Monthly Archives: May 2016

Purple Passion

Garden Scene


Photography by Addie Strozier

Photography by Addie Strozier

A lavender farm in Dearing is heaven-“scent” bliss for the owners and visitors alike.

Most people love to entertain friends and family at their home. However, Lisa Kessler of Dearing, near Thomson, takes her Southern hospitality a step further. She opens up her home, White Hills Farm, to the community.

As a lifelong educator, though, she doesn’t just entertain her guests at the 30-acre lavender farm. The former middle school science teacher and college educator shares her knowledge with them as well. 

Lavender-CuttingA Happy Accident
Lisa offers tours and demonstrations at the organic farm that she and her husband, Ben, bought in 2008 as a recreational property. They had searched and searched for a place to plant hazelnut trees, and the Dearing property, which is located along the fall line, proved to be the ideal location to plant their orchards of 60 hazelnut and 30 pecan trees. And then they had another idea.

“Lavender was just kind of an accident. We threw some out with the trees, and it grew well,” says Lisa. “People started wanting what we had, and I like it, too.”

Lisa grows about 10 different kinds of lavender on the farm, where 1.5 acres are under true cultivation. She often buys starter plants from organic sites. Then she grows them to a viable stage and puts them in ground. She initially grew Spanish lavender, which grows well in the South. She then added English lavender to her garden.

“Everybody will say that French lavender is the one they use in products, but they don’t use French lavender at all,” says Lisa. “They use English.”

English lavender, which actually comes from Bulgaria, is used for culinary purposes, she says, and Moroccan lavender is good for aromatherapy. The deep purple Phenomenal lavender holds up well in the humidity of the South. 

In 2010 Lisa went to the Oregon Lavender Festival for a 10-farm tour to learn more about growing the herb. “I started planting differently after that, and I started to propagate a lot of my own,” she says.

Lavendar-Tour-GroupWhite Hills Farm is one of the few lavender-growing farms in the South, says Lisa, and the lavender is hand-grown and harvested on site. The lavender begins to bloom in late April or early May, and it reaches the height of its season in late June.

“Lavender likes to be high and dry. It doesn’t like to be watered a lot,” Lisa says. “Don’t water it unless it’s extremely dry. When you water it, water it around the base and let it absorb from the edge.”

She grows her lavender in a mix of poultry manure, crushed oyster shell and white sand. She has two cutting gardens for lavender, which she uses for products, and she also has planted lavender along a sidewalk on the property. 

“They would normally be in a calcium-rich soil,” Lisa says. “In the Mediterranean it grows on rocky hills in its natural habitat.”

However, she shares another recommendation for growing lavender – and other plants – as well.

“One of the tricks to organic is to plant close to yourself,” says Lisa. “You’re more likely to use it.”

Taking her own advice, she grows her lavender near the 1890 farmhouse where the Kesslers live. Of course, the house became a project, too, as they followed a Katrina Cottage plan to add the porch area to the front of the house in 2011. (Katrina Cottages were developed in response to the need for alternatives to the Federal Emergency Management Agency trailers where people in New Orleans and other Gulf Coast cities temporarily lived after Hurricane Katrina.)

Lavender-Lisa-At-DemoLost Art
That extra space has come in handy. During lavender season from April through July, Lisa holds tours and workshops almost every Friday (Details about the events are available at They recently built a new barn to hold classes, private parties and special events throughout the year as well. 

“People want to experience what they’re doing, and I want people to enjoy the time they spend out here,” says Lisa. “I want them to learn something they can take away and do themselves.”

About 30 people of all ages visited White Hills Farm for a farm tour and demonstration on making a lavender lip balm and a moisturizing balm.

“Lavender is anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal,” Lisa says. 

With its medicinal aspects, she says, lavender can be used in soaps and cosmetics as well as for cooking. “You can get a whole lot of health benefits from lavender,” says Lisa.

She also says anyone who wants to make healing balms can choose different materials, depending on their essence or medicinal properties, for their products. For instance, she says, thyme is a good medicinal herb. 

“Just because something is natural or plant-based doesn’t mean it is good for you,” says Lisa, who also worked as a dermatology physician’s assistant in Savannah.

