The week before Hurricane Dorian was expected to roar along Georgia’s coast, J.R. Grovner was preparing to evacuate his native home of Sapelo Island yet again.
In recent years, Grovner and the island’s other 42 residents—nearly all of whom are direct descendants of enslaved West Africans and who live in Hog Hammock, Georgia’s last surviving Gullah community—have seen more frequent hurricanes pummel the picturesque barrier island’s salt marshes, maritime forests, grasslands, and beaches.
“If sea levels rise or cover Sapelo, we lose a whole community. You’re going to lose a whole lot more than Sapelo.”
Areas that never before flooded now become waterlogged, Grovner says. As if the exodus of residents to better services and job opportunities off the island wasn’t enough of a threat to the village’s survival, the rising tide levels—even on days without storms—put its future in peril.
“If sea levels rise or cover Sapelo, we lose a whole community,” Grovner says. “You’re going to lose a whole lot more than Sapelo.”
Ocean waters have risen nearly a foot since the 1930s, and the trend shows no signs of slowing down. Climate models project an additional rise of three to six feet by the end of the century. While barrier island beaches and shorelines have seen the most noticeable effects from climate change, marshes—the wetlands that researchers say largely have avoided losses from rising sea levels—could be next. Deepak Mishra, a professor in UGA’s geography department and director of the Small Satellite Research Lab, is hoping a satellite he will help place roughly 250 miles above Earth can paint a clear picture of the coming threat.
Nature didn’t design the wetlands to be submerged, Mishra says. When they do get inundated, the areas become stressed and die off, becoming mudflats. “The general trend is very stable, but there are certain sections [along the coast] which are . . . approaching a really irreversible situation, where the marshes basically disappear and become permanently submerged.”
In addition to being home to herons, oysters, and numerous crab species, marshes are a natural filter that reduce sediment and chemical runoff. They also pull carbon from the atmosphere, acting as a salve to climate change. If wetlands like Georgia’s start to disappear, that carbon stays in the atmosphere, and the world continues to heat—or heat faster.
Existing satellites monitor coastal wetlands in the course of observing our planet, but it is uncommon to have a satellite focus on a specific area for an extended period of time. The satellites that do pass over Sapelo Island don’t provide very detailed imagery. The expanded vantage point of UGA’s dedicated satellite will help researchers figure out how to best manage Sapelo Island and the coast’s biodiversity-brimming marshes. That in turn could help state officials plan how to address the loss of wetlands with restoration strategies like a living shoreline project—a protected coastal edge made of natural materials such as plants—or sediment replenishment.
UGA’s satellite is a recent innovation and is much smaller than ones typically used for communication. Weighing about eight pounds and roughly the size of a tissue box, the CubeSat satellite is relatively inexpensive (about $180,000) compared to an airplane or the dozens of drones that would be necessary to obtain the same information, says Caleb Adams, cofounder of UGA’s Small Satellite Research Lab and a master’s student in computer science. It’s slated to launch in November, along with satellites used by other colleges and universities around the country. The satellite will focus on Sapelo Island, but Mishra says the goal is also to map Georgia’s 100-mile coast, from Cumberland Island to Tybee Island.
Mishra hopes that, within a month or two, the orbiter will have collected enough data to recreate a moving picture of the entire coast.
“The way sea level is rising, it’s pretty obvious that it’s going to affect a lot of these wetlands eventually,” Mishra says. “People might argue that this is a very small section of the Georgia coast that is showing some kind of warning sign. But it doesn’t take a whole lot of time for that small section to become a larger section.”
Portion of remaining salt marshes along the U.S. East coast that are located in Georgia
approximate rise in sea levels since the 1930s
number of people projected to be at risk for coastal flooding by 2050
If you find yourself in front of the West Nest concession stand on 300-level of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, you will come across employees busily serving up chicken sandwiches topped with homemade pickles. It seems no different from any other concession, but it’s actually a training ground for students and graduates of the Westside Works program.
Westside Works, a development program founded by Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United owner Arthur Blank, was designed to create employment for residents of Atlanta’s west side neighborhoods, including Vine City, English Avenue, Ashview Heights, and several others. (A 2016 statistic from the Westside Future Fund noted that the unemployment rate in the combined neighborhoods of Vine City, English Avenue, Atlanta University Center, and Ashview Heights is double the rate for metro Atlanta overall.)
