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Group makes plans for a greener Newton County
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Josephine Kelly wants more locally grown foods to be sold in restaurants and at a downtown market. Frank Turner Jr. wants to see more agriculture and biotechnology jobs. James Woodard wants a more agriculture and greenspace-focused curriculum in the school system. Clara Deemer wants more residents and tourists to use the county’s rivers and trails.

And that in a very large nutshell is the definition of “green”, the increasingly popular, incredibly expansive buzzword of environmental friendliness and sustainability. Or more precisely, the above is how “green” is defined by different members of the Green Enterprise Group, an informal roundtable that is discussing how to: preserve greenspace for recreation and tourism, use greenspace to create agricultural and other green jobs and educate adults and children about how to live a sustainable life.

The group has been meeting at The Center every other week since late June and has been discussing the future of land use and economic development in Newton County. The topics of discussion have covered the range of professions and activities.

They’ve discussed creating a larger base of local farmers and food products through economic incentives and buy local initiatives. They’ve talked about creating jobs in agriculture, biotechnology and green-product manufacturing. They’ve focused on how important it is to maintain Covington’s quality of life and unique small-town feel. And they’ve looked into finding money to help get some programs started.

The Center’s Kay Lee said the group is still in the very beginning stages of discussion and is attempting to gather as much information as possible. She said she invited a variety of people from across the county to provide different experiences and insights.

One of the most informative meetings took place this Wednesday, when a farmland-use expert from Carroll County spoke to the group.

John Pershing is the Executive Director of the Georgia Agricultural Land Trust, an organization that strives to protect farmland and greenspace in Carroll County and across Georgia. Carroll County has been carrying out green plans for years, and Pershing talked about how the county has protected farmland from sprawling development, started a popular local farmer’s market in Carrolton and created connections between local farmers and restaurants.

He said the local Montessori school is having its students grow a garden, weed it, harvest the vegetables and cook and eat them. There are discussions at West Georgia Technical College about creating a formal certificate program for farming novices who want to learn how to expand their gardens or crops.

Pershing said green is about education, managing growth and development and improving the local environment and economy.
“Studies show that farms pay more in local taxes than they receive in local services. Businesses create tax surpluses, but residential properties are usually negative because of the costs of schools,” Pershing said. “A lot of studies show if you manage growth, manage infrastructure, instead of having sprawl, random roads and a lot of water and sewer infrastructure, if you can concentrate growth you’ll keep costs down.”

And that’s the bottom line: protect the environment, boost the economy and improve the quality of life. Carroll and Newton County are of a similar size, but Carroll produces far more agricultural products — crops, animals and dairy products, than Newton County. That’s something the Green Enterprise Group wants to change.

Turner, executive director of the Industrial Development Authority and chairman of the Newton County Land Trust, has the dual desire to bring in industry and preserve land.

“I’ve been impressed with the group of folks that care about these issues and get it. We have a broad array, from traditional economic development folks to the farm community to recreation and better use of green resources. It’s all one shared vision,” Turner said. “But it’s still in formative stages and we’re not sure where it’s headed. Maybe we can get some grants or tax credits to promote and go after green infrastructure.”

James Woodard, director of Career Technical and Agricultural Education for the school system, said he’s exploring how green jobs, like environmentally-minded and energy-efficient architects, could be implemented into the Career Academy he’s been working to bring to Newton County.

“Within that career academy we would prepare students for jobs in green industry, like agriculture, green building and technology design, consultants who could come and help communities become green enterprise friendly or varying types of scientists,” Woodard said. “Research shows that a lot of jobs we have to prepare kids for today don’t even exist yet.”

The Center’s Hosanna Fletcher said this group is starting the groundwork by researching and discussing these issues. She said that focusing on the most readily available changes, like increasing recreation on the county’s rivers, is the first step. Then, when the economy picks up, the community can focus on the more intense goals, like attracting green industries and building parks and trails.

Lee said the group will continue to meet and explore green enterprise before deciding how to move forward.
“We formed this group with no preconceived notions; we just got people together who cared about land use and green enterprise,” Lee said. “At the end of research phase, then this group will take a look at what they learned and what that means for the community.”

The Center is planning to host an open to the public green presentation by Billy Van Pelt, a government expert from Kentucky, in early September.