Farm-to-vase flowers making a splash in Georgia this Mother’s Day

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WilMor Farms Kids 2

Rita and Mike Williams’s four children holding flowers at their cut flower farm, WilMor Farms, in Candler County, Georgia.

 

Harvesting cut flowers from your own garden can be a rewarding, cost-effective way to treat your mom for Mother’s Day. But don’t worry if you don’t have your own flowers to cut.

More and more Georgians can find locally grown flowers for their mothers without growing them in their own gardens.

Nationwide, Americans will spend about $2.6 billion on flowers this Mother’s Day, according to the National Retail Federation. That money helps fuel the nation’s $4.37 billion floriculture industry and Georgia’s $843 million ornamental horticulture industry.

While cut flowers are still a relatively small part of the state’s ornamental horticulture industry, more and more local farmers are adding cut flowers to their farmers market stalls and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) orders. Georgia Grown, the Georgia Department of Agriculture’s agricultural products marketing program, lists more than 90 Georgia businesses that grow or market Georgia-grown flowers to the public.

Flower farms dot the landscape from the mountains to the coast and supply flower lovers directly or through local boutiques or fresh markets.

“Cut flowers are a perfect fit for most sunny gardens, and they seem to be getting more popular. People seem to like them more than before because one generates their own fresh, beautiful flowers, and they make great, casual gifts for friends and family,” said Paul Thomas, a horticulture professor at the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

In Georgia, Mother’s Day and graduation season create the bulk of business for local flower farms.

Benefits of buying local

More consumers want to shrink their carbon footprints by buying what they need from local vendors and farmers.

Nearly 80 percent of cut flowers in the U.S. are imported and travel hundreds of miles in refrigerated planes, trains and trucks.

“It’s good to know that purchasing something like that comes with a huge environmental footprint,” said Steve O’Shea, who owns Comer, Georgia’s 3 Porch Farm with his wife, Mandy.

Rita Williams, who owns Candler County, Georgia’s WilMor Farms with her husband, Mike, explained that people purchase flowers from their farm because they can ask them questions about the chemicals used in the growing process, and they have the answers.

“We know what they (the flowers) haven’t been exposed to,” Rita Williams said.

Purchasing local flowers also supports the local economy and communities.

“It’s how we survive,” she added.

Rita Williams knows that the local flower market in Georgia is still in its early stages, but the market share for local flowers and community of flower producers across the state is growing.

She and Mike Williams started WilMor Farms in 2015 after they were inspired by 3 Porch Farm. They felt they could provide the same types of local, sustainable blooms to south Georgia as the O’Sheas provide in northeast Georgia. The Williamses also thought it would also be a great way to teach their four children about hard work and give them a closer connection the land.

Flowers in Georgia?

Blame it on the heat, the humidity or the insects, but Georgia has long had a reputation as inhospitable to cut flower production.

But that depends on what blooms you’re growing, said Jenna Moon, who started Winterville, Georgia’s Seeds and Stems Farm with her partner, Tom Bagby, in 2017.

You won’t see tulips and fist-size roses when you shop for locally grown flowers in Georgia. Farmers here offer a mix of classic, Southern garden flowers and native flowers, or blooms acclimated to Georgia’s heat and humidity.

Ranunculus, anemones and poppies are some of the star flowers cultivated here.

Native flowers and wildflowers also steal the show from time to time, Moon said. She brings native plants into the arrangements she sells at the West Broad Farmers Market in Athens, Georgia.

Not only are native flowers already acclimated to Georgia weather and provide a habitat for wildlife, they also “have a unique beauty that isn’t always found in cultivated varieties,” said Moon. In their Mother’s Day bouquets, they’ll use classic flowers, like daisies, interspersed with hellebores, black oats and nasturtium, which will also be in their salad mix.

Because they are operating on a farm-to-vase model, local flower farmers can only provide in-season blooms, but in Georgia, the season can stretch from late winter through the summer.

What do I look for now?

When it comes to trends, Rita Williams encouraged consumers to “use what they think is pretty” and not allow their creativity to be stifled or boxed in by trends seen on social media.

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” she added.

3 Porch Farm uses “whatever is relevant and beautiful,” said Steve O’Shea. This Mother’s Day, their arrangements will include species like bachelor’s button, campanula, snapdragons, poppies and peonies mixed with seed pods, native grasses, vines and tendrils.

“An emerging trend has been to get away from customers requesting specific flowers and moving more toward color palettes utilizing local and seasonal flowers,” said Steve O’Shea.

