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Mad Dworschak-Victory Gardener Extraordinaire, Part of Five Stories to Brighten Our Spirits

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The Bright Side of Lockdown in Peachtree Corners

We can all relate to the surreal feeling brought on by the coronavirus as we struggled with being caught in this bizarre new world that was difficult to believe yet impossible to ignore. We couldn’t help but feel shocked as it unfolded — it was unprecedented — although there had been a dreadful buzz in the air heading straight for us from miles away.

As our nation is sieged with controversy, climbing death rates, trepidation and uncertainty, I wanted to find some uplifting, local COVID-19 stories that would serve to brighten our spirits. This is part 4 of 5 stories to be posted.

One of the great perks of living in Peachtree Corners is our proximity to Atlanta and its many trendy hubs like Old Fourth Ward, just 20 miles away. Mad Dworschak hails from Dunwoody/Sandy Springs where her family still lives, but she has been an Atlantan since starting her career as a graphic designer.

Mad on the move on social media and her victory gardening website

Dworschak had been looking forward to a more nine-to-five schedule after having worked around the clock shifts at CNN. Six months into her new job at the Atlanta Department of City Planning, the coronavirus turned the whole world on its ear.

Abiding by stay-at-home orders, she turned to cultivating a hobby she has always found comforting — gardening. Normally, it gave her something to do at the end of the day but working from home with “… everything shutting down right as spring started springing up,” was kismet for the birth of her flower and vegetable garden this year.

A New Year’s Resolution

Dworschak had already committed to a focus on surviving and thriving in 2020, while going through a difficult personal time last winter. She had intended to expand her edible gardening, unaware at the time that she’d be thrust into it on the heels of a global pandemic disrupting our lives so profoundly.

Inspired by the author of “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat,” Dworschak adopted the term. “She said plant a little Victory Garden if you’re nervous about having enough food because nothing dresses up a can of beans like some fresh herbs,” Dworschak recounted.

Mad’s super fun victory garden poster

COVID-19 made it apparent how fragile food security is and how quickly losing a job could cause a family to struggle. “I think people latched on to the concept. They remember the poster of the woman holding a cabbage, “Grow Your Own Garden for Victory!” We all feel helpless right now, but this is at least something we can do,” she said.

Free Seedlings

Initially, Dworschak set out a cardboard sign in front of her 1920s duplex located across from where Dr. King went to school, with the scrawled message ‘Free Seedlings!’ “I put out extra seedlings on the street for people to take as they wished. I later designed and painted a more eye-catching sign,” Dworschak said.

 The timing of her project could not have been better. “Seeds have always been about abundance and hope, wishing for a better tomorrow.”

Instagram updates from @madness.design.atl and passersby resulted in a steady stream of seeds and seedlings being shared with neighbors. Building connections with the community has been beneficial.

“This little program I’ve started made me feel better. I love that I can help others too,” Dworschak said.

Sowing the Seeds of Cheer

A firm believer that it’s impossible to spend a few minutes in a garden and not be amazed, Dworschak hoped to spread some much-needed joy. “Anyone who’s even just a little bit of a gardener and going through something knows there is unending poetry from things coming up from the ground, flowers blooming and food coming off of a plant.”

“We may not have the most abundant gardens, and we’re all scared, but we have something in common now,” she said. Neighbors are posting pictures of their own gardens and plants that have blossomed as a result of her giveaways.

Dworschak responds with pointers on how to care for them. She has received some very kind notes and is routinely tagged on Instagram by excited neighbors thanking her for the basil, dill, okra and kohlrabi plants they scored from her little stand.

What’s Growing in the Garden

“This is my private growing area,” Dworschak said, pointing to her front porch covered in baby sprouts waiting to be given away and planted.

The interplanting of vegetables with flowers makes a cheery garden in a walled front yard. This year, she has enjoyed planting what’s easy and fun to grow.

Nasturtium: “One of my favorite things this year is this cool-looking flower. It grows like a bunch of lily pads sticking up out of the ground and has orange flowers. Both the leaves and flowers are edible. It’s great in salads. It’s got a spicy, peppery flavor, like arugula.”

Better Boy Tomatoes: “My grandmother grew these when she lived here in the 1960s. She swears by them. They’re very conventional but how can you say no to grandma?”

Roma and cherry tomatoes

Okra: “I’m excited about my okra. I was captivated by the story: okra was brought to America by slaves who had it braided into their hair as sort of a food insurance policy for when they got to the new land.”

Okra. the southern staple

Cherokee Trail of Tears Beans: “They are an heirloom variety brought from Tennessee all the way to Oklahoma by the Cherokee Nation during the Trail of Tears. They were a promise for tomorrow.”