However, Lisa uses primarily organic products in the goods she sells, which include soaps, oils, cooking products and decorative lavender pieces. Her products are available through Augusta Locally Grown and at Red Clay Market in Liberty Square in Evans. And of course, her goods are available at White Hills Farm, where a large beverage dispenser filled with hibiscus tea is likely to be waiting for guests on the front porch. 

“All-natural products are really tough to find,” says Lisa. “It’s something affordable that you can do.”

lavender_Bottled-HerbsTricia Hughes of Augusta visited the lavender farm for the first time after she saw information about the tours online. 

“It’s something a little different. It’s just good to get out of the city and see farmland,” she says. “I just wanted to see lavender grow. I did not know lavender could grow here.” 

Robin Johnson, who has a store with repurposed pieces, visited the farm from her home in Warren County. “I’m interested in agro-tourism,” she says. “I came to get ideas and be inspired.” 

Linda Smith of Uchee, Alabama, whose daughter is an educator at Hickory Hill in Thomson, has been to White Hills Farm twice. She has enjoyed seeing the farm grow, and she appreciates its link to the past.

“It’s a wonderful way to keep connected. We’ve lost that art,” says Linda. “This is coming back to what we’ve lost.”

By Sarah James


Swimming Success



Photos courtesy of the Jekyll Island Authority and HSP Media

Photos courtesy of the Jekyll Island Authority and HSP Media

Get up close and personal with rescued sea turtles and other marine life at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island.

As if sand and sun weren’t enough of an excuse to visit the Georgia Coast, Jekyll Island provides an even more compelling lure: The opportunity to help save a life.

At the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, Georgia’s only rescue and rehabilitation facility, guests can meet rescued sea turtles with names like Mahi, Waldo and Capt’n Crunch that are being nursed back to health after being found injured or ill. 

Turtle-SignLocated in the Jekyll Island Historic District just steps from the historic “cottages” where the nation’s rich and famous once came to relax in the seclusion of their own private island, the center also serves as a research hospital and a place where the public can learn more about the turtles. 

There is no typical day at the center, however.

“Sea turtles are a very unique species,” says Terry Norton, director and veterinarian. “Having them in our own backyard is something all of us who live on the coast cherish.” 

And not just for the delight they bring to anyone who sees one. Sea turtles are ecologically important as well. “Each species fills a different niche,” says Norton. “For example, leatherbacks feed on jellyfish, so if the leatherbacks are gone then the jellyfish numbers get larger. Green turtles are herbivores and without them seagrass beds would overgrow; by eating old shoots, green turtles keep seagrass beds healthy and ensure nutrient-rich new shoots are available for other species.” Other types of sea turtles feed on sponges and larvae. 

Turtle-babyTurtle TLC
One of the most important services that the center, which opened in 2007, provides is tender loving care to turtles in need.

“We have so many patients right now,” says Norton. “I’m constantly dealing with animals, going to meetings, multi-tasking.”

One of only a few “turtle hospitals” in the United States, the center provides veterinary care for sea turtles along the Atlantic coast. It also conducts research, leads conservation efforts and offers education programs to help protect turtles and their habitats.

Turtle-MahiAll five sea turtle species that nest in Georgia are threatened or endangered, and the center created and operated by the Jekyll Island Authority is the hub of efforts to save them. “We do a lot of different things,” says Norton. “From taking in injured or ill turtles to educating the public, it’s a very integrated program.”

Health problems commonly faced by sea turtles include debilitated turtle syndrome, boat strike injuries, fishing gear entanglement, ingestion of debris such as plastic bags, starvation, infections and “cold stun” from straying into waters too cold for them to survive. While sea turtles are the focus, the center works with all native turtle species. (It also treats a number of land-dwelling diamond back terrapins that are hit by cars and other creatures including birds.) 

When a turtle arrives, the veterinary team diagnoses health problems through physical examination and diagnostic tests such as blood analysis and x-rays. Every patient’s medical record is updated daily with details about activity level, food intake, test results, medications given and more. Treatments may include administering fluids or medications, tube feeding or even surgery, and visitors can watch whatever procedures are being performed at the time of their visit.

