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From Farmer to Friend - Hickory Grove Farm

Kennesaw State Hickory Grove Farm - once a barren, Georgia DOT concrete mixing facility, turned into a lush, 26-acre productive & sustainable farm.

Photos from 2014

For almost a decade, this land has been intensely bio-remediated from crush-n-run pavement to biologically dense top soil. It has taken years of patience & know-how, hundreds of volunteers, and one extremely dedicated man to make this vision a reality. His name is Michael Blackwell.

Michael in the field. I couldn't have taken this photo without him!

Born and raised in Jasper, North Georgia - Michael has always been in touch with the farming lifestyle. When he was a young boy, his father consistantly had crops growing in his backyard, chickens in a coup, and beehives for honey. He learned from an early age what it meant to work hard, as much as he learned how rewarding to was to harvest your sows.

Throughout Hickory Grove's lifespan - Michael has been at the forefront of its evolution. The farm has seen many come & go, a few flee legal persecution, and only a handful stay for the long haul.

I was one of his first students in the Kennesaw State Organic Agriculture & Beginning Apiary course, offered for Culinary Sustainability & Hospitality (CSH) students. It was in this course that I learned where my heart truly lay: sustainability.

Michael taught our class the basics of farming, bee keeping, composting, foraging, and more. From the first day of class, to the last, I volunteered as often as I could to many of his extra-curricular workshops.

The summer of 2014! I stayed after class to actually hold a beehive :o

My passion for plants grew paramount throughout this 3-month course, and its effects are lasting. My passion was obvious enough to the then-director of CSH that she invited me to speak at the Sustainability Summit. On the behalf of millennials, I was among a few students who was on a questionnaire-panel about sustainability, which was sponsored by Coca-Cola. After the panel, we all spent the day volunteering at the farm: planting trees, painting rain-collection barrels, discussing the complexities of climate change, and making raised beds outside the high tunnels.

I couldn't contain my love for this place all to myself. So naturally, I brought my partner along for one of my classes. After spending just one hour in Michael's class, he too fell deeper in love with the discipline of farming. From that point on, my partner and I solidified our relationship from this shared love.

After the course ended, I stayed in touch & continued to volunteer with Michael & his affiliate farming friends. One day, my partner and I went to a workshop & we reconnected with Michael, but this time, my partner landed a position as a student worker at the farm. Quickly, it became obvious how kindred we all were, and soon enough, my partner became Michael's right-hand man in the fields.

For the next two years, we all became a sort of farm family. While my partner, Steven, and I were building our tiny house, we made grand plans of starting a co-op farm together in North Georgia & parking our house on Michael's property. We traveled to other farms for fungi workshops, we took lunch breaks, pickled & canned, had pot-lucks, and extended helping hands to eachother's home projects together.

While our career paths & location goals have changed a bit since then...our friendship has not. Michael has not only taught us the multi-dimensions of farming, he also has taught me a great deal about my other passion: photography!

Would you have guessed that this humble, star-farmer was once an A-list hip-hop album-cover photographer in the '90s? Well he was! He still does photography gigs from time-to-time for university advertising. I went with him as an assistant once to learn what it's like to be a freelance photographer.

He took my graduation photos and my partner & I's engagement photos which I consider the most precious gift a friend could give. I would hire him to take our wedding photos, except he will be standing along side us as we say our vows, as one of our most treasured friends <3

He has always been extremely generous with his time, knowledge, and equipment - and I owe much of my successes to him. From helping me to pick out my newest camera/lenses, to showing me the foundations of studio lighting, to letting me try his lenses before I buy my own...Michael is unbelievably kind & always there for his friends.

The KSU farm would be nothing of the sort without this man, and I am speaking for myself, and my partner when I say there is no one quite like Michael Blackwell of Jasper, Georgia.

Michael being his goofy self, showing us the simple joys of cattails.

If you enjoy eating, make sure you thank a farmer! We could not live without men like him <3

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