Westside Works’s culinary track provides free training on how to work in a restaurant kitchen, eventually offering graduates a path to Atlanta food service jobs. West Nest serves as a place for program graduates and a hands-on training ground for students. Wages there start at $11 an hour.
“I love the opportunity that it provides students and graduates,” says Juliet Peters, who oversees West Nest as part of her job as Westside Works’s director of culinary education. “My favorite thing is seeing the sense of ownership that the grads have, and even the students too, over the products that we’re serving, over just the general functionality of the business.”
West Nest has been preparing for more than a month for Super Bowl LIII, researching and developing its Super Bowl menu, which will include chicken and waffles with sorghum butter and West Nest hot sauce. The team conducted a test run during the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl college football game on December 29 to determine any last-minute tweaks before the big game, such as equipment issues or adjustments to the number of staff.
“It’s a good gauge to make sure we’re coming out of the gate with a new menu properly,” Peters says.
Students have a hand throughout West Nest. Photos of Westside Works graduates—from not only the culinary track but other program areas such as construction and information technology—grace the wall between the front and back of house. Students picked the stand’s name and determined its signature item: a hand-breaded chicken sandwich topped with honey, pickles, and Doux South chow chow.
Students and graduates also contribute ideas for the menu. Peters says one staff member recently proposed adding lemon pepper wings, though it hasn’t made its way to the menu yet.
“I really like the students and graduates to have input because I think it’s fair to them,” Peters says. “The purpose is to be very true to the west side. We don’t want to serve something that wouldn’t represent the west side properly.”
Though Westside Works’s culinary track started four and a half years ago, West Nest opened in August 2017 for Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s first ever event, a Falcons preseason game.
“It’s a completely different environment than the classroom,” Peters says. “It’s an actual, functioning, running business.”
Peters says working at West Nest is an incentive for students who arrive to class at Westside Works on time, keep their uniform clean, and practice proper kitchen safety and sanitation.
“It’s a privilege to work there,” she says. “It’s not just everyone from class gets to work at West Nest.”
When class is in session, four students usually work at West Nest, and in all, the stand has 10 to 12 employees working during an event. Though Peters typically hires only students and graduates, she has taken on potential students who are exploring their interest in the industry. Local nonprofit groups also occasionally assist with front-of-house duties during larger events.
Most staff members work 9 to 10 hours during game days, so they often hold other jobs. But West Nest management staff, in addition to working game days, work an additional 20 hours leading up to an NFL game. They learn how to properly store food, do inventory, and manage the flow of food—all knowledge that they can use elsewhere in the future, Peters says.
She says she’s proud to be part of West Nest and sees the pride that students and graduates take in their work at the stand.
“They want to be successful, and they really feel tied to it,” she says. “It’s a true sense of ownership because this is a representation of the effort they’ve put into their education.”
While Winifred Watts Hemphill was growing up in Durham, North Carolina, dinner discussions often revolved around funerals. Her grandmother, who lived with her family, had the Atlanta Constitution delivered to Durham. After all, she needed to check on business at South-View Cemetery, one of the nation’s oldest black cemeteries.
“She’d come to the dinner table and say, ‘Well, Albert had a busy week. He had six burials,’” Hemphill says, breaking out in laughter. Albert H. Watts—her grandmother’s son and Hemphill’s uncle—helped manage South-View just as his father and grandfather had before him.
The kids at the dinner table groaned when their grandmother read the obituaries, but the family had long felt proud of South-View.
“Ever since the cemetery started, somebody from our family’s been in charge of managing it,” Hemphill says. “It was a piece of pride, especially for my dad’s side of the family.”
Today, Hemphill serves as president of South-View Cemetery Association, running the historic South Atlanta cemetery of 80,000 and helping bury 400 people every year. South-View’s history is intertwined with city’s, and it’s the final resting place for many prominent black Atlantans.
The cemetery began more than a century ago. In the years after the Civil War, Atlanta’s black community was in search of a dignified burial place for deceased loved ones. Cemeteries then had separate, often inferior burial areas for black people, forcing them to enter through back gates or traverse swamps for funerals. (Segregated cemeteries in Atlanta ended in the 1960s.)
Hemphill’s great-grandfather, Albert Watts, who was born into slavery in Athens, met with five other black men in the basement of Atlanta’s Friendship Baptist Church sometime around 1885 to solve the issue of a lack of a proper burial site for the community. The men approached the owners of a local cemetery—a name lost to time, though the family speculates it might have been Oakland or Westview—and asked if black people could be allowed to enter through the front gate and not be buried in swamps. The answer was no. The men were told that if they had all these demands, they needed to open their own cemetery.
