Data Visualization: Food Insecurity and SNAP Retailers in Athens-Clarke County

Design + Multimedia

I created this visualization as part of a larger group project about food security in Athens-Clarke County for Grady Newsource. I used Tableau to map the data and Photoshop to overlay the two maps.

The map illustrates SNAP retailers in Athens-Clarke County in both food secure and insecure area. (Data visualization by Christina Conner) Sources:

The Trial Gardens at UGA announces 2017 Classic City Awards


Summer’s end often means that spring’s colorful annuals have started to fade, but the end of Georgia’s growing season also means it’s time to debut the University of Georgia Trial Gardens’ annual Classic City Award winners. These awards represent plants that thrived during the punishing conditions of a Georgia summer.

In addition to being one of the most beautiful places on the university’s Athens campus, the gardens serve an important purpose in the research and development of new ornamental varieties.

The gardens provide variable, real-world conditions for testing new varieties developed by commercial nurseries and academic breeders. This testing provides third-party, verified data for consumers, retailers, breeders and many others.

Trial plants are planted every spring and are watched carefully throughout the summer to determine which plants will make the cut and be sold to Southeastern gardeners the following season.

The gardens face a unique set of challenges during Georgia’s unpredictable summers, which makes the facility an ideal proving ground for new plants.

“June was a wet month. We had rain almost every week. When it’s cloudy and wet, plants like petunias, ptilotus and geraniums struggle in different ways,” said Brandon Coker, manager of the gardens.

For example, the dry-loving ptilotus thrived in early summer, but when June brought frequent rains, the three varieties of ptilotus at the gardens completely rotted.

However, when plants like ptilotus thrive in the dry weather, other plants, like dahlias and chrysanthemums, need at least daily or twice daily watering to survive. To balance these needs, the gardens overcome rainfall challenges by keeping the plants on a watering schedule based on their individual needs.

Some of the plants that overcame individual challenges this summer earned the title of “Classic City Award winner.” With any luck, they’ll make it to local garden centers and gardens next spring.

Canna Toucan ‘Scarlet,’ Proven Winners

As the name implies, this canna is deep red, but the foliage is nearly black, which provides a beautiful contrast. The flower heads stand tall above the foliage line and when one bloom falls, another is ready to open. Don’t be discouraged if the plant starts off slow. At the gardens, the plants started off slow, then exploded in a continuous floral display in July that continued well into September.

Salvia Cathedral ‘Sky Blue,’ Green Fuse Botanicals

This light-blue salvia is a lower-growing variety and gets to be about 12 to 18 inches tall, according to the breeder’s website. ‘Sky Blue’ stayed in bloom from May to September, an impressive span of time for any flowering plant. It’s versatile in floral arrangements, containers, accent plantings, pollinator gardens and in a host of other settings.

Echinacea Sombrero ‘Granada Gold,’ Darwin Perennials

Of the three Sombrero varieties planted last spring, all of which were good performers, ‘Granada Gold’ was the best. The flawless, golden flowers bloomed profusely in a beautiful floral presentation and lasted longer than the other two varieties.

Coleus FlameThrower ‘Spiced Curry,’ Ball FloraPlant

“It’s not always about flowers,” Coker said. This colorful, leafy coleus looked stunning well into September and October. The leaves are serrated with purple outlines, and the underside and veins of the plant are also bright purple, which offers a beautiful contrast to the lime green leaves.


For a full list of the Classic City Award winners and more information about the gardens and next year’s trials, visit

Georgia 4-H Scott Site Garden thrives on community support and heirloom seeds


The heritage garden at Rock Eagle 4-H Center’s Scott Site is more than a teaching tool, it’s a living museum.

Over the last two years, environmental educators at the center worked with gardeners from across Georgia to transform the garden. Garden managers and students planted heirloom and older commercial varieties of Southern garden staples to document crops grown and farming methods used by 19th- and early 20th-century Georgians.

Now, the garden helps environmental educators teach students about heritage gardening practices and, in turn, the history of the Southeast.

Robert Clemmer, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension education program specialist and 4-H center garden manager, put out a call in 2016 for heirloom or family-favorite seeds to showcase in the garden. Thanks to seed swaps, seed saving and donations, the garden saved money on seeds. Organizations like UGArden, PlowShare in Crawford, Georgia, and Master Gardener Extension Volunteers also donated seeds.

“We accept whatever seeds anyone is willing to give us,” Clemmer said.

So far, the garden includes Southern classics such as ‘Red Ripper cowpeas’; Ed Teague purple-hull cowpeas, named for northern Georgia’s two-finger banjo picker; night-blooming moonflowers; sunchokes; tromboncino squashes; Tennessee dancing gourds; and unique, yellow-fleshed watermelons grown from seeds donated by Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black.

