Monthly Archives: March 2020

Ripe & Ready

Garden Scene

Red tomatoes may be the most popular, but you’d be missing out on a lot of flavor — and fun — if you didn’t try at least a few other varieties

It’s hard to beat homegrown vegetables for freshness and flavor, and few vegetables brighten a garden like ripe tomatoes. A gardening favorite for generations, tomato plants provide a tasty rainbow all on their own — red, pink, orange, white, blue, striped, even black.

Try planting a few different varieties and, who knows? They just may become your new favorites.

Orange
The Amana Orange, a large 1-pound beefsteak tomato, is a vivid shade of orange when ripe. Amana Orange tomatoes have a firm texture and a distinctive sweet flavor with a tart, acidic undertone. These tomatoes often are used for slicing to garnish sandwiches or cut into chunks to eat as a snack.

The Honeycomb hybrid produces vivid yellowish-orange cherry tomatoes. As an added bonus, their sweet flavor has a hint of honey.

The Hawaiian Pineapple tomato is generally orange on top, melding into red on the bottom. However, the fruit can have any combination of orange and red coloration. The medium-sized tomato looks like a small pumpkin, and it has a sweet, unique taste.

Purple/Blue
Purple tomato varieties such as the heirloom Indigo Rose have a full, rich flavor and delightful coloration.

Indigo Rose, the first blue tomato, is small enough to eat whole as a snack but firm enough to slice. When sliced, the 2-inch fruit looks like a plum with its deep red flesh. Plant it in full sun and it will turn its darkest color; grow it in a shady area, and it will be bicolor. The interior, however, is consistently rosy red and delicious. Indigo Rose stores well after being picked, and its flavor is at its peak within two weeks of picking. The sharp, sweet flavor complements sweet sauces and tomato juice.

Black
Black tomatoes are an interesting addition to a garden or greenhouse. The giant Black Krim is a large, firm tomato with a mild, sweet, earthy flavor. Typically used in sauces, salsas and other dishes, it is one of the most delicious tomatoes you will ever taste. The plant produces purplish-red fruits that ripen from green to dark red, with a brown tint. With the right amount of sunlight, it sometimes can appear almost black.

BrandyFred tomatoes — proof that large fruits do grow on dwarf plants — also have a firm beefsteak texture, but are juicier than Black Krims. A mildly sweet flavor and low acidity makes them a perfect sandwich tomato. BrandyFreds grow well in containers, but need to be staked well.

The heirloom Black Cherry, with a natural color that results from pollination from different cherry tomato colors, produces beautiful deep purple, mahogany-brown

fruit with 1-inch diameters. They are sweet and juicy with a subtle nutty taste, and make a beautiful addition to a salad or plate.

White
White tomatoes are not commonly found in grocery stores, but several varieties exist. Ghost Cherry tomatoes weigh approximately 2 ounces, so they can be eaten whole or sliced. They have a creamy white or pale yellow skin that takes on a slightly pink hue when the fruit is ripe. Their sweet taste and crisp texture is great for snacking, and the unusual color enhances fruit and vegetable appetizers or displays.

Italian Ice tomatoes, cherry tomatoes with ivory skin, grow in clusters of juicy, sugary-sweet tomatoes that ripen from green to buttercream ivory. Mellow in flavor, they are excellent for snacking and are a pretty choice for salads and plate garnishes. Plant in garden beds or large planters with supports.

The Great White is a large heirloom tomato with yellowish-white skin and a mellow, non-acidic flavor. The flesh is smooth and creamy with few seeds.

Pink
The Razzle Dazzle hybrid produces large, bright pink or magenta tomatoes that are extremely juicy with a balanced flavor that’s not overly sweet. Razzle Dazzles are a good choice for canning stewed tomatoes and making tomato sauce or juice. They can be used alone or mixed with other varieties to create nuanced flavor and color.

Thai Pink Egg tomatoes are a pretty shade of pink and can be as small as grapes or as large as a small egg. These tomatoes are good for snacking, roasting, salads or making a light pink tomato paste.

The Brandywine is an irregular-shaped heirloom tomato variety with dark pink skin. Weighing nearly a pound each, they are excellent slicing tomatoes with slightly meaty flesh and rich flavor.

Striped
With striped orange and red skin, the Big Rainbow tomato lives up to its name. The large tomatoes can weigh up to 2 pounds each. Like other beefsteak tomatoes, they are an excellent choice for slicing because of their size and firm flesh. When sliced, their unique coloring makes them stand out on fruit and vegetable platters. Big Rainbow tomatoes also are great for sandwiches, salads and many cooked dishes. Use them to make soups, sauces, stews, juice, paste, ketchup and chutney.

The odd-looking Brad’s Atomic Grape tomato is a real garden — and taste bud — surprise, winning Best in Show at the National Heirloom Expo. Extraordinarily sweet, the elongated tomatoes grow in juicy clusters (some to plum-size) and display an amazing array of color: lavender and purple stripes turn a technicolor olive-green, red and then brown/blue stripes when fully ripe. Add them to salads or keep a bowl handy for a delicious snack.

