Green ideals, as well as plants, grow in Dunwoody

Dunwoody recently became officially as green as the leafy collards, tatsoi and lettuce sprouting in the community garden.

City leaders, businesses and residents all helped the city earn its bronze certification in the Green Communities program run by the Atlanta Regional Commission.

But it started with Sustainable Pattie.

“I think of it as a great experiment,” said Pattie Baker, a freelance writer who pens a blog under that moniker. “What happens to children who grow up in a new city where everything is possible and their parents and neighbors are the ones making it happen?"

Baker was the impetus for big things happening. She convinced Georgia’s newest city to launch an environmental committee even before it located a City Hall.

Then she helped found a community garden in Brook Run Park, which at the time was still part of DeKalb County’s system.

The collection of 60 plots tucked into a hill at Brook Run Park took root just two weeks after Baker and Bob Lundsten, a former DeKalb planning commissioner, planned it out in August 2009.

It has since yielded more than 5,000 pounds of produce, including 1,100-plus pounds donated to a local food pantry. It also helped turn strangers into a community looking for its identity.

“I was up to my eyeballs working in the corporate world or with the county, and now I’ve met people who I never would have met before the garden,” said Lundsten, chief of staff for County Commissioner Elaine Boyer. “Their only image of me is out in the garden with a pitchfork or hauling dirt.”

That has created an image, and a mission, city leaders have embraced wholeheartedly. Dunwoody wants to be green.

For instance, surveys showed residents voted to become a city because they wanted their own police department. But many officials think the bigger issue is people wanted a voice.

Enter the Sustainability Commission, a 14-member citizen committee that Baker headed even as the city scrambled to get its police force on the streets.

The commission since has helped craft internal policies on using recycled products and some local laws, such as one that requires developers shine lights downward, to avoid sky glow and glare.

“We owe it to our citizens to look at their ideas,” said Councilman Denis Shortal. “That’s what representative government is all about.”

Baker left the Sustainability Commission to focus her energies on the garden. Residents claimed the available beds within two days, showing her that many of her neighbors shared her passion.

Volunteers since have expanded the community garden and built a garden annex behind St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church, which runs the food bank Malachi’s Storehouse.

“You have a little community here,” said Rebecca Barria, who had never gardened before but is now chairwoman of the garden’s board of directors. “If we have an idea, there is a way to make it happen and there are people in the city who will help you.”

The ideas keep coming, for both the city and the garden.

Dunwoody is looking for specific goals to add to its transportation and parks plans, among others, in order to be more environmentally aware. City Sustainability Director Jeff Timler said Dunwoody plans to apply for silver-level certification from the ARC next year.

Volunteers harvested the garden this week in time to make Christmas donations to the food bank.

Some of the other plants in the garden made a different kind of move. With other volunteers, Baker transplanted four beds of produce into a vacant greenhouse at the park.

Turning on the power to heat the greenhouse wouldn’t fit with the green ideals. Instead, Baker and others got Coca-Cola to donate empty barrels that they plan to paint black and fill with water.

The sun should heat the water during the day, meaning the steam from the barrels will keep the plants warm throughout the chilly nights.

“It’s critical that sustainability has been built in the fabric of this community,” Baker said. “We are trying to see what works, and to me, this is the fun stuff. It’s exciting to see us working toward a shared goal.”

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