With the swarming proliferation of big box stores, shoddy subdivisions, and distribution warehouses, it’s easy to forget that Chatham County was mostly rural not so very long ago.
Indeed, some portions, such as off Highway 17 near the Bryan County line, were mostly rural only a few years ago, before the development that overwhelmed West Chatham at the turn of the 21st century.
Nestled on 11 acres of largely undeveloped land somewhere between the Super Walmart, the giant Berwick subdivision, and the UGA Bamboo Farm, Gratitude Gardens is one of the few remaining private large–ish tracts of land in the county still bearing the fruit of the land.
For owners Susan and Joe Giddens, Gratitude Gardens is as much a state of mind as a parcel of land. Our Jessica Leigh Lebos writes all about it in her “Civil Society Column” this week.
I don’t want to steal Jessica’s thunder, so by all means check out her piece to discover the great things Sue and Joe and family are doing down on the farm. But as I was shooting photos for the piece, I was struck by a few things.
Despite the patches of sandy soil, Chatham County has hosted all kinds of agriculture over the years, from rice plantations to subsistence family farms to dairy operations like the one my family owned on White Bluff Road until the 1960s.
(Car lots and concrete cover most of the old Morekis dairy farm now, though some of the beautiful live oaks remain. In a nice bit of synchronicity, the ballet school my daughter attends is on the old farm tract.)
Even my house on 50th Street sits on what was once a big pecan orchard, as evidenced by the granddaddy pecan tree in the backyard.
Back to Gratitude Gardens: When Joe jumped on his 1950 tractor and fired it up for me — it runs perfectly — I was reminded of my grandfather’s old red Chevy three–on–the–tree pickup and days gone by in a more innocent time.
I was reminded how, long before hotel developers vied for position and Forsyth Park had a farmers market and the City of Savannah got in the “sustainable” development business, locals farmed their own land for sustenance and pleasure.
It’s tempting to say that Chatham County’s too far gone to care about. Just finish paving over what’s left and be done with it.
But as Gratitude Gardens shows us, it’s far from over, and far from done. There’s still time — and reason — to fight stupid ideas like the proposed $300 million superhighway planned for Abercorn Extension, just down the road from our old dairy farm.
This Thanksgiving season, I was happy to meet the folks at Gratitude Gardens and take solace in the seeds of hope they’re planting out there off Highway 17.
And I was happy to finally meet someone who knows how to pronounce “pecan.” It’s PEA–can, not pe–CAHN. It ain’t French!