Sunflower: “I grew that monster from a little seed. It’s bigger than I am.”

Cosmos flowers: “They’re wonderful and prolifically self-seeding. If you plant them, expect them to fall on the ground and make new ones next year. Which is great, if that’s what you want.”

Mulberry tree: “You can see the ground is littered with mulberries. They kind of taste like blackberry’s poor cousin came to town. They’re a little milder.”

Mulberry Jam, need we say more? Yum!
Mulberry Jam

Families are enticed to bring buckets and pick as many mulberries as they can. Dworschak’s front and back yards are covered in the berries that fall to the ground from two towering trees. When folks wonder if they should collect so many, she assures them there are millions for the taking.

“They taste great if you make an easy jam. I didn’t even use pectin. I just put 6 cups mulberries, ¾ cup of sugar and a little bit of water on the stove. You cook it on low for a long time. It condenses, and you have an amazing jelly. I put it on top of ice cream and Oreos. It’s awesome,” she beamed.

Sourcing

Home Depot or ACE Hardware are where Dworschak buys her seeds when she’s not shopping her favorite online heirloom store, Baker Creek. “Any real gardener knows that the best source of seeds is other gardeners; it’s a networking community,” she chuckled.

Perennials on the property, like cannas and irises, keep dividing. “I’ve been able to thin them out and give them away as well,” Dworschak said. Her neighbors were pleased to give the tropical-looking plants new homes.

Mission Green Thumb

She loves demonstrating how easy it is to grow seeds from home: “Take toilet paper tubes, put them upright in a big salad container and fill with soil. Then soak dry chickpeas and kidney beans from the grocery store for 24 hours, and they sprout. Plant one in each tube, and in 3 to 5 days you should have seedlings! This is a kind of magic!”

Food Resources

Dworschak fosters a sense of unity with her Victory Garden effort, but it’s also about contributing to food security. Whether you need help or would like to contribute during COVID-19, there are great resources for free and reduced-price food, grocery delivery and farmers’ markets. Visit madness.design/COVID19 to learn more.

Follow her on Instagram @madness.design.atl where Dworschak will continue to post updates about new seed and plant drops. She posts in advance, so if there’s something you’d like to pick up, you’ll have notice: “Tomorrow at 8:30am, lots of kale and bell peppers,” for example.

Insider tip:She usually saves one of everything that she puts out for the inevitable person who arrives just a little too late. “It’s nice to be able to make someone’s day,” Dworschak said.

Mad Dworschak’s ever growing website chock full of victory gardening photographs and growing tips
The Graphic Designer

I’ve planted the seed (wink) in Dworschak’s mind about creating a Peachtree Corners Neighborhoods Map. You may have seen her coveted urban chic Atlanta Neighborhoods Maps. We should have one for Peachtree Corners, don’t you agree?

700Mad Dworschak

Patrizia hails from Toronto, Canada where she earned an Honors B.A. in French and Italian studies at York University, and a B.Ed. at the University of Toronto. This trilingual former French teacher has called Georgia home since 1998. She and her family have enjoyed living, working and playing in Peachtree Corners since 2013.

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City Government

City’s First Employee Steps Down

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At a City Council meeting on April 23, Diana Wheeler was recognized for more than 12 years of dedicated service to the city.
Diana Wheeler on stage at Town Center // Photos by Tracey Rice

Diana Wheeler starts her own consulting business

When a city is established, there’s a lot to do to get it going. One of the most important decisions is hiring effective staff. Diana Wheeler was one of those qualified employees who helped turn Peachtree Corners into the community it is today. She’s also credited with being the city’s first hire.

“I worked in Alpharetta for about 20 years as a community development director, and I decided that it was time to try something new and different, something I hadn’t done before. I was going to start up my own consulting business,” said Wheeler.

She was only a few days into her new career when the city of Peachtree Corners called.

“They said, ‘Hey, we’d like you to come and help us out. We’re starting up a new city, and we don’t really have any planners. We need a community development department,” said Wheeler.

So, she went back into city government work and put off starting her business.

Years of service

“I was the only employee for a while,” she said. “There were a lot of interesting times, and there were opportunities I’ve never had before, like setting up all of their programs and systems at the beginning.”

At a City Council meeting on April 23, Wheeler was recognized for more than 12 years of dedicated service to the city.

“A lot of things were accomplished, and after 12 years, I thought, well, you know, I still want that one last sort of professional challenge that I hadn’t ever done before, which was to go out on my own and take advantage of the connections that I’ve made over the years and work on projects that were of interest to me,” she said.

She let the city leadership know that it was time for that change and that she’d be making that change at the end of April.

