After seven people spoke against a rezoning request by John and Brandon Ross, who were seeking approval to build six chicken houses on Blalock Road to grow their, during a public hearing earlier this week, the application failed following consideration by Gordon County commissioners.
The applicants' proposal was presented at Tuesday's commission meeting and followed by neighbors of the discussed property who claimed this rezoning could threaten their livelihoods.
The request wanted to change 90.34 acres on Blalock Road from A-1 land to conditional use property. If approved, the property would be used to build six chicken houses to expand the Ross Farm and would require minimal deforestation, according to the applicants' counsel Terry Brumlow. The houses would not be mega houses, though they would be larger than the standard size, and they would be at least 500 feet from any nearby residents, Brumlow said.
Marvin Blalock, who has lived in the area since 1944, said if the rezoning was approved, his honey bee business would be destroyed.
"I can't afford to lose thirty to forty hives of honey bees, it would put me out of business," said Blalock, who explained that ammonia from the chicken farm would disorient his bees and kill their colonies.
Microbiologist and chemist Charlene Hendrix said scientific research proves that chicken farms cause long-term health effects for humans, including asthma, upper respiratory diseases and potentially cancer. Hendrix also said destroying Blalock's bee farm would decrease pollination of local fruit trees, plants and produce, which would significantly alter Gordon County ecosystems.
Others who spoke against the rezoning included Blalock's daughter, Hendrix's mother and residents near the Blalock Road property.
One speaker, James Youngblood brought up the topic of "vertical integration," which claims that all small-scale chicken farms are controlled by six massive corporations. Youngblood said companies like Tyson and other corporations control all chicken farms, actually owning the chickens, determining the prices and transporting the chickens all over the world.
"We've got too many chickens here and not enough honey bees," Betty Payne said, mother of Hendrix. She brought two jars of honey from Blalock's farm to demonstrate the success of his bee farm.
After these speakers, the applicants defended their request, claiming that their chickens were going directly to local Chick-fil-A restaurants. Chick-fil-A Corporate would determine the rules and regulations for their farm, according to John Ross.
"This is not about money," said Brandon Ross, John's son who would be in charge of constructing and managing the chicken houses. "This has been in my blood ever since I was born. It's a passion."
The Ross application was recommended for approval by the Gordon County Planning Commission, and though the board had one motion to approve, the motion failed for lack of a second. County Administrator Jim Ledbetter said the applicants' next steps would be to appeal the board's decision and take their request to the superior court.
The Service Delivery Strategy Agreement proposed by the city of Calhoun was approved by the board after months of mediation. On Oct. 2, county and city officials spent over 12 hours mediating this agreement, Ledbetter said, and both have now finally approved the final draft.
"We have to send it next to Fairmount, Resaca and Plainville. And they have to approve it before it becomes effective," Ledbetter said. If these city governments approve the agreement, it will then be sent to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs for approval. "It will be good to move forward (with this agreement)."
Two budget amendments were passed, the first of which allows the county to accept a security grant from the Department of Homeland Security for an amount of $90,775 for county emergency management procedure updates. The second budget amendment was for $50,329 for a negotiation between the county and Spillman Technologies regarding project management services, installation and first-year maintenance for the county's 911. Ledbetter said he hasn't finished his discussion with Spillman, yet he aims to not spend the entire amount.
A second reading of the emergency management ordinance was approved, which is a long-term plan replacing the need for the board to approve new emergency procedures and strategies every few years. The 2019 board of commissioners' schedule was approved, as was two re-appointments to the Planning and Zoning Commission for Nathan Serritt and Eddie Smith. These appointments will last for four years and expire at the end of 2019.
This year, the annual Gifts for Grands donation drive will be hosted by Missy Barnhart Bingiel, Susan Stanley and Shannon Beavers, the three sisters who started it all just a few years ago.
According to Bingiel, they started this charity event in 2016 to honor their mother, an Alzheimer's patient who died of cancer, and father, who is a current resident of the Gordon County Health and Rehabilitation.