So that’s exactly what they did. In 1886, the same year Coca-Cola was invented, South-View Cemetery was founded. The cemetery’s original 25 acres have since grown to 100, and although it has always welcomed people of any race, it is 95 percent black, Hemphill says.
“If you know your history, you understand your roots, and I’m over here because of my history,” she says. South-View is the burial place for Hemphill’s great-grandparents; grandparents; her Uncle Albert, who managed the cemetery; and her grandmother, who read the Atlanta Constitution obituaries at the dinner table. Hemphill, too, will also someday be buried at South-View.
“They were people I cherished, so I want the cemetery to look nice when I go to visit their graves,” she says. “I want it to look nice when other families come to visit their loved ones’ graves.”
Hemphill never imagined that she would be running the cemetery her great-grandfather founded. As a child, she often visited Atlanta. The family drove from Durham every June to take her grandmother to see Uncle Albert, then drove again to pick up her grandmother at the end of the summer before school started. Hemphill attended Howard University for her undergraduate and law degrees. After graduating, she worked as an assistant state’s attorney in Chicago, where she met her husband, and then moved to Atlanta.
After all those years, Uncle Albert still ran South-View. Hemphill sometimes helped with minor legal issues involving rental houses and vacant properties that South-View owned adjacent to the cemetery. She eventually joined the cemetery’s board. After her uncle died in 2001, Hemphill says, a granddaughter he had trained became board president, but she later decided she no longer wanted the job. This led to a pivotal conversation between Hemphill and her father in 2003.
“My dad called me from what ended up being his deathbed and said, ‘Get up to the cemetery. We can’t let it go down. My grandparents are buried there. We have an obligation,’” Hemphill recalls.
Her initial hesitance melted away, and Hemphill started working at South-View part-time. She became president in 2004, the same year her father died.
“His passing shook me, and it was really hard to come to work at the cemetery after losing him. But it helped me to relate even more to the families I assist every day,” Hemphill says. “No matter how expected death is, the finality of it is always so unexpected.”
She says her prior training fit perfectly for the job: an undergraduate degree in economics and work in administrative law.
“I wouldn’t be anywhere but here. I really think that this is the place where I’m supposed to be,” she says. “It’s kind of like all my training came together to really help South-View, and my mission now is really to make sure it’s set on course to go another 100 years.”
The South-View office has four full-time employees, plus two part-time ones. The outside maintenance crew reaches 10 people in the summer and six in the winter. Hemphill’s cousin, Katrina Watts Addie, serves as office manager and has worked at South-View for 30 years; she trained Hemphill in the ways of the cemetery. Hemphill’s day-to-day includes making sure the grounds stay maintained, organizing funeral services, and meeting with families.
“When people are at their lowest, when they’ve had a loss, it’s important to have a group of people who are very caring, and that’s the main focus of the cemetery,” she says.
Hemphill loves telling stories. As she walks through the cemetery, bending down to pull a few grass blades starting to grow over the headstones, she recalls the histories of many she passes. Geneva Morton Haugabrooks was the founder and owner of Haugabrooks Funeral Home on Auburn Avenue, which still operates today. There’s Walt Bellamy, a former NBA player and board member of South-View who Hemphill knew until he died in 2013.
Two members of the Guest family, who performed as the Pips with Gladys Knight, aren’t buried far from the parents of Martin Luther King Jr. Christine King Farris, King’s 90-year-old sister, still brings flowers to her parents’ graves, Hemphill says.
South-View provides a resting place for many civil rights leaders, including Julian Bond, who served in the Georgia House and Senate and as chairman of the NAACP. He was also the first president of the Southern Poverty Law Center. His epithet in South-View is the kind that makes passersby stop: “easily amused race man.”
Not far from the tidy South-View office where Hemphill works lies John Wesley Dobbs, a civic and political leader known as the unofficial mayor of Sweet Auburn. Dobbs advocated for black suffrage, and fittingly, his grandson, Maynard Jackson, became Atlanta’s first black mayor.
The Dobbs gravesite reminds Hemphill of her ties to the family and South-View. One of Dobbs’s daughters was her Girl Scout Brownie leader in Durham. Another one of his daughters, Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon, worked as an opera singer and became the first black woman to be offered a long-term contract by the Metropolitan Opera. Janzon is buried in South-View.