“Diana’s daily presence was profoundly valued by her colleagues, who benefitted from her expertise, leadership, and perhaps most importantly, her composure in the face of the numerous challenges that the Peachtree Corners city government has encountered during her tenure,” read a statement from the city.

Don’t call it a retirement

As the community development director, Wheeler wore a lot of hats, metaphorically speaking.

“When I was community development director, I had four divisions: the building department, which issues permits and performs inspections; code enforcement, which basically enforces the city’s regulations in commercial and residential areas; planning and zoning, which does all the public hearings and all the zoning research work, and when we added the Town Center, we added special events,” she said. “It’s just a lot of different things. And the city has a very limited number of employees. So, everybody does multiple tasks.”

But she hasn’t entirely left the city. Through the end of the year, she’ll be coordinating the special events at the Town Center.

“We’ve got an incredible lineup. We have all sorts of really cool concerts …  and we’re also introducing a night market, which is like a farmer’s market,” she said.

The market will take place on the second Saturday of the month and will have about 14 different vendors selling produce, homemade products, and other items.

“We’re going to have a talent competition this year,” she said. “It’s called Peachtree Corners Has Talent, and we’re asking people to submit YouTube videos, and there are prizes for winners.”

Additionally, there’s a children’s festival and one for the canines in the new dog park.

“On December 4, we’re going to have the huge holiday glow event, which is our big holiday gala at the town center with a concert and Santa and all sorts of stuff for kids to do and a sing-along and lots of free hot chocolate and cookies and things like that,” she said.

Wheeler is unsure if she’ll continue working as a consultant with the city beyond December, but she’s excited about her next chapter. Her consulting business is focused on special projects.

A new journey as a consultant

“In communities where they have a limited staff but would like to take on a project, for example, the city of Jasper and the city of Milton have two different areas where they have projects that they would like to take on, but they don’t have the staff resources,” she said.

That’s where she’ll come in.

“They hire people sort of as a side project to work just on that project. And those are the sort of things that I would do,” she said. “I get to focus on a specific project and don’t deal with the day-to-day things.”

Wheeler said she likes that she gets to choose what she wants to work on and use her skills and experience to the fullest.

Highlights of Wheeler’s career with the city of Peachtree Corners:

  • She laid the groundwork for the establishment of Peachtree Corners’ inaugural City Hall.
  • She was instrumental in the development of the Holcomb Bridge Corridor Urban Redevelopment Plan, Livable Centers Initiative, Innovation Hub Master Plan, Winters Chapel Road Corridor Study and conceptual planning for the Multi-Use Trail network.
  • She established and nurtured the Arts Council, created the Arts & Culture Master Plan, and promoted other public art initiatives, bringing the residents enriching cultural experiences, artistic expression and a sense of community pride.
  • She played a pivotal role in the establishment and ongoing support of the Peachtree Corners Planning Commission, Zoning Board of Appeals, Downtown Development Authority, Redevelopment Authority, Arts Council, and Green Committee.
  • She played a crucial role in securing the city’s Green Community Certification and its Tree City USA recognition.
  • She spearheaded the implementation of the city’s initial zoning laws and led the Code Enforcement, Building and Permitting and Planning and Zoning Departments.
  • She pioneered the city’s first Comprehensive Land Use Plan.
  • She played a key role in launching Special Service Districts, contributing significantly to their initiation and success.
  • She Diana guided Town Green and Town Center initiatives.
  • She organized and managed Peachtree Corners’ special events.

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Community

Rooted Interiors Unveils Largest Transformation Project Yet for a Family in Need

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Grandfather's bedroom before and after // photos courtesy of Rooted Interiors

Rooted Interiors, a new non-profit organization dedicated to transforming lives through design, has announced the completion of its largest transformation project to date.

With a commitment to providing complete interiors to individuals and families emerging from homelessness, Rooted Interiors continues to make a profound impact on communities, one home at a time.

The latest project marks a significant milestone for Rooted Interiors as it demonstrates the organization’s unwavering dedication to creating havens where families can plant roots and thrive.

Through meticulous planning, collaboration and the support of generous donors and volunteers, Rooted Interiors has successfully transformed a once hopeless space into a warm and welcoming home for a deserving family.

At the heart of this project is a single mother, accompanied by her two children and her father, who found themselves in dire circumstances after the mother fled from an abusive partner, forcing them to seek refuge at the Family Promise shelter in Athens, Ga.

Upon securing a new home, however, their relief was short-lived as they found themselves in a space devoid of warmth and lacking the essentials of a home.

With no furniture besides a dining room table, no washer and dryer and a malfunctioning fridge, their daily struggles persisted for three long months.