When their dad got placed at the Gordon location years ago, all three of them decided to do something to make holidays special for him and his fellow residents.
For this drive, the three sisters are partnering with Gordon County Health Care, and starting this year, will also be working with Chatsworth Health Care, where they will be delivering hand-wrapped gifts to each of their residents, Bingiel said.
Also, she said Murray County EMS and law enforcement officers will be delivering gifts this year to the Chatsworth center as a way of serving the community.
"I know it means a lot to the residents," Bingiel said. "We're just trying to show some Christmas cheer."
She said volunteers try to spend time individually with each resident and show love to those who might not otherwise be visited during the holidays.
Bingiel said on behalf of her sisters that they are grateful for the community involvement and support that they've received in the past. She said it's priceless to see the faces of residents when they get a surprise visitor or when a child hands them a gift in the spirit of Christmas.
In the past two years, Bingiel said they served an average of 115 residents at Gordon County Health and Rehab, and adding on another location this year would mean doubling the amount of donations needed.
Both counties are accepting all donations, but are specifically requesting blankets, moisturizers, slippers, socks and manicure kits. Usually, recipients are elders or grandparents, which is how they came up with the name of the drive, and any appropriate gifts would be greatly appreciated.
Donations will be accepted in Gordon County by Cammy Causby at the Gordon Health Department; for Murray County, you can donate at Murray 911 or Hair Addictions off of U.S. 225 South.
Donations for Chatsworth Health Care will not be accepted past Dec. 7, and gifts will be delivered to residents there on Dec. 9.
The Gordon County drive will be ending on Dec. 20, with gifts being delivered on Dec. 22.
Bingiel said if there are any families or volunteers who want to help deliver presents, they can call her at 706-537-3596 or visit the "Gifts for Grands/Gordon County" event page on Facebook.
Denise Stripling has had a vision for healthier families in Calhoun for quite some time.
The local businesswoman has long been a fixture on the wedding and catering scene, but since she launched her first food service venture from the old Victorian house at 212 King St. back in 2008, she has looked for a way to provide families with a way to eat healthier and be together at mealtime. The result of her dream is King Street Market, a take-home food service, which she began in the spring of 2017.
Stripling's initial foray into serving the public from the house began 10 years ago when she ran a small restaurant there with a prix fixe menu. Part of the reason she waited to launch the Market was the fact that she felt the timing needed to be right for the concept.
"King Street Market is something I wanted to do from day one," she says. "I just didn't think that Calhoun was ready for it 10 years ago. With Blue Apron, Hello Fresh — those sorts of things — being the norm now, I thought it was more of something that people would accept."
Stripling's take on the pre-prepared concept, however, makes the meals even easier to put on the table than do most other services.
"The difference between King Street Market and those other services — which are wonderful, we just do it differently — (is that) our food is fully cooked," she says, "so there is no having to go home and cook and chop and clean up afterward. This is ready for you to take home, heat it, eat it and you're done. What gave me that the entire thought process was my grandmother. She used to do that for me."
Keeping it healthy
Stripling also sought to keep the emphasis on healthy eating with the meals.
"A lot of people don't realize that the type of food we offer is healthier fare," she says. "It's not diet food. There are a lot of diets out there. And we have a lot of people call and want the little, tiny meals with chicken and green beans. What we wanted to be able to offer was something more sustainable — something that you could develop a lifestyle around. I'm the type of person that if you tell me I can't have something, I want it that much more. So, I wanted to focus more on, 'Oh, I get to eat this. This is amazing. Why would I want that — because I could have this?' Our hope is that ... people are able to have healthier food accessible quickly."
She keeps the calorie counts down and the nutrient content up by sourcing the meats and vegetables locally as often as possible and by staying away from frying.
"Of course, we don't sell any fried food, and we focus on healthier types of food," she says. "For example, our chicken is sauteed in olive oil instead of deep fried. The chicken itself comes from local farms, and it is hormone free, antibiotic free, GMO free, organic. The beef that we use on everything except the meatballs ... same thing (and) grass fed. All our dishes, though, are designed to be healthier instead of a lot of deep-fried, bar-type food. And it's not that I don't eat that — we all are going to eat that from time to time, but we don't need to live and exist off that."