The striped, heart-shaped Orange Russian tomato is a delicious, fruity tomato that has undertones of peach, pineapple and citrus. The flesh is thick and meaty, and the fruit has few seeds. Color combinations range from streaky orange to gradient yellow-red, and the distinctive sweet flavor makes this a great tomato for salads, sandwiches, garnishes, sweeter sauces and stewed tomatoes. The Orange Russian also is especially good for dicing or using in salsas since it is not overly juicy.

The Sunrise Bumblebee Tomato may be the prettiest cherry tomato ever grown and is a little bigger than usual cherry tomatoes. With gem-like red and yellow streaks, it is colorful inside and out. Sweet and tangy, these bumblebees are great eaten out of hand or halved in salads.

Multiple varieties of tomatoes can be grown at the same time, but plant them on opposite sides or corners of a garden — or plant an entirely different fruit or vegetable in between — to avoid cross-pollination.

Sometimes cross-pollination occurs despite a gardener’s best efforts, but finding unexpected tomatoes on a few plants also can be part of the fun.

Family Ties

P.Y.S.K.

Photography by Sally Kolar

Two area sisters who were separated for 65 years formed an instant, lasting, unbreakable bond when they finally met

It’s never too late to build strong family relationships. Just ask sisters Debi Drummond, 66, of North Augusta and Barbara Hudson, 71, of Augusta. Until May of 2018, they had no idea each other even existed. For the last 20 months, however, they have been making up for lost time.

“My story began in North Augusta, South Carolina,” says Debi, when she and Barbara shared their story with a group at Wesley United Methodist Church. “God’s impeccable timing and love has brought us together.”

For 65 years however, they grew up in different families and lived separate lives. Debi was adopted at birth in 1953 by a North Augusta couple and grew up with an older brother, who was their parents’ biological child. Her adoptive parents, Jerry and Helen Baxter, had been told that Debi was one of eight or nine children whose family could not afford to keep her.

Barbara, who was born in 1948, was raised in Augusta as an only child. “In 1953, my mother was pregnant. She also was in the midst of a divorce,” says Barbara, whose mother remarried in 1957.

They think Debi was taken from their mother for adoption by a local juvenile court officer, Bee Hamilton, who died in 1988. Hamilton reportedly sold hundreds of babies to adoptive parents from the late 1930s until the mid-1960s.

“Bee Hamilton was powerful and well-respected in the community,” says Debi. “She had connections with unwed mother homes. She preyed on low-income, low-education people.”

Allegedly, Hamilton often told birth mothers that their babies had died and asked the adoptive parents to pay the baby’s hospital bills. The sisters believe these were the circumstances that led to Debi’s adoption.

Before her mother, Betty Perry, died in 2004, Barbara saw a page in the family Bible that listed the births in the family. She saw her name, her cousins’ names and their birthdates. She also saw an unfamiliar name – Beverly Kay Perry, who was born May 10, 1953 and died in 1953.

“My mom said, ‘That was a baby I had, but they told me she died,’” says Barbara.

Because her mother was terminally ill, Barbara, who was living in Jupiter, Florida at the time, didn’t ask any questions. However, she told a close friend and a cousin what she had seen.

“My cousin sent me a link about a black market baby ring in Augusta and said, ‘What if?’” Barbara says.

DNA Testing
The “what if” began to turn to reality after the younger of Debi’s two daughters, Kim, submitted a DNA sample to find answers and solace for her mother. Debi had fallen into depression when she lost her husband, Andy, in January 2014 after a brief illness and her parents died a week apart 20 months later.

Before Kim submitted her DNA for testing, however, the kit sat on her dresser for eight months. “She did it behind the scenes. I didn’t know it,” Debi says.

After she got the results from her DNA sample, Kim connected with Barbara’s second cousin in Dallas and he recommended that she contact his cousin – Barbara’s uncle Billy, who was her mother’s brother – in Evans.

After talking to Kim, Billy called Barbara and told her that a young lady had contacted him and told him that she thought her mother was Barbara’s sister. He asked Barbara to meet with Kim, and they talked on Memorial Day of 2018.

Kim, who lives in the area, and her sister, Keli, who lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, came to Debi’s house that night, and they told their mother they had something to tell her.

“Kim said, ‘Mom, you have a sister.’ And Keli said, “And an uncle. And they want to meet you,’” Debi says.

Her response was immediate. “I said, ‘Call them right now. I’ve been waiting 65 years,’” she says.

Barbara arrived at Debi’s house about 9 p.m., and she stayed until 2 a.m. “We bonded right away,” says Barbara, who has one daughter named Ashley.

Debi agrees. “Not only was there an instant bond between us. It has extended to our daughters and all the way down to our grandchildren,” she says.