But Rooted Interiors didn’t just redesign the family’s space, they filled it with love and hope.

Through this project, the organization transformed the family’s house into a sanctuary, addressing not only their physical needs but also their emotional well-being. From carefully selected furniture to thoughtful décor choices, every detail was curated to create a space that felt like home.

“We are thrilled to unveil our latest project, which represents our continued commitment to serving those in need,” said Kristina McCalla, Founder and Executive Director of Rooted Interiors.

“Our Rooted in Renewal Program not only revitalizes physical spaces but also renews hope and stability for the family who calls this house their home,” she added.

Rooted Interiors offers a lifeline to families in need, empowering them to thrive and succeed in their journey towards independence.

“This journey is not just about creating aesthetically pleasing interiors; it’s about using the language of design to uplift and restore,” said Kristina McCalla, also Lead Interior Designer at Rooted Interiors.

“Rooted in faith and love, each project is a testament to the belief that everyone, regardless of their circumstances, deserves a place that reflects their humanity and worth. By providing a thoughtfully designed and fully furnished home, we aim to empower families to thrive and succeed in their journey towards independence,” she explained.

As Rooted Interiors continues its mission to fully furnish homes for those emerging from homelessness, this project serves as a testament to the organization’s impact and the generosity of its supporters.

Through ongoing partnerships and community engagement, the organization remains committed to building brighter futures for individuals and families in need. For more information about Rooted Interiors and how you can support their mission, visit rootedinteriors.org.

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Business

BRACK: Peachtree Corners to lose Peterbrooke Chocolatier

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Scottt Gottuso and Geoffrey Wilson.
Scottt Gottuso and Geoffrey Wilson. Photo provided.

Peachtree Corners will soon lose one of its most iconic, popular and tasty businesses.

Peterbrooke Chocolatier, run by Geoffrey Wilson and Scott Gottuso, has been told by Peachtree Forum landlords, North American Properties and Nuveen Real Estate, that its lease will not be renewed. The last day of business will be July 25.

Meanwhile, Peachtree Forum is getting several new stores. They include Kendra Scott, Sucre, and The NOW Massage. Previously announced were Alloy Personal Training, Cookie Fix, Gallery Anderson Smith, Giulia, Lovesac, Nando’s Peri-Peri and Stretchlab. Wilson adds: “We are not in their big picture.”

Wilson has operated Peterbrooke at the Peachtree Forum for 14 years and Gottuso has been there nine years. They have made the chocolatier profitable and doubled sales. Wilson says: “We turned it around through community involvement and made relationships. We worked with the schools, gave donations, did a lot in the community, and made a difference. We produce most everything we sell in the shop, so it’s labor intensive. We make European-style chocolate treats from scratch from the very best ingredients, package it, make gift baskets, and also sell a lot of gelato.”

Key items include truffles, hand-made caramels, cherry cordials, chocolate-covered cookies and pretzels and strawberries hand-dipped in their own blend of chocolates. (They are all good!) One of Wilson’s and Gottuso’s most iconic products is chocolate popcorn. Once you try it, regular popcorn is tasteless. “We sell a lot of it.” Wilson adds: “Gelato sales have carried us in the summertime, since there are not many chocolate holidays in the summer.”

Peterbrooke now has five employees, and would like to have 10, but it is difficult to hire people with the skills in chocolatiering. A key part of its business is corporate companies, such as Delta Air Lines and Capital Insight. The Peachtree Corners’ Peterbrooke has corporate customers as far away as Cleveland, Ohio.

The operators were surprised when the Forum owners did not renew its five year lease. “The big decisions were made in Charlotte or Cincinnati, not locally,” Wilson feels. “We were no longer in their big picture. They want new and glitzy, shiny, fancy and trendy.”

The operators plan to start their own chocolate company, to be called “Scoffrey,” and initially sell online, plus have pop-up locations during holidays, and possibly have a booth in other merchants’ stores on occasions.

“Whatever we do would look different. We might rent a space somewhere close by so that people can still have the good chocolate experience with us, but we won’t have a regular audience walking by.”

Another element: the price of chocolate futures has spiked this year, with a bad crop production year. Wilson says: “That is key to our business and a huge cost increase. That doesn’t help.”

Wilson adds that the forced closing of the Peterbrooke location “is something like the death of a friend. But you go to the funeral and to the wake, and in six months or a year, It won’t be so bad.”

Have a comment?  Send to: elliott@elliottbrack

Written by Elliott Brack

This material is presented with permission from Elliott Brack’s GwinnettForum, an online site published Tuesdays and Fridays. To become better informed about Gwinnett, subscribe (at no cost) at GwinnettForum

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