Some heirloom vegetables are susceptible to disease. Fusarium wilt killed the garden’s heirloom tomatoes in past growing seasons. This year, the garden includes some disease-resistant varieties, which should be ready for planting in April.

With heritage gardens, like the one at the Scott Site, gardening practices must stay as close as possible to 19th- or early 20th-century methods, which means no chemical fertilizers or pesticides, Clemmer said. Instead, cover crops, like cowpeas, add nitrogen to the soil, and garden personnel amend soil with dining hall waste and mulch with shredded leaves. They collect seeds from plants with a proven history of thriving in Georgia gardens.

The Scott Site garden was planted in 2014. Each year, it provides between 500 and 2,000 pounds of produce to the Rock Eagle Dining Hall and helps to educate thousands of Georgia students.

For more information about the garden or to donate seeds, contact Clemmer at

Originally published:

Award-winning chef, farmer Dan Barber to speak at UGA on the future of food, sustainability


Dan Barber, chef and national farm-to-table and sustainable food systems advocate, will deliver a lecture, “What Kind of Menu will Meet the Challenges of the Future? Exploring a New Recipe for Good Food from the Ground Up,” at the University of Georgia’s Richard B. Russell Building Special Collections Libraries on Tuesday, April 10.

Barber has received multiple James Beard Foundation awards and built a reputation as a chef and farmer. He is a co-owner of Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in New York, the latter of which was recognized by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants Academy as No. 11 on their list of the world’s best restaurants. He is also the author of “The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food” and has been featured in documentaries “Chef’s Table” and “Wasted! The Story of Food Waste.”

Long intrigued by the link between the growing conditions on farms and the flavors he coaxes out of meat and produce, Barber has made it his mission to educate the public about the close relationship between cooking and agriculture.

Barber works with crop breeders and farmers to develop better tasting, more nutritious vegetable and grain varieties by bringing together heirlooms and the disease and insect resistance found in modern varieties. He founded Row 7 Seed Company, which brings U.S.-produced, certified organic, non-genetically modified and unpatented seeds to home gardeners or small- to midscale farmers at reasonable prices.

“Athens has been known for decades as a place where great bands are born and music thrives. Today, Athens has a growing reputation for innovative chefs and good food,” said Sam Pardue, UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences dean and director. “Americans are now intently interested not just in fine food, but how their food is grown, processed and cooked. We are fortunate to have Dan Barber join us on campus to share his perspective on the future of our food system.”

The college will host the lecture from 2-3 p.m. on April 10 at the UGA Richard B. Russell Building Special Collections Library, 300 S. Hull St., Athens, GA 30602.

For more information about the lecture, contact Regina Fitzpatrick at or 706-542-5046. To register, visit

More information about Row 7 Seed Company can be found at

Originally Published on UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Media Newswire

After 50 years, lifelong learner returns to the University of Georgia


On January 14th 2018, an old beater car with a faded “Never Graduate” bumper sticker plastered on the back sat 2 blocks away from the University of Georgia’s Main Library.

I noticed this because I was on my way to interview Olyn Gee, who is perhaps the oldest undergraduate student at the University of Georgia. I was hoping that this was Gee’s car, but I learned it wasn’t when he informed me that the library has free parking on the weekends. Gee is a 70-year-old undergraduate student and a lifelong learner who has been taking classes at the university since 2011.

He fell in love with the UGA’s campus in 1961, when he was 13 years old, less than 10 years after the library where we’d met had been built. But, due to a family move and other mitigating circumstances, he didn’t come back to the university until 2011, 50 years later. This time, he was pursuing a bachelor’s degree in political science, his third degree.

The first time he was in college was during the mid-1960s. He got married during his freshman year, and suddenly had bills to pay and a family to support. He didn’t drop out of school. Instead, he kept his full course load with summer classes and worked 40 hours a week at the Parke-Davis manufacturing plant in Greenwood, S.C. Despite his determination to stay in school, he “didn’t actually learn.” He got by, but now he considers college a transformative experience, not necessarily for the classes or degree, but for the people students meet.

Ninety-six percent of UGA’s undergrads are between the ages of 18 and 24. It’s not uncommon for many of those students (myself included) to feel a mixture of excitement, uncertainty, disbelief, and occasionally dread as graduation and the pending repayment of student loans comes closer and closer with every passing semester. But to Gee, the true prize isn’t the degree, it’s the opportunity to continue learning and be surrounded by young minds.

“Being around young people keeps you young,” Gee said with a smile.

One thing Gee doesn’t have to worry about? Those loans. Senior citizens (62 years of age or older) are eligible to take classes for free at any of the 29 colleges in the University System of Georgia.

