Gwinnett County Success Stories
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By Karen Buckley Washington, Lawrenceville
Doug Dillard is living his father’s dream of keeping their family farm in production for generations to come.
In the late 1950’s, Dillard’s father, George, a lawyer and former FBI agent, decided to return to his home state of Georgia and purchase 50 acres of farmland in Gwinnett County’s city of Loganville.
“My father spent twelve years after law school working for the FBI in Boston, New York and Washington D.C., but he grew up on a tenant farm in Lithonia, so farming was a part of him,” said Dillard.
Farming was such a big part of his life that George paid for law school by growing and selling vegetables and farm products on that tenant farm. When George returned to the area to practice law, he invested his money in Dillwood Farms.
Following his father’s death in 2006, Dillard’s top priority was figuring out how to transition from conventional farming to sustainable farming practices.
With a call to the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Lawrenceville, Dillard learned how to preserve his farm, grow chemical-free fruits and vegetables in a natural environment and establish conservation practices on his land.
Through the Evironmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Dillard installed a mirco-irrigation system, plant cover crops to improve soil fertility and control erosion. Through the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), Dillard established a pollinator habitat for bees.
He likes EQIP because the practices that he established through the program were practical, yet the benefits will be felt for years to come. EQIP and CSP helped him make a smoother transition from conventional growing to sustainable practices.
Dillard is now able to extend his vegetable growing season because of the installation of a new high tunnel house. He also has an ample amount of food and habitat for the bees and pollinations to live and reproduce. These conservation practices enabled Dillwood Farms to grow fresh fruits and vegetables and sell the produce at local farmers markets and restaurants.
“It is not every day that you see people that are passionate about protecting the land and natural resources like Mr. Dillard,” said Jerome Brown, NRCS District Conservationist in Lawrenceville. “His father taught him to protect the land and he is continuing those practices today. You can see it in his eyes as he walks over his farm and in his willingness to host educational field days at his farm.”
Dillard is a true conservationist who wants to keep the land in agriculture - even in an urban county. His goal for the farm is to become sustainable and provide fresh food for the local and surrounding communities for years to come.
“If local farmers work together to adopt sustainable practices, we can change the way our communities eat and improve the way we live,” said Dillard.
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A multiyear cooperative effort between the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Gwinnett County, Georgia Soil and Water Conservation Commission (GSWCC), Upper Ocmulgee RC&D Council, and Gwinnet Soil and Water Conservation District has resulted in the upgrade of Yellow River Dam Number 17 (Y-17).
This dam was originally constructed in 1967 when Gwinnett was still predominantly rural. As such, it was designed to protect flooding of farmland but because of urbanization, now protects homes and major infrastructure. This change in land use precipitated the need to evaluate this structure to determine if it should be removed or upgraded to meet more stringent criteria.
Designers and planners involved in this process evaluated many alternatives including some as drastic as removal of the dam and purchasing the homes in the downstream failure zone. A unique aspect of this dam is its location; Y-17 is located within Collins Hill Park and provides all residents the benefits of seclusion and respite in a hustle and bustle world. Through both the desires of local residents and economic analysis, it was determined the best alternative was to upgrade the structure.
Approximately $1.7 million dollars, six months of construction, and several years of planning have yielded a safer dam. Y-17 is now armored with a roller compacted concrete overlay to protect the dam and its downstream residents from a sudden deluge of water caused by a failure. Except for the visible armoring on the top of the dam, residents might never know this change has taken place; because the lake is in a park setting, the decision was made to cover the back steps with earth fill and vegetation.
This dam is the first of its kind in Georgia. There are ongoing cooperative efforts between NRCS and Gwinnett County to complete the rehabilitation of two additional dams in 2006. Many are benefiting from the tireless efforts in cooperation and coordination spearheaded by Jimmy Bramblett, NRCS, Water Resources Program Leader and Sam Fleming, Gwinnett County, Department of Public Utilities.
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