Debi is a grandmother of six, and Barbara has three granddaughters.

The physical similarities between the two sisters are unmistakable as well. Barbara’s husband, Eddie, told her that Debi looks more like their mother than Barbara, and Ashley felt an instant connection with Debi.

“She sees her grandmother in me, and that warms my heart,” says Debi.

Their first meeting was filled with poignant moments as well. “Debi said, ‘Why was I not wanted?’ I told her, ‘My mother would have never parted with you,’” Barbara says.

In fact, Barbara says her mother had contacted the Georgia Adoption Registry to try to find her daughter. However, she was searching for Beverly Kay Perry, who was born on May 10, 1953, and Debi’s birth certificate said she was born May 8, 1953.

Debi believes divine intervention played a role in the reunion with her sister as well. “God’s design for me and Barbara is perfect,” she says. “His timing was exact. At that time, God said, ‘This girl needs her sister.’ I think Andy Drummond walked up to God and said, ‘Please help her.’”

Parallel Lives
From the first night they met – when Debi was wearing black pants and a white shirt and Barbara was wearing white pants and a black top – the sisters realized how much they have in common. Talking late into the evening, they discovered many similarities in their parallel lives.

Both of them met their husbands when they were 15 years old and married at age 19. “Our husbands could have been brothers,” says Barbara. “They had the same mannerisms.”

Debi and her first cousin were in the same Sunday school class in North Augusta, and in 1985, Debi was a bridesmaid in a wedding where Barbara was a guest. They even discovered that they had flown on the same airplane several times through the years.

Both of them do freelance interior design work. And now, as a reminder of their story, each of them wears a dragonfly bracelet with birthstones from the months that Debi, Barbara, their mother and their children were born.

The dragonfly bracelet is meaningful to them because it plays a significant role in the novel Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate. The fiction-based-on-fact book recounts the actions of Georgia Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization who kidnapped and sold more than 5,000 poor children to wealthy families all across the country from the mid-1920s until 1950. The book is set in 1939 Memphis and in present-day Aiken, South Carolina.

As for their true-life experience, the sisters believe that Debi may have been the only baby that was sold to a local family. “We grew up within a 10-mile radius of each other our whole lives,” Debi says.

Finding an Identity
Debi found out she had been adopted when she was about 3 years old, and she was told how fortunate she was to have been adopted.

“It was the ’50s, and we didn’t talk about it. But I didn’t have anybody I looked like,” says Debi.

“I was raised with a loving family in a loving home, but I struggled. I had questions, but I held it in because I didn’t want to hurt my parents’ feelings.”

Finally finding a blood relative has made a huge difference in Debi’s life. “With Barbara, I can look in her eyes and her big heart, and that has given me an identity,” says Debi.

Their reunion has answered many questions for Barbara as well.

“All through the years, my mother suffered emotionally, but we never knew why,” she says. “Now we know what happened to her.”

At the end of her life, Betty survived in a coma for seven weeks while she was in hospice care. “The hospice people said that never happens. They asked if there was anybody she had not said goodbye to,” says Barbara.

At the time, she knew of no one else that her mother needed to see. Now, though, she understands. “There was only one person left,” says Barbara. “It was Debi.”

Barbara, who was raised as an only child but found her sister at age 70, is relishing her new identity as well.

“It’s been a blessing for both of us, but especially for Debi. And I’m loving being in a sister role,” says Barbara. “What if our mother could see us now? We have to know that she does.

By Betsy Gilliland

Ahead of the Curve

In The Home

Photography by Sally Kolar

Rounded walls, arched entries and spiral staircases – along with elegant, yet rustic, décor – shape and define a West Lake home

For most people there’s no place like home, and that’s just as true for Martinez residents Wendy and Richard Epter as it is for anyone. However, their West Lake home also is full of reminders of their time away from home.

Their hobbies are travel and photography, and they always try to bring back keepsakes from their trips – whether it’s an image they shoot in a photography workshop or just something they love.

“We collect art when we travel,” says Wendy. “It’s such a good memento.”

Grand Entrance
The interior of the home is full of statement-making pieces. However, the “wow” factor begins outside. The exterior of the house, where a turret adds architectural interest, is made of stone, stucco and brick. A pair of white columns accents the front porch, and a large fountain sits on a circular island in the driveway.

Inside, the décor is rustic, yet elegant. Garnering ideas from websites such as Pinterest and houzz.com, the Epters, who moved into their house almost four years ago, came up with many of the design features themselves. Michael Siewart of Signature Interiors helped them with the décor as well.

“We definitely like warm tones, even though it seems like the trend is more toward cooler colors,” Wendy says.

Two-story ceilings in some of the rooms give the house an open, airy ambiance, and floor-to-ceiling windows in the main living areas of the house pull in lots of natural light. The main living areas also feature cypress flooring, which is distressed in the family room and the kitchen. Wide baseboards and crown molding anchor many of the rooms.