There is an emphasis on fresh, whole foods, and the Market also offers vegetarian, gluten-free and vegan options.
"Most of our food, I would say 90 percent of it, we focus on no preservatives," she says. "I'm a firm believer that a lot of the health problems that we have right now and a lot of our weight gain is due to preservatives — things that are added to our food. I like to think that at King Street, we offer real food — not food that is chock-full of preservatives. We try to source our vegetables as locally as we can. They're sauteed in olive oil or steamed or something that is healthier. This way, it can be quick and healthy."
Stripling has taken steps to make the serving process as easy as possible. She is aware, however, of the rising concerns regarding plastic food packaging.
"The food is designed to be reheated, so we vacuum pack it so that you can drop it in hot water, or you can just put the bag in the microwave, or you can put the bag on a plate," she says. "But the bag is heat-safe plastic ... it's not the kind that leaches into your food."
She is also aware that purchasing pre-prepared food, whether from a restaurant or a meal service, can get expensive. She feels that King Street Market prices make eating healthy food that someone else has prepared a viable option for many people, though. She allows customers to pick and choose what works best for them from among the regular offerings.
"You can buy your meat and vegetables separately," she says. "Probably the more cost-effective things that we offer are our big, family-sized casseroles. A family of four to six can eat for under $40. That's a good thing when it costs $7 to $8 per person to eat at McDonald's."
The service works well for smaller parties, too.
"We have a lot of singles and lots of older people," Stripling says. "They say, 'Who wants to cook for one?'"
The Market is also great for providing an alternative to eating out and school meal plans for college-aged young people. One local customer utilizes it to provide her son with nourishing food while he is studying at Auburn University.
"Between what we make and what his mother makes, he never has to go out to eat," Stripling says.
The business has become an integral part of the community, and not just because of the unique food it produces. Young people have gotten a taste of what the food service business is like, thanks to Stripling's vision. She was able to use the city's Revolving Loan Fund program, which distributes state Community Development Block Grant money, to hire students from Calhoun High School to help her grow the Market.
"This was their first job," she says. "We had 10 students from the culinary program at Calhoun that we paid ... we were able work them and let them know and let them see firsthand what it was going to be like to be in catering, and I was so impressed with them."
How to order
Those interested in placing an order can visit king-streetmarket.net. The Market is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.
"Probably the best way to see our menu is online," Stripling says. "We are going to do some printed menus because we have a lot of older people in our community that are not comfortable with the internet. ... We take call-in orders, or if it's more convenient for you to order online, then you can order, pay and everything."
The "menus" section of the website has entrees and sides listed with prices.
"Our menu does change seasonally," Stripling says. "For example, in the summer, we offer more salads, and in the winter, more soups."
Pickup involves simply swinging by the house on King Street. A pea gravel drive wraps around the back of the old Victorian, allowing customers to pull through. Stripling tries to make the process as customer-friendly as possible.
"When you come by, if it's raining, we say, 'Give us a text. We'll bring it out to you,'" she says. "We have a lot of mothers with young children, so it makes it nice that they don't even have to get out of the car, and that's another thing — the pantry that we've built on has a walk-through so that we can walk right down, and that will be our drive-through area."
Bringing families together
Aside from providing healthy food, Stripling's main focus with the King Street Market is to bring families together during meals.
"We're really hoping that families will take this home and sit around the table and eat together," she says. "That's what we are hoping to foster here, instead of going through a drive through and everyone gets home, gets in front of the TV and eats their meal. There's something in our families that's missing. Families need to sit and talk. ... I'm trying to create a lifestyle where families actually are together more, even though they have little league and cheer practice and all that."
Stripling feels that the time has finally come for a precooked meal service to take hold in Calhoun.
"This is something that you usually only see in larger cities," she says, "But you know ... we have some of the best boutiques, the best salons and the best gyms, so I think our little town appreciates nicer things."