers already appreciate about their brands.

“I definitely think it is important for local businesses to keep it personal and maybe tied into local things,” Baumgärtner said. “That’s where we have the advantage over the big companies that have to be so global with their marketing.”

Giarratana says small businesses can improve their distinctive brands through social listening– monitoring posts and reacting to and replicating what people respond to and like best.

“People who run social media in boutiques should reach out and learn,” Giarratana said. “Find people doing it well and emulate that.”

There are customers to be gained from the effort, including students like Ernst.

“There’s a market of people who go to boutiques frequently, but there’s a second tier that sometimes have the money to spend but don’t spend all their time focusing on what to buy next,” Ernst said. “The social media aspect keeps people who wouldn’t necessarily be in the store every week engaged.”


Proposed Legislation for Reducing Gun Restrictions–What it means for Athens

The trigger is pulled and the gun jerks back. The shell flies out. The bullet travels down the range almost too fast to be seen. The only evidence of the bullet’s presence, a Bang! The sound echoes off the cement walls and a single bullet hole appears straight through the target—an outline of a human profile.

Daniel Grass, a senior at the University of Georgia, shows off his target image. Ten bullet holes gape in the paper target—all through the head.

Grass is confident in his shooting ability and plans to purchase a gun when he has enough money. He said he would not feel any more or less safe carrying a gun with him on campus—but that is exactly what he would be able to do if the proposed legislation House Bill 512 were to pass through the senate.

House Bill 512, which passed through the Georgia House in a 117-56 vote this month, is currently being reviewed by the Senate. HB 512, also known as the Safe Carry Protection Act, amends current legislation to lift restrictions on where guns can be carried. If passed this bill would allow concealed weapons on college campuses—as well as in places of worship, bars and unsecured government buildings.

Athens House Representatives were split on their vote for HB 512. Democratic Representative Spencer Frye voted against the bill while Republican Representative Regina Quick voted in favor. As reflected by the conflicting views of the two representatives, the Athens community has a variety of opinions on HB 512.

HB 512 would affect public institutions differently than private ones. Places of worship and bars, because they are private property rights, would still be allowed to decide whether or not to allow weapons in their establishment. Public universities, however, are considered government institutions and would be required to permit guns on certain areas of their campus.

The University of Georgia being a public institution would be directly impact by the passing of the Safe Carry Protection Act.

University Police Chief Jimmy Williamson opposes HB 512, particularly legislation that would allow for guns to be carried on college campuses. “We like where the current law is,” said Williamson. “I have concerns [about HB512] from a safety standpoint.”

Williamson said that he believed the law would cause a number of issues and would make the job of police officers more difficult. He noted his concern about the influence guns would have on instances of intimidation or bullying on campus. Williamson said the presence of more guns in innocent people’s hands would complicate the job of police officers when in came to responding to active shooters. “It would be hard for the police responding to know who the good guy and who the bad guy is,” said Williamson.

On the other side of the issue Bobby Tribble an employee at Franklin Gun Shop in Athens, said

“If you are a law abiding person you can carry a gun anywhere you want to and as long as you don’t show off with it and do something illegal or unless you have to use the gun nobody is going to know you have it anyway.”

Tribble said he did not believe that passing or removing restrictions on where gun owners could carry weapons would change the number of people carrying concealed weapons in these areas. “Only law abiding people obey laws so passing more laws is not going to have any effect.”

The University Union hosted a debate on gun control open to students, faculty and athens locals. Richard Feldman, president of the Independent Firearm Owner Association and  Kathryn Grant of the non-profit organization Gun Free Kids, both presented their views on the issue guns on campus.

Grant, who is part of the Keep Guns Off Campus Resolutions, said in opposition to HB 512, “The assertion that arming students and teachers in keeping the campus community safe lies at the heart of this debate, but is a rationale seen by many as fundamentally flawed.” Grant further encouraged those making decisions on this bill to listen to experts on the issue that have said putting guns on campus will not make it a safer environment.