Curved walls – in all the right places, of course – soften the spaces and bring flow and energy to the rooms. The spiral staircases and curved furnishings, along with arched entryways, have the same effect.

In the two-story foyer, where natural light spills in through the windows, a spiral staircase winds its way to the second story. The space also includes marble tile flooring and a chandelier. A round metal and stone table is tucked into a nook by the staircase.

The lighted recess in the curved wall along the staircase holds a piece of sculpture from Capri, and the Epters got four watercolors on the opposite wall during a trip to the Amalfi Coast.

Easy & Carefree
Rustic meets elegant – with a dash of seafaring whimsy – in the dining room, where the custom-made, heart pine table is flanked by studded upholstered chairs with a pillow nestled on each seat.

“We knew we wanted a rustic table in the dining room,” says Wendy. “I wanted something that was easy and carefree.”

A beaded chandelier hangs from the two-story, heptagon-shaped ceiling, and balconies overlook a pair of built-in wood cabinets with glass shelving and granite countertops.

Two whimsical Gyotaku fish rubbings by Fred Fisher also hang on walls in the dining room. Gyotaku (“gyo” means fish, and “taku” meaning rubbing or impression) is a traditional form of fish printing. In the 1800s, Japanese fisherman would cover a fish with ink and press rice paper onto it, and a mirror image of the fish would remain on the paper.

Fisher also uses acrylic paint and cloth, or different types of handmade paper, to capture as much vivid color and detail as possible in his fish rubbings.

The adjoining butler’s pantry has curved cabinetry with curved granite countertops.

The living room features a two-story, coffered ceiling. Floor to ceiling windows overlook the backyard and Reed Creek, where the Epters see deer, beavers and the neighborhood coyote.

“We feel like we’re out in the woods,” Wendy says. “It’s very peaceful.”

Gold sequined pillows add a burst of color to the neutrally shaded furnishings. Built-ins, which are topped by lighted wall recessions that spotlight pieces of pottery, occupy either side of the gas-log fireplace, which features a granite surround.

The Epters also got the oil painting above the fireplace during their trip to the Amalfi Coast.

A wet bar with a granite countertop, a copper sink and leather, studded stools occupies a corner of the living room.

“When we have a party or guests, this is people’s favorite place to hang out,” says Wendy.

An animal hide hangs on a wall in the bar area. They got the wall hanging, which was made by a Sioux Indian, during a 2018 trip to the Badlands in South Dakota.

Rooms with a View
The master bedroom and the family room also offer views of Reed Creek. In addition, the master bedroom features a stone, raised-hearth, gas-log fireplace; a trey ceiling; ceiling fan; built-ins and recessed lighting.

The adjoining master bath includes a walk-in, marble tile shower; a self-cleaning, air-jet tub; two vanities with granite countertops; heated marble tile flooring and heated towel bars.

In the family room, the stone of the raised-hearth, wood-burning fireplace reaches to the cathedral ceiling and stone seating extends to each wall. Storage for firewood is tucked beneath the stone seating.

The natural wood mantel still contains barbed wire that had grown into the wood. A narrow table, which is made from a reclaimed wood beam and features metal legs, stands behind the couch.

Colorful artwork on the family room walls includes “Saturday Market,” an acrylic by Augusta native Margaret Ann Smith. “We like to support local artists,” Wendy says.

In the kitchen, a large island offers ample work space and seating. The granite countertop on the island differs from the granite on the perimeter counters.

“We wanted a piece of granite that had a lot of personality on the island,” says Wendy.

The kitchen also includes two sinks, lots of drawer space, recessed lighting and five bell-shaped pendant lights above the island. Most of the appliances are stainless steel, but the two dishwashers blend in with the cabinetry.

A collection of pottery is on display in the glass-front cabinets in the kitchen. The Epters got some of the pieces at events such as Arts in the Heart. Others such as a colorful bowl from a market in Mexico are mementoes from their travels.

“The pieces remind us of the places we’ve been,” Wendy says.

Photography & Artwork
Because of their interest in photography, the Epters also create many reminders of their travels for themselves.

They started pursing their hobby about 10 years ago when Richard took a photography workshop in Yellowstone National Park. Wendy took her first workshop two or three years later during a fall trip to Acadia National Park in Maine.

“We went to photograph the fall colors, and I knew nothing,” she says. “My first camera was a hand-me-down from my husband.”

A framed photo on one wall is an image that Wendy took of Antelope Canyon, which is located on Navajo land just east of Page, Arizona, on a guided photography tour led by a Navajo tribe member. A photograph on metal of Cathedral Rock, which Richard took in Sedona, Arizona, hangs on another wall.

“It is my desire to have a gallery of my work and my husband’s work where we can display our photographs,” Wendy says.

Last year the Epters, who try to take a couple of trips a year, traveled to Patagonia.

