For our eighth session of Advancing Georgia’s Leaders in Agriculture and Forestry, we traveled to Northeast Georgia. Wyatt and I both had a virus the weekend before I left, so I was a little nervous leaving him. I know he was in perfectly good hands and between his two grandmothers and his daddy, they had raised 5 kids and three grandkids. Sometimes it’s just a mother’s guilt to feel the need to be the one to help nurse the babes back to health.
We started off this session on Tuesday at Jaemor Farm. I have known owner Drew Echols for some time through the Georgia Agritourism Association but I haven’t made it up to their farm. It is a beautiful farm that markets fresh produce, particularly peaches, and is hosting thousands of students for school field trips and thousands of visitors for their fall family fun. Adaptation and adding new perspectives to the farm business are essential in this economy.
Later that afternoon we discussed the aging population in Georgia and some resources that are available across the state. It was particularly relevant due to the most recent events in our family. That evening we learned about the US Forest Service and the Conservation Fund and how they partner to save US forest lands for future generations.
On Wednesday, we visited with the Hall County Sheriff’s SWAT team. We were able to view a simulated SWAT situation and learn about leadership development and how team-building through training is crucial.
After that, we went to the Hall County Jail and learned about the judicial process and some alternative courts Hall County has adopted to help reduce recidivism. We also got a tour of the jail and learned about its operation. For some reason, my parents instilled such a serious respect for the law that I get terribly nervous around jails and my heart races when I just see a police officer. I am probably the least likely of anyone I know to break the law and I was a little keyed up the entire time we were in the jail.
After our jail tour, we heard from Mr. Mike Giles, president of the Georgia Poultry Federation and learned about the Georgia Poultry Laboratory Network and how partnerships with the Georgia Department of Agriculture, private industry groups, and producers can work smoothly and efficiently with communication and dialogue.
After that, the group toured Fieldale Farms processing facility. Because I still was concerned about the virus I had earlier in the week, I decided it was probably best for me to not attend this part. I would have felt terrible if I was responsible for getting consumers ill. I understand they take serious safety measures, but I am not one to risk heath problems for the general public.
On Thursday, we visited the Chattahoochee Forest National Fish Hatchery in Suches. We heard from representatives from U.S. Fish and Wildlife as well as participant Tate O’Rouke’s husband Patrick from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. The hatchery grows hundreds of thousands of rainbow trout to stock Georgia’s lakes and streams. Fishing is a huge economic engine for the State and it is great to see the partnerships they establish to make things run more efficiently.
After visiting the hatchery, we traveled to Union County and learned about particular issues they face in that part of the state. We also heard from Commissioner Lamar Paris, one of the sole commissioners in a sole commissioner form of government in the state.
We visited their local canning plant and farmers market. The support from the county, city, school board, and general public make that location a raging success and would be a great model to pattern similar complexes after.
After visiting the canning plant and farmers market, we traveled to the Georgia Mountain Research & Education Center, which is a part of the University of Georgia. Incredible research is conducted there about some of Georgia’s most valuable fruits and vegetables including blueberries and muscadines.
That evening, we visited Yonah Mountain Vineyards and their brand new facility (it was its first day open to the public!) for a tour and a synopsis of dilemmas the Georgia wine industry is facing.
On our last day, Friday, we reflected on our experiences as a group and voiced concerns and action items.
After our class reflection, we went to the White County Senior Center to volunteer for a few hours. Someone mentioned that if you can walk into a room of complete strangers and strike up a conversation, then surely you can do something similar at industry events where you at least have something in common right from the start. One of the key learnings I gathered from our session about the aging population on our first day was that older people are just like us and they want to be heard and listened to. I am horribly socially awkward and this definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone. I found myself speaking to a wonderful older woman and listening to her stories of living in Yonkers, New York and then in Palm Springs, Florida before she moved up to Georgia with her son and daughter-in-law. She regaled me with stories of working in dress factory and making dresses for $0.25 each. A gentleman walked up beside me and told me I was talking to the local celebrity. It turns out she was 100 years old and still going strong. Not wanting to miss an opportunity for some good advice, I asked her what I should know about marriage; she and her husband were married for more than 70 years when he passed away. She said that her husband had three priorities in his life: her, his job, and their children. She said they would bounce around on the priority list and jockey for the #1 position during life’s seasons, but that as long as you’re in the top three, you’re doing great. I got a laugh out of that but I can definitely see her logic for sure. Just after that the announcement was made that bingo was about to begin and I lost my luster. I was DEFINITELY second fiddle to her bingo game. Priorities, my friends, priorities.
After our time at the senior center, we wrapped up our session at City Hall in Helen and learned how a few community members came together in a dying little timber and gold mining town and created a vision to style downtown Helen after an Alpine Village and it has grown into a tourism gold mine—figuratively of course. It was great to see how the grand vision of a few could make such an impact on the greater good of a community.