South-View also provides a home for those who paved the way for the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s, including Henry McNeal Turner, a Reconstruction-era state legislator and African Methodist Episcopal Church bishop and organizer.
“All those people between the Civil War and the civil rights movement—who made incremental changes in the way people thought, in the way people moved forward [during] Jim Crow and all that—are buried at South-View,” Hemphill says. “Kids today don’t know anything but the Civil War and Martin Luther King [Jr.], and they don’t know any of the foot soldiers around Martin Luther King. They don’t know anything about what happened in Atlanta in particular between that period, what got us to the point of having a Martin Luther King.”
It’s important to remember Turner and the many like him at South-View who fought for change in their lifetimes, Hemphill says, and she’s happy to continue her family’s work in bearing this task.
“If you don’t understand how people who were born slaves and didn’t have any education could make it in this world, that makes you feel like, ‘Well, why should I be able to make it?’ But if you know that history, then you can say, ‘He made it. I can make it. Things aren’t quite as bad as they used to be,’” Hemphill says. “If we knew our history and understood that what we come from is greatness, then we’d be great too.”
There’s a Georgia Tech robotics lab so popular, its hallway viewing window could use a dedicated cleaner. “My students complain every morning that they have to wipe nose prints off the window because people are up against it, seeing these robots do stuff,” says Magnus Egerstedt, founder of the Robotarium lab.
That visible nature is exactly the point. The Robotarium is an open-access lab with swarm robots, or robots in large quantities. Palm-sized robots roll—and plate-sized ones fly—over a bowl-shaped, 12-by-14-foot white table in the middle of the room. And anyone in the world can remotely run experiments on the lab’s 100 ground and 20 flying robots, simply by uploading code to the Robotarium’s website.
The 725-square-foot lab, which can attract as many as 100 spectators during public tours, occupies a central place at Georgia Tech in the Van Leer Building. “I really wanted it to be a shining beacon of robotic awesomeness in the middle of campus,” says Egerstedt, executive director of the Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Machines.
Egerstedt, who built the Robotarium with two grants totaling $2.5 million from the National Science Foundation and Office of Naval Research, knows that labs require money, which makes research difficult for would-be roboticists lacking resources. The Robotarium gives everyone access. “If you have a good idea that you want to test in the swarm robotics domain, you should be allowed to test it,” he says. “You shouldn’t have to raise many millions of dollars and build a lab and then test it.”
Since the Robotarium went live in August 2017, more than 250 groups from every continent but Antarctica have used it. Researchers from De Montfort University in Leicester, England, studied ethical problems with robots, and University of Arizona students analyzed how ants select their queen. Girl Scout troops and high schoolers practicing computer programming have also visited.
The Robotarium made experimentation possible for Yunus Emre Sahin, a University of Michigan graduate student. He studies algorithms used by robots during emergencies—for example, teaching robots how to survey a disaster area after an earthquake without individually controlling them. “Seeing the robots performing the tasks that I gave them was an inspiration for me,” Sahin says. “You see physical evidence that your work actually is correct.”
Don’t have an advanced science degree? Egerstedt wants to democratize the Robotarium even further. The lab is developing ways for laypeople to engage with the technology. “You don’t have to know how to control robots,” Egerstedt says. “You just tell them, ‘Hey, go here or go there.’”
And with the open-door policy, he hopes the Robotarium inspires other industries—such as traffic monitoring and precision agriculture—to make experimentation more accessible.
Take a tour Tours of the Robotarium are from 2-3 p.m. every other Friday at Georgia Tech, Van Leer Building, room 261. For more info or to sign up for a tour, contact Sean Wilson at email@example.com.
When Chip and Janice Wilmot moved into their Lilburn home in 1993, they planted traditional laurel shrubs in their front yard.
“It was a little boring for us,” Janice admits.
The couple enjoys cooking and entertaining guests, so eight years ago, they decided to extend that ethos into their garden and grow their own edible landscape.
By definition, these ornamental gardens incorporate some type of edible plant—whether that’s a leaf, fruit, seed, or even flower, says L. Daniel Ballard, the owner of Convivial Gardens, an Atlanta-based landscaping company that specializes in edible gardens.
“We live in an urban environment, so people are more conscious of not only having a beautiful landscape, but having a landscape that they can interact with,” Ballard says.