“We take thousands of pictures every time we go on a photography workshop,” Wendy says. “Every time we go somewhere, we learn something new about photography.”

Some of their artwork serves as a reminder of friendships they have made as well. For instance, they have a couple of multi-media pieces, including a pen and oil on canvas, by an Israeli artist who stayed at their home when he was part of an art show at Augusta Jewish Community Center. They also have a framed paper and copper piece by the artist’s wife.

“I like art that makes me happy,” says Wendy.

Fun & Games
In the Epter house, however, it’s not just the artwork that creates happiness. From a game room to a wine cellar, there is plenty of entertainment available as well.

For those who like a little good-natured competition, the game room features foosball, shuffleboard and pool tables. Framed Augusta National Golf Club prints line a wall above a built-in wood bar. A separate wet bar features a wood countertop and a hammered copper sink.

The game room also includes a brick fireplace with gas logs and a wood mantel. A 3-D painting of a clown fish and billiard balls hangs above the doorway.

Movie buffs can kick back in the Epters’ home theater. Even though she doesn’t spend as much time there as she would like, this room is Wendy’s favorite place in the house.

“We don’t go to the movies anymore, but it feels like being in a movie theater,” she says.

Wendy made the cloth covers for the panels on the walls, and the seating also is covered in fabric. Initially, the Epters planned to put leather seating in the theater, but they reconsidered after doing their research.

“We had a preconceived notion of what we wanted to do, but we learned that we needed fabrics that will absorb light and sound,” Wendy says. “And fabric is comfortable year-round.”

The walls of an alcove outside the theater feature framed movie posters, which Wendy and her husband’s niece won in a trivia contest at an Oscars party. A popcorn machine stands on the floor, but it’s not just for show. Wendy puts it to good use.

“It’s easier to pop a bag in the microwave,” she says. “But listening to the machine go ‘pop, pop, pop, pop’ and smelling the popcorn is so much better.”

A hallway with brick walls and a brick barrel ceiling leads to the wine cellar, where the Epters, who belong to three wine clubs, store their collection.

“A lot of thought went into the wine cellar,” says Wendy. “We spent hours and hours looking through idea books.”

The wine cellar features built-in wine racks and shelving, glass walls, recessed lighting, a tongue and groove ceiling, brick flooring arranged in a herringbone pattern and wine barrels.

A covered porch off of the lower level provides another place to unwind. Brick walls line the porch, and screened archways lead to the swimming pool. The porch also includes a beamed, tongue and groove ceiling; tropical ceiling fans; Travertine tile flooring and an outdoor kitchen.

Eight draftsman stools line the sides of a long wood table, and an armed chair sits on each end.

A seating area faces a raised-hearth, brick fireplace and a flat-screen TV.

Despite all of its architectural details and engaging décor, however, Wendy is always looking for ways to fine tune their home.

“Some things are ongoing and still in progress,” she says. “There’s always more to be done.”

By Sarah James

Avocado Ranch Dressing

Salads
  • 2 avocados
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup mayo
  • 3 tablespoons sour cream
  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 garlic clove
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 2 tablespoons chopped chives

Place avocado, buttermilk, mayo, sour cream, vinegar, salt, pepper, garlic and lime juice in a food processor and puree until smooth. Pour into a lidded glass jar and add parsley, chives and pit from avocado (the pit helps reduce browning/oxidation). Secure lid and shake until herbs are evenly combined. Refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving with salad, veggies or as a dip. Makes 8-10 servings.

Beyond Peaches, Peanuts and Onions

Travel

Photos courtesy of Georgia Grown Trails

Highlighted by family farms and home-grown businesses, Georgia Grown Trails promotes agritourism and awakens feelings of nostalgia for travelers.

Sometimes a name says it all. But sometimes a name – like Georgia’s nickname, the Peach State – merely whets the appetite. Peaches, along with peanuts and sweet Vidalia onions, might be the state’s most well-known crops. However, the state is full of other Georgia born-and-bred products, and the Georgia Grown Trails system is here to highlight the abundance of homegrown goods.

Georgia Grown Trails, which started in 2014 and includes four trails, is designed to showcase agriculture-related tourism hot spots in rural areas throughout the state. These attractions include U-pick and other farms, dairies, vineyards and wineries, farm-to-table restaurants, seafood and farmers’ markets, specialty food stores, lakes and forests.

“The attractions represent something out of the past,” says Jerry Connell, one of the co-founders of Georgia Grown Trails. “It’s all low-tech. The trails are simple fun.”

The trails are developed as a joint project of the state Agriculture and Economic Development departments, and the trail designations are authorized through the Georgia Legislature. The system also is affiliated with Georgia Grown, a state Agriculture Department marketing and economic development program that helps state agricultural economies grow and thrive.

Attractions on the trail system must meet certain criteria to be eligible for inclusion. First and foremost, however, Connell says, “To be part of a trail, you have to be connected somehow to Georgia agriculture.”