Turtle-CenterSpecial Stories
In addition, visitors can explore the interactive Exhibit Gallery where information about sea turtles is shared via displays, signs, film clips, photos, fossils and a window into the treatment room. The Rehabilitation Pavilion, where sea turtle patients reside, is the place to see shelled patients and meet the scientists caring for them. The combination of learning and meeting patients is informative and touching. Additional educational programs are available year-round for guests of all ages.

Norton estimates that 65 percent of sea turtles treated at the center have a happy ending to their treatment when they are released back into the ocean. How well each one fares after that is not known, since not all former patients are tracked. “We track mostly loggerheads,” says Norton. “We put a metal tag on the edge of a flipper and microchip in the muscle so we can identify them later on. But satellite transmitters are $5,000, so we can’t do it on every turtle, though we’ve put them on close to 40 since the time we’ve opened.”

Each turtle’s story is special, but a few touch even a busy veterinarian. “Gus was a loggerhead sea turtle that had a fish line sticking out of her mouth and back end,” Norton says. “We confirmed with ultrasound that she had fishing line going all the way through her and then went in surgically to get that line out. There was no hook associated with it, but we wanted to be sure that we got all the line out and wanted to endoscope her stomach. Once we got her back in the water she was floating because she had a torn lung as well, but she healed up fine and we were able to release her. That was a cool case.”

In another memorable case, a boat strike left a sea turtle with an exposed lung. “There was so much marsh mud between the lung and body wall,” says Norton. “We used wound therapy, and even with the shell defect, were able to get that lung pulled into place.” After about seven months of recuperating at the center, that turtle ultimately was released.

Fortunately, the center has seen a drop in the number of cases related to one tragic issue. “Drowning cases aren’t as common now that shrimpers have developed a mitigation strategy,” Norton says. “It’s a turtle exclusion device that helps turtles get out of nets and it’s had a major impact on improving that situation.”

People must learn to coexist with sea turtles; it’s essential to their future survival. “Caring about wildlife is important so future generations can enjoy them,” Norton says.

 If You Go:

What: Georgia Sea Turtle Center

Where: 214 Stable Road, Jekyll Island 

When: Open year-round, excluding holidays. Nightly turtle walks are offered during the nesting months of June and July; August hatchling walks are led at dawn a few times each week.

How Much: $7 for persons age 13 and older; $6 for seniors age 65 and older, active duty military personnel, college students and teachers (ID required); $5 for children age 4-12; free for children age 3 and younger. A behind-the-scenes tour is available for $22 per person.

More Info: (912) 635-4444 or

By Hope S. Philbrick



Dr. Brooks Keel, Ph.D.


Dr. Brooks Keel, Ph.D.President of Augusta University and Chief Executive Officer of Augusta University Health System

Number of Years in Position: Almost 1

Family: Wife, Dr. Tammie Schalue, Ph.D.; son, Preston; daughter, Sara Keel, and her husband, Thomas Berge; granddaughter, Penelope Rose 

Why I’m Passionate About What I Do: How could you not be passionate about this job? There’s no greater job in the world than being president of a university. We have such talented faculty members and such enthusiastic students. Being surrounded by these young people is incredibly exciting, and Augusta University is the state’s only public medical center. I’ve been here since July 20, 2015, and there’s a lot going on. It’s always changing, always new and always exciting. 

Community Groups and Charities I Love to Support: We’re just beginning to get involved with the community. I’m part of the Augusta Chamber of Commerce and the Augusta Rotary Club. We’re also involved with charities that are associated with the university such as the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society. My wife is a big animal lover, so we love to support those charities, along with their spay and neuter programs, as well. 

Biggest Career or Life Obstacle I’ve Overcome and How: The biggest life obstacle I’ve had to overcome was a fear of water. I hated water, and I was an awful swimmer. But Tammie absolutely loves the water and helped me quite a bit. We became certified scuba divers and are now certified scuba diver instructors.

Accomplishment I’m Most Proud Of: I have two outstanding children that have become incredible adults, and I’m proud of what little I had to do with them becoming the caring individuals they are. And I’m proud of convincing Tammie to marry me and be my life partner. Professionally, being president of both a graduate and an undergraduate school has been the opportunity of a lifetime. I earned both my undergraduate and graduate degrees here, so it was also an opportunity for me to come home. I can’t think of anything more exciting than to be president of this university.