Edible landscaping has also sprouted in popularity due to the cost savings of growing food at home versus buying produce at the grocery store. Ballard says that while there is an upfront cost for the garden, which varies depending on size and type of plants involved, most people won’t need to replant their edibles every year.
“In many ways, it’s similar to the local food movement,” he says. “People enjoy local farmer’s markets, so what does it look like to have a farmer’s market in your own backyard?”
The Wilmots walk through their garden, which spans across all sides of their house, pointing out more than 30 different edible varieties: pineapple guava, figs, bee balm, lemon balm, lemon thyme, alpine strawberries, blueberries. The list goes on.
“I just like stuff that is a little different,” Chip says. “In cooking, I really like to use nepitella (an Italian herb that tastes like a combination of mint and oregano), which is very rare, even in the United States. Pineapple guava isn’t something you would normally see or eat, so just the uniqueness of it just holds a fascination for me.”
He uses the leaves from his garden’s fig tree to wrap grilled fish, and, he tells his wife, he just found a recipe for fig leaf ice cream he’s eager to try.
In addition to being an economical food source, an edible landscape can also make a statement. Mitch Jaffe, the CEO of PREP, a shared kitchen in Atlanta that is the culinary base for 120 food companies such as Verdant Kitchen, Emerald City Bagels, and Salsa Sol Del Rio, installed an edible landscape when the facility opened in 2014. Peaches, blueberries, and figs grow along the edges of the buildings in lieu of typical flower beds.
“When we were building the facility, we had a choice to add run-of-the-mill landscaping,” Jaffe says. “We felt like [edible landscaping] was more appropriate for what we do here.”
PREP’s edible landscape doesn’t produce food for any of the 120 companies—it is more to show that the shared kitchen supports the mission of its producers who often cook with local, seasonal ingredients. It’s also a source of snacks for hungry chefs at work in the kitchen and for people touring PREP’s facilities.
“[The chefs] are the ones usually noshing off the plants,” Jaffe says, chuckling. “There’s nothing quite like a fig or a blueberry that’s tree-ripened.”
The garden also attracts colorful songbirds. Ballard says choosing plants that animals and insects can enjoy is the cutting edge of edible landscaping.
“People are able to look out their own windows and see more and more wildlife in their yards,” he says.
In order to cultivate an edible landscape, Ballard recommends looking at where you need coverage and thinking about edible options that can be used in place of traditional plants.
“What would it look like if, instead of planting a crepe myrtle, I planted a persimmon tree or apple tree?” Ballard says.
Blueberries are the best edible landscaping plant because they are easy to grow, he says. Other plants that thrive in Atlanta are thornless blackberries, Asian and American persimmon trees, raspberries, and strawberries. Serviceberries, which taste like blueberries with an almond tint, are native to Georgia. If you’re looking for somewhere small to start, Ballard says herb gardens, including mint and basil, can be easily incorporated into existing landscapes.
Chip recommends bee balm, Mexican tarragon, parsley, and to cover the ground, thyme. He and Janice spend one to two hours per week tending the garden and don’t use pesticides.
It’s also important to know what you want your garden to look like and what will work for your particular yard. For example, most tomato varieties won’t flourish without eight hours of full sunlight, Ballard says.
Chip says some varieties of edible plants like to migrate, so if left alone, the garden can look more natural than manicured.
“You have to understand where you are on the spectrum of wild and unkempt to a formal, well-coiffed garden,” he says. “A lot of the things we grow, like lemon balm, reseeds crazy and spreads everywhere.”
Ballard says having tomatoes and salad greens in boxes can give defined place for those plants.
Janice also warns that untrained lawn service companies can spray or cut edible plants because of lack of familiarity. Ballard recommends using landscape companies that specialize in edibles.
Done right, edible landscaping can be rewarding—not only is it sustainable, but it gives creative cooks a chance to experiment with uncommon ingredients.
“It’s not just growing your garden variety of thyme,” Chip says. “You can grow a few different varieties and use those.”
Want to learn more about crafting your own edible landscape? Homestead Atlanta offers edible landscaping classes and workshops. An upcoming tour of an edible garden in Decatur will be held September 30 at 2 p.m.—visit Homestead Atlanta’s website for more details and to sign up.
Since 1961, Atlanta magazine, the city’s premier general interest publication, has served as the authority on Atlanta, providing its readers with a mix of long-form nonfiction, lively lifestyle coverage, in-depth service journalism, and literary essays, columns, and profiles.