In 2016, only 27 out of the 27,951 undergraduate students enrolled at the university were 62 years of age or older, according to the University Factbook ( Gee encourages other senior citizens to take advantage of the program. If he wasn’t in school and taking classes he’d probably “be sitting in front of the T.V. watching CNN all day, bored to death.”

Gee is only two credit hours away from graduation. After which, he plans to continue taking classes. Right now, he is interested in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

“I think journalism is under attack right now, and journalism is the key to keeping a democracy working.”

And even though he doesn’t plan to quit taking classes anytime soon, that won’t stop him from buying an alumni T-shirt.

Don’t give a hassle for the holidays: Use these tips to pick the right gift plant


Around the holiday season, many people feel gift-block. Maybe it’s the pressure of having to find gifts that loved ones will appreciate or having to find a gift last minute. Whatever the case may be, a houseplant makes a fantastic gift.

Houseplants are versatile. They can brighten up any space and add pops of life and color. Look through any trendy home design website, and you’ll notice photos that include houseplants. The big leaves of the tropical banana plant, fiddle leaf fig or split leaf philodendron are on-trend, making houseplants a great gift for your hip college-aged niece as well as that hard-to-buy-for uncle or co-worker.

Houseplants are not only visually appealing, they have lots of health benefits too. They purify indoor air and provide mood-boosting benefits during the harsh winter months when people spend more time indoors.

The key to picking the right houseplant to give as a gift is to think about maintenance, said Paul Thomas, UGA Extension horticulture specialist.

Giving a high-maintenance houseplant to a busy loved is like giving someone a Rolls-Royce with a car note attached. You don’t want your gift plant to become a burden by the time March rolls around.

The good news is that there are lots of beautiful houseplants that are easy to care for and that your recipient will love.

Before you go shopping, here are some helpful tips to follow from University of Georgia Cooperative Extension:

  • Follow the light. Do you know the lighting conditions of the plant’s new home? Low light? Bright, filtered light? Generally, houseplants should be kept out of direct, bright sunlight, which can burn the leaves.
  • Know the plant, know your person. Will the recipient remember to water the plant every few days or so? Or will giving a houseplant that can survive weeks without attention be a better choice for them?
  • Space invaders. What kind of space does the receiver have? Do they have the open space necessary for a bigger plant? Perhaps a small plant that can sit on a desk or windowsill would be a better choice. What style is their home or office, and which pot would match their style and space?
  • The right container will help a lot. It’s very important that the houseplant’s pot has a drainage hole. There are lots of pretty containers that don’t have drainage holes, so be sure to check. Not allowing the water to drain from the pot creates a perfect environment for root rot and diseases. If you really want to use a container without holes, you can “stage” a plant by placing its plastic pot home inside of a larger pot.
  • Give the gift of information. A great way to give your gift even more personality is to include a care card, which you can handwrite and decorate or simply print out. Include the plant’s name and all of the instructions on water and light requirements.

Now that you know your parameters, here are some low maintenance indoor plants that Thomas recommends,

Snake Plant, Sansevieria trifasciata

Perhaps the lowest maintenance plant of all, this plant can be found in many airports, and only needs to be watered once or twice a month. The long, straight leaves give a sharp architectural look. The plant likes lower light conditions and will burn in the sun.

Pothos, Epipremnum aureum

Pothos is perfect in a hanging basket or draping down a bookcase or tabletop. This plant prefers to stay on the drier side, so be sure to check the soil before you water. They also like indirect light.

Jade plant, Crassula ovata

It’s a common misconception that succulents are an “easy” plant because they “don’t need watering.” They can be finicky with watering and lighting. Jade, however, is a relatively low maintenance plant. It likes to be watered a little bit more than other succulents, but can tolerate being dry. If the leaves are soft, that means it’s time for water. This is a good plant for a sunny windowsill.

Dracaena, Dracaena fragrans

This plant has a palm-tree-like look and comes in a variety of shapes. It can grow to several feet tall and likes indirect light and a thorough watering when the soil becomes dry. 

Spider Plant, Chlorophytum comosum

Also called an airplane plant, spider plants are great for hanging baskets or decorative pots. They produce pups which hang down from the plant and can be propagated by placing the plantlet roots-down into a new pot. This plant likes indirect light and should be watered when the soil is completely dry.

Air Plant Tillandsia

Air plants have no roots and absorb their nutrients and water through their leaves. Because of this, they don’t need any soil. They do need to be misted outside of their container or soaked for 30 minutes a week. Keep air plants in bright, indirect light. If there’s a window in the bathroom, they’d love the humidity. You can choose any container you want. A good place to find unique and inexpensive containers is at an area thrift store.

For more information on how to grow houseplants, visit UGA Extension Bulletin 1318 at


Originally Published on UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Media Newswire