Feldman a prominent lobbyist for gun rights refuted Grant. Feldman said that in order to discuss the issue of gun control people must get away form the emotions in the issue.

“[If] I am carrying that gun legally, am I somehow, when I cross over onto school property, going to become a vicious killer? I think not,” said Feldman. The concern is not where guns can be carried. The important issue is who is carrying a gun.

Feldman said, removing gun restrictions would not change the number of dangerous people who could carry a gun on campus—rather it would increase the number of law-abiding citizens who would have a gun and ability to defend themselves.

But do students or faculty feel they would be safer if guns were allowed on campus? University Georgia System Chancellor Hank Huckaby does not think so.

“In my position I believe strongly that allowing our students to carry weapons on our campuses will not increase their personal safety but instead reduce it,” said Huckaby, in a statement before the Georgia legislative committee. Huckaby is supported by the 31 other University System of Georgia’s presidents in his opposition of HB 512.

Lucas Smith a freshman at the University of Georgia said he is against HB 512. “There are merits to both arguments, but I would personally want to see no guns on campus,” said Smith. While Smith said he supports the second amendment, he feels that he pays money to attend the University and should have a say in how safe he feels on campus.

Back at the shooting range, Grass fired over 17 rounds through his target practicing his precision and aim. “I agree with allowing guns in more places,” said Grass. “I think the biggest misconception about gun control is that, the more regulation you put on gun is going to keep them out of the wrong hands.”

Grass believes that current legislation restricting gun carrying on campus is not going to stop someone who wants to bring a gun on campus from doing so. By allowing guns on campus Grass said he did not feel the number of students carrying guns would drastically increase.

“There might be a small percent of student who carry [guns] and they are going to be the responsible ones who wouldn’t want to shot me anyways. The only thing that [allowing guns on campus] could do it maybe prevent a mass shooting or something,” said Grass.

While the Safe Carry Protection Act remains under review in the Georgia Senate, the Athens and University community can contact Athens’ State Senator Bill Cowsert to voice their opinion on House Bill 512.   


Local food movements clash with globalization trends

Walking through the produce section of your preferred grocery, you may decide to buy some apples, but where did those apples come from?  Were they grown locally in Georgia’s apple capital Ellijay?  Or, as is more likely the case, were they grown and harvested somewhere else, somewhere 2,600 miles away?

The world’s food systems have become increasingly globalized over the past decades; with more companies producing food on a mass scale, we as a society have seemingly gotten farther away from our food than ever before.  However, local food trends are growing across the nation, allowing local farms and food movements to flourish.

As the old adage goes; an apple a day keeps the doctor away, but in today’s food market, getting that apple requires more process than is seen by the consumer.  As is the case with all produce, apples do not grow year-round, nor do they grow well in every state’s climate.  According to USDA statistics from 2000, slightly less than 50 percent of all apple production in the U.S. occurs over 2600 miles away from Georgia; in Washington State. Apples are only a minor example of the scale of production and shipping required to get consumers the foods they demand.

Availability of many types of food depends on season.  With processed foods, production and manufacturing factors play a larger role in where food comes from. 

Kansas is the nation’s largest producer of wheat, but the process that takes it from wheat to bread is a long one with many different stops on the way.  In the process of bread-making alone, the supply chain, or the chain of production necessary for today’s bread-production system, relies on yeast production, sugar production, wheat production and processing, and countless other variables tied together by shipping lanes; all to get a loaf of sliced bread from the field to the dinner table. 

Just as the trend towards the globalization of food grows, so does the movement towards local, organically produced foods. 

In Athens alone there are a multitude of options when looking for local or organic foods.  When it comes to organic food, every supermarket around town carries a selection of organic produce, with specialty stores like Earth Fare and Trader Joe’s offering an even wider selection.  There are even more options for organic and local food with the influx of local farm cooperatives and farmer’s markets that have come to Athens in recent years.  The Athens Farmers Market will come together on the sidewalk around City Hall twice a week beginning in April, offering locally grown and organic produce at good prices to the residents of the downtown area.  The Daily Groceries Co-op and Athens Locally Grown are two programs that allow interested parties to buy a membership or ownership of the organization in exchange for fresh organic and local produce.  Farm 255 is yet another example of the power of the local food movement as a restaurant that is fueled entirely by Athens-area farms.