To spruce up a basic bunch, Steve O’Shea suggested gathering wild materials with a few friends.

“It’s a lot of fun to get a few friends together, buy a bunch of local flowers each, and then go forage for bits and tendrils and grasses, bring it all back to the house and create arrangements together,” he said.

More information about WilMor Farms, 3 Porch Farm, and Seeds and Stems Farm can be found on their Facebook pages. For more information about where to purchase local flowers in Georgia, visit http://www.georgiagrown.com/find/horticulture/cut-flowers.

Story originally published by UGA CAES Newswire: http://www.caes.uga.edu/newswire/story.html?storyid=7576&story=Local-Flowers

Georgia Square Mall finds opportunity to pivot

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Georgia Square Mall on the west side of Athens, Georgia is one of many U.S. malls that are facing struggles as consumer preferences change. Like many American malls, Georgia Square was once a hotspot for college students, teenagers, and residents from surrounding areas to come shop, socialize, and enjoy typical mall fare like Sbarro pizza and Orange Julius drinks.

There are about 1,100 shopping malls in the U.S. today, but according to Credit Suisse, a quarter of them are at risk of shutting their glass doors within the next five years. Georgia Square took a major hit last year in 2017, when Macy’s closed their Athens location in a 100-store national closure.  As retail giants and common anchor stores like Macy’s and Sears rework and pare down their business models to account for changing times and online shopping, malls like Georgia Square are losing the customers who would have been drawn to the mall to visit those department stores.

According to Monica Hawkins, marketing director of the mall, it’s just an adjustment period. “Across the board, malls that have had Macy’s and lost them…everyone felt the crunch and impact.” Hawkins added that because Georgia Square is the only enclosed mall within a 52-mile radius, they have a unique advantage. Now that nearly a year and a half has passed since the closure, momentum is picking back up, according to Hawkins.

Still, many of the mall’s storefronts sit empty. But that isn’t a sign of failure, according to Hawkins.

“I could have every single space in here filled, but would it be the quality of tenant that the customers want? To have every light on and be at 100 percent? Yeah, but then you have crap,” says Hawkins.

Instead of filling the empty storefronts, Georgia Square is taking a different approach, with pop-ups that offer experiences rather than physical goods, and incubator situations, which give new businesses a chance to learn the ropes of operating a brick-and-mortar store in a controlled environment with short-term leases.

One of the pop-ups that’s found success with Georgia Square Mall is Little Athens children’s museum. The nonprofit children’s museum began their partnership with the mall this past January. The museum hosts monthly events for children and their families to experience a “little” version of Athens, with miniature versions of Athens landmarks such as Nuçi’s Space. Emily Crim, board member and volunteer coordinator for the museum says that the partnership is mutually beneficial for the mall, the museum, and for some of the other tenants. It gives Little Athens space and consistency, it brings recurring customers into the mall, and after their visit, Little Athens visitors can grab lunch from the food court and ride Gibson’s Little Red Caboose, which boards right across from the museum.

While Georgia Square Mall is far from dead according to many of its tenants, partnering with the University and improving the road infrastructure could help to bring more customers and businesses to the mall, several tenants and community organizers believe. One such organization is Athens West Corridor, which works to “maintain the success, viability, and growth of the Atlanta Highway corridor,” which includes the mall. Garry Moon, a longtime Athens resident and social media and promotions volunteer says that the organization is working with District 6 Commissioner Jerry NeSmith to regain some of the relevance that the mall once had. NeSmith represents West Athens, Mitchell Bridge, Georgia Square Mall areas and was unavailable for comment.

The mall is open from 10 a.m. until 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday. On Sundays, their hours are from 12 p.m. until 6 p.m.

On June 2, Athens West is hosting West Fest, a festival that will include music, food trucks, performances, a “junk fest,” and an opportunity for community engagement among Athenians and businesses. More information can be found on Athens West’s Facebook page: @AthensWestCorridor.

 

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This dollar cinema has sat abandoned in the mall parking lot since closing in 2015. On the plus side, the large parking area offers an excellent place for driving lessons.

Macys

This was once the entrance to Macy’s. Now, water-stained brown paper lines the glass windows and weeds peep through the brick walkway.

 

Gibson’s Little Red Caboose brings life and smiles to the mall in the form of “WOO WOOs” and “Chga Chga Chgas.” Here’s the story of the train:

Business Plan

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Here is my work from Dr. Keith Herndon’s entrepreneurial journalism class. The assignment was to develop a business plan complete with a detailed budget, pitch to potential investors on “Shrimp Tank”, prototypes, and other key components of a business plan.

