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Roadside flowers to help bees, butterflies as Georgia Grown policy supports farmers

David Pendered
monarch butterflies

By David Pendered

Holiday motorists in Georgia one day will see roadsides dotted with plants that are both native to Georgia and were grown in Georgia nurseries – as well as year-round flowers whose strategic placement is part of a new initiative to plant blooms that nurture bees and other insects that pollinate crops.

Marty Kemp

Marty Kemp

First Lady Marty Kemp has gotten behind the state’s “Georgia Grown” policy. The Georgia Department of Transporation turned it into a policy to require all plants used along Georgia roadways to be both native to the state and grown in Georgia nursery. The locally grown aspect is to increase the market for the state’s horticulture farmers.

The new wrinkle in the roadside beautification program is GDOT’s New Aesthetic. It expands on the long-standing Wildflower Program by using blooms that attract and nurture insects ranging from bees to butterflies, and otherwise help wildlife.

The idea is that Georgia’s roadways can help support insects that are struggling to survive as their habitat is converted to other use. Here’s how Chris DeGrace, GDOGT’s landscape architect and wildflower program manager described the New Aesthetic in a Nov. 5 post on GDOT’s Extra Mile blog:

  • “We have reached out to the Georgia Department of Agriculture and Georgia Department of Economic Development to coordinate future locations of wildflower plantings in order to provide maximum benefits for the agricultural community. The hobby honey industry, with over 50,000 members statewide, has taken notice as we encourage hive locations on adjacent private property to be located near our planting sites.
  • “Each fall millions of Monarch butterflies migrate from the northern parts of North America to California, Mexico and Florida. We are now planting pollinator meadows containing carefully selected wildflowers—including Milkweeds—and native grasses that help the survival rate of Monarch butterflies on their long journey to the warmer Florida climate. Since the Monarchs’ average lifespan is only two to six weeks, the Milkweeds are essential in aiding their survival.”

GDOT’s Georgia Grown policy, announced in March, expands one that had required the use of Georgia-grown trees and plantings along corridors including I-16 and I-95.

Roadside trees, georgia grown

All trees and other plants used to beautify Georgia’s roadways are to be native to Georgia and grown in a Georgia nursery in order to increase the market for Georgia horticulture farmers. Credit: David Pendered

GDOT made the shift after the first lady announced in January that her goal is for all the food served in the Governor’s Mansion to have been grown in Georgia. Marty Kemp’s Georgia Grown initiative has spread through departments beyond GDOT, including the Department of Agriculture. The program existed before the first lady raised its profile.

Gov. Brian Kemp and the first lady have continued to emphasize the Georgia Grown program. On Nov. 16, the first lady hosted a pet adoption day at the mansion that featured vendors selling Georgia Grown items. Three of nine vendors were from Atlanta: Big Daddy Biscuits; Mobile Dairy Classroom; and Suga’s.

At the 2019 Sunbelt Ag Expo, in Moultrie in October, the Kemps joined former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, who’s now the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, in opening the show – which is billed as attracting 80,000 visitors to an exhibition area the size of Lenox Square. The first lady got a shout out in the program from Sarah Cook, director of domestic trade for the state ag department:

  • “Marty Kemp has done so much to promote Georgia Grown and we are so appreciative of what she has done for our program.”
monarch butterflies

In a new program named New Aesthetic, Georgia’s roadways are to be planted with flowers that attract and nurture insects that pollinate Georgia’s agricultural products and otherwise assist wildlife. Credit: David Pendered

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David Pendered
David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.

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1 Comment

  1. Avatar
    urban gardener December 3, 2019 11:44 am

    If maintained well, this will be a small salve to take the major sting out of GaDOT clear-cutting hundreds of miles of interstate rights-of-way and interchanges’ trees. I would like to see how many acres of trees were lost in the past two years by this decision.
    Removing trees would land on the roadway if felled during a hurricane or tornado was understandable, but the wholesale razing of wooded areas well away from asphalt seemed a gratuitous “gimme” to the contractors. Particularly as Georgia is one of the states suffering the greatest rate of deforestation.

    Hopefully this “go native” program can be expanded and adapted to fit state highway rights-of-way lands in suburban and urban environments, for use by both municipalities and private/commercial landowners

    [I assume GaDOT will remove the non-native crepe myrtles, particularly as these exotics do spread by seed into the environment -?]Report

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