Favorite Way to Spend Saturday Afternoon: Watching college football or doing absolutely nothing

Favorite TV Show: Right now it’s “Walking Dead”

Favorite Movie: I have two favorite movies. Braveheart and The Last Samurai, without question, are two of the best movies ever made.

Favorite Sports Team: That’s a tough one. I guess I’m still a little partial to the Georgia Southern Eagles. I was president there for five-and-a-half years before I came to Augusta. But really, my favorite sports team is the Augusta Jaguars and everything they do.

Favorite Comfort Food: I don’t really have a favorite comfort food. Pretty much any food is comfortable to me. 

Favorite App: I guess it would probably be Twitter. It’s the one I probably use the most. I tweet quite a bit.

Last Book Read: I can’t remember the last book I read, but I can tell you my favorite book. It’s “Dune” by Frank Herbert.

Dream Vacation: I just got back from it. St. Lucia. It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world, and the diving is fantastic. And it truly is in the middle of nowhere.

Something That Has Changed My Life: Meeting Tammie has been one of the things that changed my life more than anything. I know it doesn’t sound very romantic, but we met at a scientific conference. 

Best Thing I Ever Learned: I guess it’s the importance of treating people like you want to be treated.

Favorite Hobbies: Scuba diving

Secret Aspiration: To be president of Augusta University. It’s not much of a secret anymore, though. 

Reality Show I Would Totally Win: “Survivor.” We’ve watched it quite a bit. I think I know the strategy on it pretty well.

Something People Would Be Surprised to Know About Me: Probably that I am actually a scuba instructor. That seems to surprise people quite a bit. 

What person do you think we should know? If you’d like to suggest someone we should meet, email and tell us why.

Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive

The food collected by area letter carriers will be delivered to Golden Harvest Food Bank to help families in need. Last year 178,550 pounds of food were collected locally during the drive.

The food collected by area letter carriers will be delivered to Golden Harvest Food Bank to help families in need. Last year 178,550 pounds of food were collected locally during the drive.

Local letter carriers will join a national effort to collect food donations for the annual Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive on Saturday, May 14. As the nation’s largest one-day food drive, the event has delivered more than a billion pounds of food in 10,000 cities and towns across America in the past 24 years. Spearheaded by the National Association of Letter Carriers, the food drive started in 1992 to provide food for school children during the summer.

“It’s a way for government employees to give back to the community,” says Paul Steele, the Augusta postmaster. “A lot of letter carriers work hours that make it difficult for them to volunteer in their communities. We take a lot of pride in the food drive.” 

To donate, area residents can place bags of non-perishable food next to their mailbox on the morning of the drive. Collection items can include cereal, rice, pasta, spaghetti sauce, canned fruits and vegetables, canned meats, macaroni and cheese, soups, juices and peanut butter. Items such toilet paper and diapers can be donated as well.

“The letter carriers collect the food during their normal rounds, and the food bank provides volunteers at each post office,” Steele says. 

The volunteers set up on the docks of area post offices, sort the food by category, box it and load it on trucks for delivery. Publix will provide plastic bags for the donations, and letter carriers will deliver the bags to mailboxes the week before the drive.

Nearly 1,500 NALC branches in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands participate in the food drive. About 49 million people, including nearly 16 million children, face hunger every day in America.

Deep Grooves and Hot Licks

A & E

 Ronnie Earl & The BroadcastersHaving the blues is a good thing at this annual concert in Thomson.

A small town event offers big time appeal at the 23rd annual Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival in Thomson. Musicians travel from across the country to entertain audiences at the festival that is named in honor of the Thomson native and blues guitar pioneer of the early 20th century. This year’s concert lineup includes Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters, Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams, Cash Box Kings, Buckwheat Zydeco, The Deslondes, Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton and Bruce Hampton and The Madrid Express.

Although few of McTell’s recordings earned mainstream popularity, his influence on the modern music and art scenes is well known. Some of his songs, including “Statesboro Blues” and “Broken Down Engine Blues,” have been recorded by famous artists such as the Allman Brothers, Taj Mahal and others.