Recent legislation introduced by Representative Keisha Waites (D) of Georgia’s 60thdistrict will provide an avenue and incentives for Georgia schools and school districts to purchase foods and other products from Georgia farms.  This bill, introduced into the Georgia House of Representatives, would signify a large step forward for the local food movement, as well as a huge helping hand to local farms around the State.  While still in its infancy now, this bill proposes the creation of a farm-to-school program that would facilitate and promote the sale of Georgia grown farm products to the school districts around Georgia, providing a ray of hope for local farms and local food movements in the state.

Even with local and organic food options being more available than ever, people find it difficult to go out of their way to buy food, and because this idea of global food has become the norm, people seldom make efforts to purchase locally. 

Supermarkets have been extremely popular for decades, offering one-stop shopping and competitive prices.  Wal-Mart provides 18 percent of the country’s groceries annually, but sometimes struggles to provide local and organic food to its shoppers.  In 2006 however, the company released that it had doubled sales in organic foods, and in 2008 outlined a plan to sell more local foods, planning to reach 9 percent local produce by 2015.  According to Jim Prevor, a produce industry analyst and editor of the blog Popular Pundit, one of the biggest problems that companies like Wal-Mart have in regard to the sale of organic and local foods is due to scale. 

“They just couldn’t find operations with sufficient quantity to supply them,” said Prevor in an interview with Tom Philpott for Mother Jones.  Companies as large as Wal-Mart need to be able to purchase extremely large quantities of produce from farms, and these smaller organic farms are not able to keep up with supply. 

While any effects of the globalization of our food systems may not seem immediately apparent, they have affected our lives in ways that we may not be able to see on a daily basis. 

Colleen O’Brian Cherry is an assistant research scientist at the Center for Global Health in the College of Public Health at the University of Georgia.  She has recently completed research on the culinary and cultural practices of groups in Southern Arizona, centered on how changing environments impact the health and well being of the population. 

Her research has shown, among other things, that a breakdown in traditional food gathering and preparation practices has had a negative impact on culture and cultural tradition as well as a negative effect on health and wellness for the populations studied.  The findings of this research carry implications not only for the area that was being studied, but as she explained it, the health and nutrition practices of our country as a whole.  

“The globalization of food can be a huge factor in nutrition,” said Cherry. “Even in rural areas, the [traditional] diet has been replaced by the typical American diet. We have grown distant from our food sources; everything is so packaged and processed, and half of the stuff on your dinner plate is from thousands and thousands of miles away.”

With processed and junk foods more available than ever, they become harder for the average consumer to stay away from. 

For all of progress that the local food movements have made around the country, the movement toward more globalized food systems still progresses, begging the question; which trend is more powerful? 

J. Scott Angle, the Dean of the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences at the University of Georgia, seemed to believe that industrial agriculture is only growing. 

“We’ve had a doubling in the number of students enrolled in our programs in the last 7 years,” said Angle.  He mentioned that while programs like Agribusiness, the most popular program in CAES, are growing exponentially, more non-traditional and less-popular programs like food science are growing as well.  Indeed, the farming industry is doing well, offering more jobs than almost any other field, as well as the recorded 2nd highest salary for graduates right out of college. 

While this does not necessarily mean that the local food movement is in danger, it does not bode well for the future of smaller, less commercial farming initiatives. If there is hope for the independent farmer, it seems that it may come from education.


Local Athens Library Dreams Big

A shy boy in the first grade scans the shelves at Pinewoods Library before he picks up a weathered copy of “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.” Every day after school, David joins the majority of his neighborhood peers and files into the double wide trailer on lot G-10 that acts as the community’s library.

