Monthly Archives: March 2022

Living With Loss

People

Illustration of Wilkes by Abigail Burke

To some people, teen suicide is a collection of statistics. To the family and friends of Wilkes Cooper, along with other Columbia County adolescents, it’s much more personal.

For Greenbrier High School senior Mabry Cooper, her favorite memory of her cousin, Wilkes Cooper, occurred on a family Fourth of July trip when they were about 10 years old. The grownups wouldn’t let him light fireworks, which she says, was “probably in his top five all-time favorite things ever.”

“So he went inside, packed his bags and walked out to the road,” Mabry recalls. “His sister took off after him, and he only agreed to come home if ice cream was involved.”

Lakeside High School senior Sydney Wilson says her favorite memory of her boyfriend happened on February 14, 2021, when he picked her up at 5 a.m. for a road trip to Cleveland, South Carolina to do another one of his favorite things – watch the sun rise over the mountains.

Photos courtesy of High Cotton Photography, Jacob Reeves and Sydney Wilson

“I was able to experience the most surreal moment with the person who meant the world to me,” Sydney says. “This memory will forever live in my heart.”

Less than a month after sharing that early morning sunrise with Sydney, Wilkes took his life on March 5 at age 17 after battling adolescent depression. He would have been a senior at Harlem High School this year.

To mark the first anniversary of one of the most painful days of their lives and to celebrate and honor Wilkes’ life, Sydney and Mabry have put together a walk and a concert to raise funds for the Win It For Wilkes Foundation, which they created for their joint senior project.

“His mother wanted to do it on that day, and we also wanted the chance to make a bad day, a good one,” Sydney says.

The event will feature live music, food vendors and the sale of merchandise. Wilkes’ brother, country music artist Pat Cooper, will perform as well.

“We decided to do a concert as the main event because music was a very big part of Wilkes’ life, and attending his brother’s concerts was one of his favorite things,” says Sydney.

Pat, who grew up in Thomson and now lives in Nashville, will perform a song that he wrote to honor Wilkes.

“Initially, I had no intentions of releasing it. I just wanted to write something that my family could cherish. Upon showing it to them, we felt it was important to make it public,” he says. “Music is something everyone can turn to for any feeling they are having or mood that they’re in. It touches all of our lives in a variety of different ways. Few things make us feel and touch our hearts in the way music can.”

He wrote the song with Ray Fulcher, originally from Harlem, and Aiken native James McNair, singers/songwriters who knew Wilkes well and also live in Nashville now. “I cannot stress enough how important their contributions were to bringing the song to life,” says Pat.

His friends weren’t the only ones who helped him through the process. “The room was very heavy and emotional, but I felt God’s presence,” he says. “There was an overwhelming peace about it that He provided.”

All proceeds from the concert will go to Win It For Wilkes to help young people find mental health resources, and the foundation will continue to hold fundraisers throughout the year.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, national suicide rates increased 33% between 1999 and 2019, with a small decline in 2019. Youth and young adults ages 10–24 accounted for 14% of all suicides with 10.2 per 100,000 people. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, but it is the second leading cause of death for young people.

“Everyone struggles with their mental health at one point in their life. Just because you don’t struggle with your mental health now, doesn’t mean in 10 years you won’t either. But by becoming aware of the signs of mental health issues, you’ll have a more likely chance of being able to tell why you feel and act the way you do,” Sydney says.

Through the foundation, the girls also hope to dispel any stereotypes about depression and, Sydney says, “to spread awareness that nothing is wrong with not being OK.”

Wilkes’ friends and family remember him as someone with a giving heart who lit up a room and cared deeply about other people.

“Wilkes was the outgoing, fun-hearted, life-of-the-party friend that everyone needed in their life,” Sydney says. “You could always count on him no matter the circumstance. He was a true friend.”

To cope with the loss of Wilkes, Mabry says, “Talk therapy allowed me to learn a lot of different coping mechanisms.”

His friends also leaned on each other for support.

“The first couple months were really hard. There was about a group of eight of us who couldn’t go a day without each other,” Sydney says. “But as the months went on and life went on as well, we chose to strive for our dreams with all we had and be the best people we could to make Wilkes proud.”

Pat hopes people come away from the concert with a greater understanding of the significance of mental health.

“It is just as important as any other aspect of our lives,” he says. “Love one another because we all have our struggles. Being kind has no downside.”

