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Meet Brennan and Gwendolyn Washington of Phoenix Gardens in Lawrenceville

Today we’d like to introduce you to Brennan and Gwendolyn Washington.

Brennan and Gwendolyn, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
We bought our home in Lawrenceville in 2004 after moving down from New York City.

We were always avid gardeners and quickly put our 2.5 acres to good use.

We soon found that we were growing more food than we could eat, giveaway or preserve.

Gwendolyn had also begun to demand that our hobby begin to pay for itself.

During a Saturday morning shopping excursion, Gwendolyn was driving through downtown Lawrenceville and noticed some people sitting out on the square with some card tables. She stopped to see what was going on and discovered that she had stumbled on to the Lawrenceville Farmers Market. We joined the market and began our journey as local food systems entrepreneurs and advocates.

We were asked to take over management of the market the next year and with some help of some outstanding vendors and customers was able to grow the market significantly leading to our founding of the Georgia Farmers Market Association. Because of our market involvement, we needed to become better farmers. We went through the Georgia Organics Farmer Mentoring Program, at the time one of the only farmer mentoring program in the country. We grew Phoenix Gardens to become a diversified small-scale farm which sold at four markets per week, operated an CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program and a leader in the local food system movement.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
The road on our local food journey was certainly not a smooth one and we encountered some major and even life altering challenges along the way. Our first challenge was simply learning how to transition from home gardeners to actual farmers producing food for the consumption of others. Then as we started to gain our expertise, we received notification from Gwinnett county that our home might be seized by eminent domain for a major road project. We were on pins and needles for months but the county eventually changed the plans for the road and our property was not needed. This is where our farm name originated. We felt we rose from the ashes like the mythical bird escaping the path of the parkway project.

We had set a goal of grossing a minimum of $10 per square foot in sales on our farm, a goal we achieved in 2010. However, shortly after achieving this milestone, Brennan suffered a double health whammy of being diagnosed with a chronic lung disease and then needing back surgery. This set our operation back from achieving our long-term goals by about two years.

In 2015, we were looking forward to getting our business back on track. On August 5th of that year while on a business trip in Virginia when we started receiving calls that our home was on fire. The house was totally destroyed along with a vehicle and all of our possessions. And if the fire wasn’t bad enough, the rebuilding process was a nightmare taking some two years to complete. But we feel we came out of it stronger and more resilient.

Phoenix Gardens – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Phoenix Gardens produces locally grown food in the most sustainable manner possible.

We grow a wide range of vegetables with an eye towards producing food typically not produced by other local farms such as perennial culinary herbs, specialty greens and crops like salsify. We are known for providing high quality produce grown using environmentally sound methods. We believe our ability to read market trends and adjust to our customers’ needs sets us apart from other farms.

While we are very proud about our growth as an urban farm and our ability to rebound from adversity, we are most proud of the work we have done to advance sustainable agriculture and the growth of local food systems in Georgia and throughout the southeast. Brennan has served on the boards of Georgia Organics, the Southern Sustainable Agricultural Working Group (SSAWG) and Southern Sustainable Research and Education (SARE) where he currently serves as the Southeastern Outreach Coordinator. Brennan and Gwendolyn have helped to build the farmers market movement in the state and have helped countless of small scale farmers over the years.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
How we handled the farm after our devastating fire. After quickly going through our 5 stages of grief, we quickly resolved to make our farm better than ever. The first thing we did was to bring in a permaculture designer, Brandy Hall of Shades of Green Permaculture, who provided us with an outstanding plan to increase the long-term viability and sustainability of our farm. We also brought in Cory Mosser of Natural Born Tillers who helped us refocus our business visions to take advantage of new local food markets. with their assistance and a lot of hard work, we have positioned Phoenix Gardens to produce more food than ever and increase access to our wonderful produce.

Contact Info:

Lawrenceville Farmers Market 6-13-09
Phoenix Gardens

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