As the main branch in the Athens Regional Library System, Athens-Clarke County Library opens its newly renovated interior, Pinewoods still operates within its double wide trailer.

Although Pinewoods library is one of the smallest of the 11 branches in Athens Regional Library system, it is constantly busy. Often the library has to turn away children because of lack of space. The library is a resource center for Pinewoods residents, Hispanic immigrants and training center for University of Georgia students. The residing branch manager, Aida Quiñones, dreams of operating Pinewoods with more room.

“We want to offer more programs,” said Quiñones. “Because of the space, we have to say no to so many things and it’s really painful to say no.” A larger Pinewoods Library could offer more children like David exposure to mentoring and a positive learning environment.

From Monday to Thursday from 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., there is a constant flow of children in and out of the library for the after school tutoring program.

“There are always kids here all the way until we close around 8 p.m.,” said Quiñones. Mentors for the after-school program are typically student volunteers from the University of Georgia. The College of Education sends students who are learning to teach Spanish or ESOL.

Sam Elliot, a senior Spanish major at UGA, feels like she can see the impact mentoring makes, but also identifies the problem of space.

“One of the girls I mentor frequents Pinewoods more than she does her seventh grade classroom,” said Elliot. “There are always kids here, but not enough room to accommodate them all.”

Children are not the only target audience Pinewoods offers programs to. Pinewoods Library attracts Hispanic immigrants within the estate of 2,000 residents and the 18,000 in the greater Athens area. It is one of the only libraries partnered with the Mexican Consulate offering, Plaza Comunitaria, or education courses for primary and secondary levels.

“In this neighborhood we have a lot of residents who never went past 3rd grade. And with this program, they have the opportunity to finish their education,” said Quiñones.

The funds for Pinewoods start with grants. Quiñones said Pinewoods just renewed the American Dream grant through Dollar General which pays for necessary resources to run their programs. Quiñones clarified that the grants only pay for teacher materials, or other resources for the classes.

“Salaries and maintenance do not come from grants, that comes from the Athens Regional, the grants are more for programs that we offer,” she said.

Quiñones says the Pinewoods branch, nestled between other mobile homes, is small.  She does not know if the state and local government consider the number of immigrants Pinewoods attracts from outside the Pinewoods estate in the budget drafting. The library already actively serves the people in the immediate Pinewoods community and is drawing more people, especially with programs like Plaza Comuntaria.

“Many come from Jefferson, Thalmann, Stone Mountain, many places,” said Quiñones. “When they originally constructed the budget for Pinewoods I don’t know if they took that into consideration. I think they only planned on the Pinewoods residents.”

Rhiannon Eades, the Public Relations Specialist for ARLS, explained the funding by comparing the library system to the health department.

“It’s kind of like a secondary agency, the county has input in the budget draft as well as the state,” said Eades.

For the sparkling new children’s area and other completed renovations, the Athens-Clarke County Library received two grants, funds from 2004 SPLOST totaling $8 million and $2 million from the state. Information regarding how other branches can expand settles with the state and local government. The plans for renovations on the main branch in ARLS were initiated several years ago. As the Athens-Clarke County Library revealed their expansion in February 2013, Pinewoods continued to provide a learning atmosphere for Hispanic adults, children, and UGA students from a space smaller than an average school classroom.

Pinewoods Library uses what it has to provide skills and qualifications to the Hispanic population. It offers English as a second language and computer classes. It recently started Spanish classes for Americans. Pinewoods wants to expand, but is inhibited by space. Quiñones explains many parents want more books in Spanish about citizenship education. The citizenship test is in English, which many of the adults in Pinewoods do not know. “All we have right now are these cards,” she holds up a blue card the size of a credit card with President Obama’s face beaming from the center.

“We want to do more education classes, but once again space is an issue,” said Quiñones.

Pinewoods’ biggest dream is expansion and the resulting ability to offer more classes, according to Quiñones. As Quiñones is listing the goals for Pinewoods, a mother is tugging a crying little boy out the front door.

“See they don’t want to leave,” said Quiñones with a laugh.