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BECK: Pondering parallels between gardening and area growth
Neely Farms
Pictured is the master plan for Neely Farms, a 200-acre mixed-use development project to be located off Martin Luther King Boulevard in Covington. (Special | Phil Johnson)

During my childhood, my parents and grandmother would often team up to raise a garden.

For years it normally ranged about half an acre. As Mawmaw Beck got older, the garden got smaller. Mawmaw would always want plenty of tomatoes, squash and peas to be planted. (Yes, I was one of those kids who grew up watching soap operas with my grandmother while shelling peas.) There’d always be an assortment of other vegetables, too, like peppers and okra. And, of course, it wouldn’t be a garden without planting a few rows of corn.

We spent many springs and summers on that plot of land. As my brothers and I would complain about our backs hurting from staying bent over too long, we’d often hear how Mawmaw grew up picking cotton and living off the land. She’d reminisce about how many pounds of cotton she’d have to tote. She’d also tell us about our dad’s time picking cotton. It was kind of hard to imagine.

I didn’t care too much for the anecdotes at the time — I guess because it didn’t do anything for my back — but, now, there’s nothing I wouldn’t give to hear Mawmaw tell those stories again and spend one more season in that garden with her.

We were taught many lessons while working in the garden. Possibly the first and simplest proverb learned was, “you reap what you sow,” but I didn’t realize until I was older how much this could be used in all aspects of life.

When it comes to gardening, you can’t just throw out a few seeds and expect a bushel of the world’s best tasting vegetables to sprout from the earth. There’s a lot of planning and work involved. Seeds have to be watered regularly, kept free of weeds and you might even spray pesticides, depending on what type of critters you might have nearby.

If you don’t do those things, what happens? If you don’t remove weeds, your plants’ will starve because the weeds are taking all the water. No pesticides means your crop is subject to being ruined by bugs and other critters. And without water, well, congratulations, you’ve grown a desert.

The bottom line is our actions determine how well the garden grows.

I can’t help but draw many parallels to the growth we’re seeing across Newton County, and local attorney Phil Johnson put it all into perspective when I spoke to him about the Neely Farms development in Covington a few weeks ago. 

For a place like Newton County, which is growing and changing, whether we like it or not, Johnson said what the county and cities need to do is embrace it and plan for it so the area may continue to prosper and remain a beacon for new incoming industries.

“When I was a young man, Newton County had 26 dairy farms and had about 30,000 people,” Johnson said. “Now, we have no dairy farms — nobody’s milking — and about 115,000 people in Newton County. We are changing dramatically, and you see some tension in the community about, ‘Do you want to grow or not grow?’ And I think that when you’re this big and you’re near a metropolitan area like Atlanta that is expanding dramatically and just about pushed as far north as you can reasonably support, they’re going to have to come east and south. So we’re going to grow. It’s a question whether we can do thought-out, planned community kind of growth, or we’re going to grow like in 2005.”

In 2005, he said, the area was booming, but not in a well thought-out manner. When the recession took hold three years later, Johnson said things changed.

“Our primary industry, I think, was starter homes because that’s what we were doing,” he said. “We were building them all over Newton County, and I did a lot of them … but there was no connection between them. They were just isolated islands out there. Then the recession came and all that ground to a halt. A lot of people in the development business, they got personally hurt by the recession. But I will tell you, in my opinion, the recession was one of the best things that could have happened in Newton County because it made us stop and take a breath, you know. It let us kind of freeze in place while things like Stanton Springs could mature and become real. And when they did, we began to have a job base that we could support people, and everybody wasn’t dependent on driving in to Atlanta for employment. We could generate jobs. That’s what has made the difference, and we’re seeing a much more thought out, connected growth. This is exactly where the growth ought to be.”

Johnson is right. Regardless if we approve, growth is happening in Newton County. I’m just thankful to see our leaders putting in the work to make the most of it, and, soon enough, we’ll benefit from the fruits of their labor. 

Taylor Beck is editor and publisher of The News. He may be reached at