The number of each trail designates the highway where the attractions are located, and the state Department of Transportation posts signs along the roadway designating it as a Georgia Grown Trail. All of the attractions on the trails are open to the public.

“The trails particularly appeal to empty nesters and grandparents who want to show their grandchildren what life was like when they grew up,” says Connell. “They can get a sense of how food is grown, where it is grown and what it tastes like out in the field. You can get a real sense of how things used to be.”

Trail 1
Featuring 44 stops and stretching for 182 miles, Georgia Grown Trail 1 is the closest to Columbia County, extending north to south from Augusta to Folkston. It became operational in July 2017 as the third trail of the system.

Trail stops include meat markets, hands-on farm experiences, farmers’ markets, peanut stands, museums, specialty shops and restaurants.

Closest to home, the family owned and operated Lanier’s Fresh Meat Market in Augusta has been in business since 1969. Some of its locally farmed meats include certified Angus beef, alligator, goat, seafood, game and hard-to-find meats and poultry. The cow atop the building on Walton Way was a landmark on Highway 1 for about 50 years.

Halfway down the trail visitors will come to the home of Georgia’s official state vegetable — the Vidalia onion.

“Trail 1 runs through Vidalia onion fields, which are a big draw for this trail,” Connell says.

Visit farms and produce stands, but allow time to explore historic downtown Vidalia, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Just a block off Highway 1 in Lyons is the Altamaha Heritage Center, a history museum dedicated to the cultural heritage of the Altamaha River Basin. Visitors can see artifacts and information on Native Americans, moonshine, turpentine, homestead, transportation and barn implements.

In Alma, the Blueberry Capital of Georgia, visitors can happily get the blues at The Blueberry Barn. From fresh-picked berries — the season starts in late April — to jams, sauces, syrups, even blueberry butter and barbecue sauce, it’s filled year-round with all things blueberry.

The shop also carries items made by local artists such as paintings, jewelry, pottery and ornaments. In a nod to the past, the store shelves are made from 100-plus-year-old wood from owner Ann Wildes’ grandfather’s house.

Also in Alma is Rockingham Pecans, famous for its specialty – fried pecans. These sweet and salty pecans were a finalist in the 2007 Flavor of Georgia contest and the number one snack food in the 2008 Flavor of Georgia contest.

Trail 1 is about much more than food, however. Okefenokee Swamp Park transports visitors to prehistoric environs where alligators and rare birds roam among carnivorous plants and lily-decked water trails.

Travelers along this route also can enjoy sports such as kayaking and turkey hunting, attend festivals and expos and learn old-fashioned arts such as making soap. You can even visit a working saw mill or grist mill.

“Georgia Grown doesn’t just mean ‘plant-based’ or ‘animal-based.’ Businesses are Georgia-grown, too,” says Connell.

Trail 37
Extending east to west for 167 miles from Homerville to Fort Gaines at the Alabama state line, Trail 37 was the first trail in the system, the state’s first officially branded agritourism highway and its first award-winning agritourism trail. Incorporated in 2013, it was up and running by mid-2014. Trail 37, which became the prototype for the subsequent trails, includes 30 stops.

At the historically significant Kolomoki Mounds State Park, visitors can see the oldest and largest Woodland Indian site in the southeastern United States, occupied by Indians from 350 to 750 A.D. Standing 57 feet high, the state’s oldest great temple mound dominates two smaller burial mounds and several ceremonial mounds. Kolomoki Mounds also offers outdoor activities such as fishing, boating, camping and hiking.

At 2,500 acres, White Oak Pastures in Bluffton is the state’s largest organic farm. The six generation, 152-year-old family farm has four one-bedroom cabins that are nestled in a longleaf pine forest, a general store and a farm-to-table restaurant called The Farmers Table.

Trail 37 also includes three wineries that were instrumental is getting the south Georgia agritourism trail started. The properties offer wine tastings and vineyard tours.

Near Lakeland, Georgia Olive Farms has plants that came from Italy. “Visitors can see the machinery harvest olives, and some people go just to see what an olive tree looks like,” says Connell.

For award-winning honey, travelers can make a beeline to Bruce’s Nut-N-Honey Farm in Homerville. The honey is a Flavor of Georgia winner, and it has been voted Georgia’s Best Tasting Honey.

“Trail 37 is the most unadulterated one, and all of the attractions relate to agritourism,” says Connell.

Trail 41
Trail 41, the system’s second trail, was dedicated in October 2014. Easily accessible from Interstate 75, this 173-mile trail runs north to south from Barnesville to Lake Park near the Florida state line.

“You can take a train ride. You can go to a cotton museum. You can get pecan products or go to a ranch that has miniature horses,” says Connell.

The 46 attractions along Trail 41 include Turner County Stockyard, where visitors can see a live cattle auction, and three different locations of Stripling’s General Store. This family business offers custom-cut meats, its famous sausage and jerky, seasonings and sauces, syrups and jellies, pickles and relishes.