Concertgoers are welcome to bring blankets and chairs for lawn seating. No pets or coolers will be allowed. Regional food will be available for purchase at the food court.

Pulling Strings
The annual Blind Willie McTell Music Festival is not the only way Thomson is honoring the legacy of its native son and influential blues musician. McTell’s 12-String Strut, a public art project featuring a dozen 7-foot polyurethane replicas of 12-string Stella guitars, is recognizing his musical contributions year-round. 

The 12-string Stella guitar was McTell’s instrument of choice, and local artists have created designs for the guitars that are on display in Thomson and McDuffie County. The public art display combines art and history to provide interpretation and everyday exposure to the musician’s legacy.

The guitars in downtown Thomson – the central location of the display – include an audio box that tells McTell’s story and plays samples of his music. The project coincides with the Georgia Department of Economic Development’s Year of Georgia Music, which will promote tourism with the state’s musical heritage, superstars and venues throughout the year. The guitars will remain on display for three years.  

If You Go:

What: Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival

When: Saturday, May 7; gate opens 11 a.m.; music begins at noon

Where: 1021 Stagecoach Road N.E., Thomson; (follow I-20 west to exit 172; take a right off exit ramp) 

How Much: $30 in advance; $40 at gate

More Info:

Joy Ride

A & E

Joy RideIs there a better way to celebrate National Bike Month in May than the 24th annual Lock to Lock Ride? While this ride will be just like the previous rides in many respects, the event will include a special tribute before the pedaling begins this year. Wheel Movement of the CSRA, a nonprofit organization that supports the local cycling community, will honor the late Andy Jordan, who passed away in October. He founded Andy Jordan’s Bicycle Warehouse and initiated the bike ride.

“He started the ride to show people what you can do with your bike locally and what we have to offer here. And it shows non-cyclists how many people do ride bikes in the area,” says his son, Drew Jordan, co-owner of Andy Jordan’s and coordinator of the ride. “It’s going to be an emotional day.”

Before the ride, Wheel Movement will dedicate a bike station, which will feature a plaque that honors Andy Jordan, at the canal headgates at Savannah Rapids Pavilion. The bike station will include air pumps and other bicycle service tools. 

“Andy was a vital part of cycling in the community. He remains with us in so many ways,” says Jim Ellington, Wheel Movement president. “We just felt like we wanted to do something in memory of Andy because he did so many things for those who enjoy cycling.”

The fact that the ride rolls on almost a quarter century after Andy Jordan founded it is a testament to his legacy as well. Each year more than 200 people participate in the ride, which begins at Savannah Rapids Pavilion. Cyclists can choose between two distances – 18.5 miles to the New Lock and Dam or a 37-mile round trip. Riders who choose the 18.5-mile option will need to arrange return transportation at the New Lock and Dam. 

The bike route follows flat, scenic terrain on hard-packed dirt and asphalt roads along the Augusta Canal. Fireside Outdoor Kitchens & Grills will prepare a meal at the New Lock and Dam, and some lucky riders can win door prizes there as well. Powerade and snacks will be available at rest stops along the way, and the ever-popular Sno-Kone machine will be set up at Augusta Commons for the return trip. Pre-registered riders will receive a T-shirt as well.

“It’s a good way to spend the day with your family. It’s a very family friendly ride, and it’s catered to recreational riders,” says Drew. “The ride back is very pretty because the sun is starting to drop a little bit.”

Cyclists must wear a helmet and have a bike that is in good working order. Hybrid/cross bikes, mountain bikes or comfort bikes are recommended. Riders also should bring water, additional snacks and a flat tire repair kit. Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association, or SORBA-CSRA, members will be available along the route to help riders if needed.

“We use all of the proceeds to improve cycling in some way,” Drew says. “We always try to put the money back into the community to make things better for local bike riders.”

If You Go:

What: Lock to Lock Ride 

When: Sunday, May 15; 12:30-1:30 p.m. sign in; 1:45 pre-ride briefing; ride starts at 2 p.m.

Where: Savannah Rapids Pavilion 

How Much: $25 if preregistered by 6 p.m. Thursday, May 12; $35 day of event 

More Info: (706) 724-2453 or