Georgia’s Leaders Learn About State’s Unique Environmental Challenges in Southwest Georgia


A group of Georgia’s top environmental leaders visited Southwest Georgia this month to learn about the region’s natural resource-based economy through the statewide leadership program Institute for Georgia Environmental Leadership (IGEL).

IGEL is an experiential program dedicated to building and sustaining a diverse network of environmentally educated leaders in the state of Georgia. It provides these leaders the knowledge, skills and network necessary to collaborate across boundaries in addressing Georgia’s environmental challenges now and in the future.

The IGEL application process is highly selective. A group of 30-35 members are chosen to participate in the program.  Classes are purposely diverse with members representing a wide range of backgrounds including occupation, geography, economic status, political views, race and gender.  Over the course of a year, classes are held in different areas of the state in order to introduce class members to the unique environmental challenges that each region of Georgia faces.

The current IGEL class spent July 9-12 in Southwest Georgia exploring environmental issues surrounding agriculture, water and equity, with programming for the session greatly enhanced by a generous gift from The Edward C. Fogg, III and Lisbeth A. Fogg Charitable Trust.

2019 class member and Southwest Georgia resident Karla Thompson shared, “Here in Southwest Georgia, we experienced an excellent example of people from different sectors building a coalition to advance a common goal—in this case, environmentalists, farmers, policymakers and more, coming together to protect the Flint River.”

Another participant from Southwest Georgia, Meredith Rogers, stated, “The Southwest Georgia IGEL session allowed me the opportunity to see our farming community through the eyes of an outsider.  I was incredibly proud to show my new IGEL friends the beauty and the hospitality of our section of the state as we discussed and learned about the importance of water to our agricultural community.”

Class members participated in a paddle down the beautiful Flint River hosted by Flint Riverkeeper, followed by a delicious local farm to table dinner at Pretoria Fields. The meal was organized by Fredando Jackson, Executive Director of Flint River Fresh, and prepared by Stewbo’s.  During the dinner, class members had the opportunity to engage with local governmental officials, farmers, and business owners.

Educational sessions were held on Wednesday beginning with a presentation from Will Bryan, who shared how the history of Georgia is closely tied to the flow of its waterways.  Waterways have shaped the lives of all Georgians in critical ways. Besides providing habitat for wildlife (and people), Georgia’s watersheds have connected residents to the outside world, provided drinking water and food, whisked away wastes, and served as a key source of power and recreation.

Shirley Sherrod with the Southwest Georgia Project shared her inspiring personal story and the history of African American farming in Georgia. Mark Masters of the Georgia Water Planning and Policy Center at Albany State University provided information on agriculture and water policy in Georgia – past, present and future.  A panel discussion among Gordon Rogers, the Flint Riverkeeper and member of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint Stakeholders group, Katherine Zitsch from the Atlanta Regional Commission, and Laura Williams with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division addressed the need to manage water, a limited resource with competing interests for the future of Georgia. Following a long day in the classroom, the class members enjoyed a reception and dinner at the Flint RiverQuarium.

Field trips to more closely examine the practical application of what was learned in the classroom were the order of business on Thursday.  The day began with a tour of the University of Georgia (UGA) Stripling Irrigation Research Park (SIRP) in Camilla and presentations from Casey Cox with the Flint River Soil and Water Conservation District and Longleaf Ridge Farms and Calvin Perry with UGA.  Following the tour of SIRP, class members visited several local farming operations to experience different types of agriculture firsthand, including poultry, row crops (peanuts, corn, and cotton), forestry, solar, blueberries, and pecans.

The afternoon was spent exploring the Jones Ecological Research Center at Ichauway. Participants visited both terrestrial and aquatic locations, learning more about ecological forestry and the use of fire to maintain the Longleaf Pine system as well as the aquatic and hydrologic challenges in the Lower Flint River basin. At the end of the day, Covey Rise Plantation graciously hosted dinner for the IGEL participants and local officials as well as those who contributed to the program.

The final morning of the program introduced the class to Resiliency in Farming with a panel discussion by Rodney Brooks of the USDA Farm Service Agency, Amber Bell of the Southwest Georgia Project, and Perri Campis of the Flint River Water and Soil Conservation District.  The final presentation of the day was made by Will Harris, White Oak Pastures about environmental leadership.

More information about IGEL can be found at Applications for the 2020 class will be available in mid - August.  To receive an application, please contact Molly Nuttall at or 404-413-7421.