At the Historic SAM Shortline Railroad, travelers can board air-conditioned, 1949 vintage cars and take the train to quaint little Georgia towns.

The Georgia State Cotton Museum occupies a 125-year-old school house in the eastern part of Vienna, between historic downtown and I-75.

“These are all Southern experiences. A lot of small towns don’t have large tourist attractions. This is our way of getting people off the interstate and into the countryside,” Connell says.

Trail 17
The newest agritourism highway, which runs north to south for 108 miles along Highway 17 from Kingsland to Savannah, was added in the fall of 2018. The 22 stops along Trail 17 include farms, restaurants, red brick sidewalks in historic downtown Kingsland, a cattle company and a petting zoo.

In Woodbine, visitors can kick back and relax at Captain Stan’s Smokehouse, where backyard barbecue, local seafood, Southern sides and live music reign supreme behind its “magic fence.” One customer amusingly describes the quirky vibe there as “Jimmy Buffet meets Deliverance.”

Veering off Highway 17, Market on the Square, a family owned and operated general store in historic downtown St. Marys, is located in a renovated grocery store. The store carries gift items and sweets, including homemade fudge that is made on the spot.

Greyfield Inn on Cumberland Island also is part of the trail. Situated on 200 acres of land, the property spans from marshland on the west to the ocean to the east. Each day the inn provides guests with three full meals including a Southern breakfast, picnic lunch and farm-fresh dinner – plus an hors d’oeuvres hour.

Trail 17 also includes U-pick blueberry farms, so wear comfortable shoes and take your sunscreen.

Timing is Everything
Because the agritourism attractions along the trails are seasonal, visitors need to plan ahead before visiting a location.

“Berries are seasonal in the spring. Olives are big in the fall,” Connell says. “Winter is a good time to visit the wineries.” In addition, he says, “It’s not the kind of thing you can do in one day. The stops can be 40 or 50 miles apart.”

Trail stops also include overnight accommodations such as state parks, B&Bs, boutique hotels and historic inns. “We realized when people are traveling long distances, they’re going to need a place to stay,” says Connell.

However, Georgia Grown Trails is not just for long-distance explorers. Local residents can enjoy the sites as well.

“We think we know everything about the area where we live, but we don’t see for looking. So often, we don’t know or see interesting, beautiful or exciting things in our own backyards,” says Connell. “People should get out and explore their own areas. They’ll really be surprised at what they’ll find.”

So go ahead and hit the trails.

“There is only good to come of getting off the interstate and into the countryside to find beauty and charm in out-of-the-way, small country towns,” Connell says. “It lifts the spirit and enriches people’s lives.”

By Morgan Davis

 

Happy Homecoming

People

Columbia County native Josh Kelley is heading home for his first public performance in the area in 10 years.

For his upcoming album, slated for release in June, Columbia County native Josh Kelley taps into the family life he shares with his wife, Katherine Heigl, and their three children.

On March 20, however, the Lakeside High School grad might turn back the clock. That night the singer/songwriter will perform at The Country Club Dancehall & Saloon as part of a spring tour in support of the single and video, “Busy Making Memories,” that he released last fall.

“It’s a solo acoustic tour. The show has a lot of heart and a lot of comedy. It’s almost like a variety show,” says Kelley. “It’s my favorite way to perform. It’s the way that I express myself best. I can get back to my roots and the way that I got here.”

During the performance, Kelley will tell stories and play original songs as well as some of his favorite covers.

“I try to bring the feeling that we’re all sitting in a living room together,” he says. “I love bringing in every aspect of entertaining that I love.”

All of the venues on his spring tour have a seating capacity of 200-500 people. However, Kelley plans to offer a little something extra to the local audience, where he expects to see plenty of fellow Lakeside alumni and friends.

“It will be an unofficial Lakeside High School reunion – with a few surprises,” he says. “I’ll come up with material a couple of days before or on the spot. It’s just a fun, goofy show.”

Kelley added comedy to his shows several years ago when he decided that he didn’t want to hold himself back in his performances. “My wife says she married me because I’m funny, but I’m a much better singer than comedian,” he says.

Whether he is telling jokes or singing songs, however, he feels at ease on stage. And he hopes to convey that same sense of joy to his fans.

“I want them to leave fully entertained,” Kelley says. “I want it to be an experience.”

Admittedly, he used to feel added pressure when he performed before hometown crowds. That feeling has waned through the years, though.

“Over time, you change a little. Each time I come back, they see that change,” says Kelley. “About four years ago, I stopped caring about what other people think. I try to be authentic. I don’t write songs that I don’t relate to because I don’t believe them either.”

For instance, “Busy Making Memories,” is about family memories and adventures that were inspired by his kids on New Year’s Day 2019 on the Kelley family ranch. Making the video was a true family affair, as Kelley and his wife collaborated on its concepts, editing and directing. Kelley also produced and engineered the single himself in his-barn-turned-studio where he creates most of his music.