If You Go:

What: Win It For Wilkes Foundation walk and concert

When: Walk begins at 5 p.m.; concert 7 p.m. – 10 p.m. Saturday, March 5

Where: Lady A Amphitheater, Evans Towne Center Park

How Much: $12 general admission; $40 VIP

More Info: (706) 414-0134 or mabrycooper47@gmail.com; (706) 550-3887, sydwil03@gmail.com; Win It For Wilkes Foundation Facebook page

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

If you are thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one or need emotional support, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or use its online crisis chat at suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

The Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States. Beginning July 16, callers also can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 9-8-8.

By Leigh Howard

Sharecropper’s Son – Robert Finely

Listen To This

As the world thaws and the lazy ol’ sun lingers a little longer, the warmth of a welcomed season deserves a soundtrack to usher in the good times ahead. Robert Finely, a funky blues soul sensation from the backwoods of Louisiana, is a hot griddle of genuine awesome. At 68, he has made a veteran mark on the blues scene while only being discovered a few years ago.

In true blues fashion, he comes with an unassuming plug of spitfire equipped with a meat ’n’ three buffet of soul and a lifetime of road-weary stories and grit guaranteed to satisfy. Sharecropper’s Son is lightening sauce in a bottle, and with Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys behind the console, this album is packed with some mighty fine organic produce.

Layers of horns, harmonicas, thumps, tambourines and harmonies are a feast for the listener – and did I hear spoons for dessert? Clocking in at just under 40 minutes, this 10-track masterpiece is best served on repeat as the goods get sweeter and more flavorful with each pass.

Finely is an instant legend with dues paid forward and backwards and is a living testament to why marching into warmer weather never sounded so good. Let the good times rock and roll.

– Chris Rucker

Take a Hike

Sports

If you want to hike the Appalachian Trail with no worries about blisters on your feet, inclement weather or dwindling supplies, then go the distance virtually.

With the app, Walk The Distance, you can walk the entire 2,200-mile trail from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. The app tracks your steps and measures how far you would have walked on the trail.

Free walks are available in various categories including the Appalachian Trail, marathons, cities and national parks. Other walks can be purchased for $0.99.

Welcome to the Agrihood

Garden Scene

Photos courtesy of Wrights Farm

Neighborhoods with working farms are sprouting up across the country, and Wrights Farm in Grovetown is the first of its kind in the area.

When David Daughtry started his position as farm manager at Wrights Farm in January 2021, he was greeted by barren land (except for briars), a white fence, a windmill and an empty shell of a barn.

“We didn’t have a tractor or a shovel or seeds to plant,” he says. “We started from absolute scratch.”

Wrights Farm, a 300-home subdivision under development off of Wrightsboro Road in Grovetown, is one of a handful of agrihoods in the state and the only one in the area. For the uninitiated, an agrihood is a planned community that integrates agriculture into a residential neighborhood to facilitate food production and healthy living.

While developers started creating agrihoods about 20 years ago, the concept has grown in the past decade. According to the Urban Land Institute, the United States is home to more than 200 agrihoods and counting.

“It’s a very cool concept,” Daughtry says. “Once people take a step into our operations, it opens their minds and opens their eyes.”

From the Ground Up

Focusing on farm-to-table practices, the 5-acre working farm has partnered with Goodwill Industries of Middle Georgia & the CSRA to provide high-quality produce to Edgar’s Hospitality Group facilities. As the hospitality division of Goodwill, the group manages the Pinnacle Club, Edgar’s Grille, Edgar’s Bakehouse, Snelling Conference Center and Edgar’s Above Broad in Augusta as well as two establishments in Macon.

“I’m looking forward to spring and summer when we’re in full production,” says Bruce Ozga, vice president of culinary education for Helms College, a career college sponsored by Goodwill. “It’s going to be really exciting.”

After all, Daughtry spent most of last year on the development and construction of the property. His first mission was to finish the parking lot and lay sod around the barn, which includes two coolers for storage, sinks to wash produce and grading tables to separate premium produce from less premium products. “They might not look as pretty, but they still taste good,” Daughtry says of the less premium vegetables.

He also grew four-tenths of an acre of peas and four-tenths of an acre of corn last year. Much to his delight, these crops attracted “good bugs” such as honeybees, wasps and lady beetles (better known as ladybugs).