I created the plan in the form of a website. From the link below, you can access my plan, pitch presentation, and prototypes.

https://homegrownhealth2018.wordpress.com

Plogging Takes Athens By Storm

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Trash and runners are a common sight on the streets of Athens on a nice day. What’s a combination of the two? Plogging, a Swedish trend that groups like Keep America Beautiful have used in campaigns to promote trash pickup. The word is a mutt of the Swedish phrase “plocka upp,” meaning “to pick up”, and jogging.

On their Thursday evening group run on March 22, 2018, Athens Running Company hosted a “plogging” run that started at their store and wound throughout the neighborhoods of Five Points for three to five miles. My classmates Jeanne Davis, Ashley Buda, and I approached Athens Running about hosting the run and they were just as curious about the turnout as we were. We solidified plans and showed up to the shop early to talk to the runners and set up.

As I chatted with runners about what they expected on the plog, I realized that none had heard of the official term “plogging” before. Several runners, including the shop’s owner, Mark Schroeder, had picked up trash on their runs before. Schroeder also mentioned that trash pickup was common amongst trail runners, but was relatively unheard of in track running. Several runners were skeptical, and didn’t want the pickup process to slow their pace, while some thought that walking groups would be more interested. But personally, I’m not convinced that the combination of “walking” and “plocka upp” would be as catchy. Plalking? Wakking? It’s all in a name.

I imagined that the route would be either a two “slightly littered” to a three “littered” on the Litter Index found on the Athens-Clarke County Unified Government’s “Keep Athens-Clarke County Beautiful” website. With at least 10 participants to spread the work out, there couldn’t be that much trash, I thought.

Schroeder gave a brief spiel about plogging and we passed out empty grocery bags to collect trash in, and then we were off! In short, I underestimated the challenge that running in culmination with litter pickup posed. Almost immediately, my shoes came untied, and I was winded. To make matters worse, I was already at the tail end of the group.

I’d been using interval training (1 minute spent running, one minute and 30 seconds spent walking) during the weeks prior to the plog, but my jogs had been few-and-far-between due to Georgia’s unpredictable March weather. I was ill-prepared for a steady three-mile run. To avoid plogging panic, I took as deep a breath as I could without my inhaler, tied my shoes and took my time while remembering that apparently “slow and steady wins the race.”

There was no trash left for me to pick up as I trailed the group in a breathless amble. All I could manage to find was a smashed coke can. I was dismayed at my personal failure to successfully plog, but also thrilled that the runners before me had managed to grab almost all of the trash on the route.

Eventually, I found Davis, who gave me a look of concern but also found it hilarious that I was walking 10 minutes behind the group while carrying my single flattened coke can and laughing hysterically at myself. I was happy to see her and promptly decided to ride the rest of the route in her car, while acting as navigator.

I did run the last block, partially so that the serious runners wouldn’t see that I gave up and judge me negatively. Post-run, I caught up over a beer with Schroeder and the others. Schroeder heard only positive feedback about the run, and could easily see trash pickup becoming a regular part of the casual Thursday runs, but would probably skip the trendy moniker.

Once all of the runners came back to the shop (some had already done a second run along the route shortly after I got back), we took a look at the trash picked up. Most of the plastic grocery bags were nearly bursting with trash! Schroeder and I each picked up the box of trash and estimated the weight to be about 20 pounds. The consensus from the runners was that plogging would be a good addition to their casual runs. Some runners even found themselves competing with their friends to see who could grab a piece of litter first.

As for myself, I’m going to add trash pickup into the walking portion of my interval jogs, and hopefully will be able to keep up with the group runs in a few months. If you’d like to start plogging, grab an empty grocery bag next time you head out for a jog!

The Athens Running Company hosts free weekly runs every Thursday at 6:30 p.m. which begins at their store in Five PointsParking is limited, so arrive a few minutes ahead of time if you’re planning on driving. More information can be found on their website: http://www.athensrun.com or on Facebook: @athensrun.

If you’d like to anonymously report a littering incident in Athens, please note:

  • The perpetrating car’s tag number and description
  • The time and date of the incident, and
  • The location of the incident

You can leave a message on the litter hotline at 706-613-3506. The perpetrator will then receive an educational letter from the Sherriff’s department.

More information about litter in Athens can be found on: https://athensclarkecounty.com/5109/Littervention-Your-Dirty-Secret-Is-Out