“I wrote that song as a reminder that I’m not so busy in my career that I’m not making memories with my family,” Kelley says. “It’s not just a glimpse into my life. It’s relatable, so it’s a glimpse into anyone’s life. Being relatable is always my goal.”

In addition to “Busy Making Memories,” his show will include his latest single, “Love Her Boy,” which was released in February. “I think it’s the best song I’ve made since my first song, ‘Amazing,’” Kelley says.

Kelley, who plays 14 instruments and started recording music on a “little tape machine” when he was 10 years old, will have a busy summer. In addition to the release of his currently untitled album, his first since 2016, he will perform in a supporting slot on “a big tour for a big artist” in July. Sorry, he can’t divulge any more details yet.

In the meantime, though, he just keeps perfecting his craft.

“Over the years, I always try to keep getting better,” Kelley says. “I try to be a better singer, lyricist and musician.”

If You Go:
What: Josh Kelley
When: 9:30 p.m. Friday, March 20
Where: The Country Club Dancehall & Saloon
How Much: $15 in advance, $75 VIP, plus handling fees
More Info: @joshbkelley, joshkelley.com, countryclubaugusta.com

A Guitar, a Voice and a Barstool

People

Country star Jake Owen is bringing his first-ever acoustic tour to the area

A lot has changed for multi-platinum entertainer Jake Owen since his college days when he first perched himself on barstools to play country covers live on his guitar. He has spent the last 10 years traveling with his band to entertain massive audiences in NFL stadiums.

However, Owen is returning to his roots with his first-ever acoustic headlining tour, Down to the Tiki Tonk, and the penultimate stop will be at Miller Theater’s Brian J. Marks Hall on Saturday, March 14.

He will perform intimate and acoustic interpretations of songs on his most recent, highly-acclaimed album, Greetings From…Jake, including the single “Homemade,” number one smash “I Was Jack (You Were Diane)” and ACM-nominated hit “Down To The Honkytonk.”

“I’ve been looking forward to the acoustic tour since the days I used to play acoustics on a barstool in college,” says Jake. “There’s something so satisfying about pushing away the smoke and mirrors and lights to entertain people with nothing more than an acoustic song and a voice.”

Greetings From…Jake, which debuted with more than 154,000 album equivalents to date, has yielded Owen’s seventh number one hit.

In addition, “Entertainment Tonight” recently premiered the long-form extended video of “Homemade,” which tells the real-life, 1940s-era love story of his 95-year-old grandparents, Bryan Yancey Owen and Jean Martin.

Owen stars in the video as his grandfather’s younger self, and his grandparents narrate it. (Spoiler alert: His grandfather first spotted his future bride walking down the street in Munfordville, Kentucky when he was hitchhiking through town and waiting to catch his next ride. There’s much more to the story, though. Think a camera, a coin flip and a call to duty.)

Owen says Greetings From…Jake illustrates his evolution as an artist since his first number one hit, “Barefoot Blue Jean Night,” was released in 2011. In the refrain of the song about youthful exploits, he sings, “Never gonna grow up. Never gonna slow down.”

Of his latest album, Owen, the father of two daughters, says, “It’s got a lot of different examples of how I’ve grown. I’ve always enjoyed songs about life. I am definitely growing up, and I am definitely slowing down. I have different priorities in my life now. The music I make now has to correlate to them. It has to be authentic.”

Owen taught himself to play guitar after an injury and reconstructive surgery derailed his dreams of a professional golf career. Ultimately, he started writing his own material and moved to Nashville.

“I loved the feeling of playing songs for my buddies around a campfire or on a couch, and I thought maybe I could do this in front of people,” says Owen. “I’ve always liked telling stories. I like putting ideas to melodies. Everybody is a songwriter at heart. You just need to put it together with an instrument.”

He loves being on stage, but the experience is humbling for him as well.

“It feels amazing. It’s a feeling of being elated, but there is also a big fear to play music live for people,” Owen says. “I’m just scared enough to be inspired to be better. I don’t want to let people down. There are so many emotions you can have at once on stage, but it’s the best feeling to have the ability to make someone feel good.”

The acoustic performance, which also features singers/songwriters Larry Fleet and Scott Emerick, will not be Owen’s first visit to the area. He has performed here many times, including shows at James Brown Arena and the inaugural concert at the Augusta GreenJackets’ SRP Park. “I like going back to places that have been great to me,” Owen says.

He hopes to return the favor to his fans.

“I want to give people the show they came for, whether they want to escape or smile or laugh,” Owen says. “But I’ll have a few surprises for them, too.”

If You Go:
What: Jake Owen: Down to the Tiki Tonk Acoustic Tour
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 14
Where: Miller Theater Brian J. Marks Hall
How Much: $39 – $150, plus handling fees
More Info: millertheateraugusta.com or jakeowen.net