“I was happy to see them naturally,” says Daughtry, a Grovetown native who studied crop and soil science at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College and the University of Georgia.

Now that the initial development of the farm has been completed, he can turn his attention to planting and growing produce on the 3.2 acres of the farmland that will be used for crops.

“Some of what we grow goes to our chefs, and the general public can come here and purchase some of it,” Daughtry says. “We will have at least two varieties of everything we grow.”

When he selects produce to plant, he looks for vegetables that have robust flavor. The crops will include arugula; tatsoi (an Asian version of spinach); peas; green beans; beets; white, purple and orange carrots; 13 types of tomatoes including beef, plum, cherry, bumblebee and zebra; 15 – 20 varieties of lettuce; 20 – 25 varieties of salad greens including kale, collard, mustard, turnip and spinach; table, salad and pickling cucumbers; radishes; peppers; squash; green onions and herbs.

Daughtry also hopes to add blueberry, blackberry and raspberry bushes as well as wildflowers that attract pollinators and other beneficial insects.

“We’ll plant almost year-round, with large plantings in early spring and late summer,” he says.

With a climate-controlled greenhouse and a high tunnel with natural ventilation onsite, Wrights Farm can extend its growing season. One of the greenhouses also has a block set aside for a chefs’ garden, where they can grow herbs and flowers.

“We try to do everything as sustainably as possible. A main focus for us is crop rotation. It helps us manage diseases and pests in the areas that we rotate,” says Daughtry. “Agriculture requires hard work and long hours, yet it’s so rewarding and fascinating.”

He enjoys the challenges of farming (which in his case, include allergies to dust, grass and plants) – even when things don’t go as planned.

“When you fail, you learn, and the next time, you do it better. Sometimes you get one chance a year to do something,” he says. “It takes a lot to make a farm work. Efficiency is key for us. Paying attention to detail matters.”

In addition to managing the day-to-day farm operations, Daughtry teaches lab classes to Helms College culinary students, conducts seminars for community members and organizes volunteer days.

Farming Out the Fun

As part of their learning experience, the students select five vegetables they want to grow and plant the seeds. “Throughout the course, they’ll visit the farm to care for the plants they’re growing,” says Ozga.

For their final, the students harvest their plants and prepare dishes using the products they grew.

In addition, Ozga says, “We’re looking at developing some type of program in culinary agriculture and connecting the farmer and the chef. It will be a special program that would be completely farm-to-table. Chefs know a lot about food, but they don’t know a lot about the farming aspect of it.”

They’re not alone. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Agricultural Statistics Service, Daughtry says, “Of the entire population worldwide, 2% works in agriculture. They feed the other 98% of the population.”

In addition, he says, 96% of U.S. farms are family owned.

To educate community members, Daughtry holds 45-minute seminars about topics such as soil fertility, irrigation management, plant nutrition and how to look for pests. “I want to teach people information that they can take home with them,” he says.

Last year, he also held a couple of community days for volunteers. Typically, he has 10-15 volunteers onsite at a time from 8 a.m. until noon. Other times, he has one or two people shadow him for a day.

Volunteer opportunities include greenhouse production, soil health, planting and growing structures, integrated pest management, harvest and post-harvest handling, and post-season management.

Daughtry plans to have volunteer sessions monthly on Saturdays during big growing seasons. He also wants Wrights Farm residents to get involved with the operation.

“I want them to be able to participate as much as possible,” he says. “A lot of people have plenty of ideas that I would never think of.”

Wrights Farm also will open a produce stand for the community this spring. While it can take five to seven days for foods to go from fields to grocery store shelves, Wrights Farm produce can be served locally two days after harvest.

“When we say local, we mean local,” says Daughtry. “When we say fresh, we really mean fresh. And we can back it up with a timeline.”

Ozga appreciates the quick turnaround that agrihoods offer as well. “People want to have access to fresh ingredients. The produce can be harvested that day or the day before, and it’s on people’s plates that night for dinner,” he says. “The closer to harvest time that you consume food, the higher the nutrient value.”

Helms College students and chefs might give demonstrations at the produce stand as well.

Wrights Farm also works with Augusta Locally Grown and Eat Local CSRA, and the farm plans to offer online ordering for its produce. In addition, Daughtry hopes to provide fresh produce for other local restaurants.

For volunteer opportunities or more information, visit wrightsfarmaugusta.com.

By Sarah James