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May 16th, 2011

Sugar Creek Garden: Building Community in Decatur, Georgia

Duane Marcus

Duane Marcus

“Reenergizing the spirit of the landscape” is how Lindsey Mann describes the role of geomancy at Sugar Creek Garden, the community garden in Decatur, Georgia, she founded last year. Her quest to establish a garden on the property owned by the city started 4 years ago when she began meeting with city officials to explain her vision and seek approval to establish a demonstration urban food garden along the concrete banks of Sugar Creek. I asked her what she thought was the key to finally getting the powers that be to give her permission to move forward. She said that Mayor Bill Floyd went to a conference in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he took a tour of Will Allen’s Growing Power project. She said he came back and told his staff that Decatur needed something like Growing Power. She laughed and said that he was told that there was a crazy lady who had been pestering them for 3 years to do just that. The city went on to draft guidelines for community gardens on city property and started to inventory potential spaces where they could go.

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Last April, she and a group of 15 volunteers double-dug 16 beds to get them ready for planting. The garden is organized a little differently from most community gardens. It is planted and tended collectively, and the harvest is shared among all of the participants. Lindsey and a revolving group of 5 to 10 volunteers work in the garden 2 days a week, planting, weeding, and maintaining the garden spaces.

When I visited the garden on a beautiful Tuesday afternoon to meet with Lindsey and get a tour, Alan, Sarah, and Katrina were busy pulling weeds and applying bone meal to the strawberries growing in straw bales along the bank of the creek. Later, we went to the location of the Deva Garden and they began to prepare it for planting with medicinal herbs. Lindsey was very excited to see this garden move forward. She explained that it is designed in the form of a cosmogram, which will serve to make the cosmic forces more present in the garden. She said she would be working with a stone carver to cut the cosmogram shape into a piece of granite that will serve as the focus of the Deva Garden.

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A mashup of different esoteric techniques are being employed at Sugar Creek Garden to allow the Deva, or soul, of the garden to reveal itself. Lindsey uses ideas and techniques from biodynamics, geomancy, and the teachings of Machaelle Wright. Biodynamics is an agricultural method and philosophy developed by Austrian philosopher Rudolph Steiner in the 1920s. Steiner espoused the use of various techniques to capture the energies of the cosmos. Planting in the Sugar Creek Garden is guided by the phases of the moon: Root crops are planted around the new moon when the moon’s pull is weak, and leafy crops around the full moon when the pull is strong. The gardeners use biodynamic preps as homeopathic stimulants. The main prep, known as Prep. #500, is cow manure packed in a cow horn and buried in the ground for 6 months so it is basically a form of compost. It is then made into a tea by stirring for an hour to create a vortex. The vortex is said to simulate how water acts in a stream, becoming highly oxygenated and full of energy that stimulates the microorganisms in the compost. The tea is then sprayed on the garden, where it activates the soil food web to break down organic matter, releasing nutrients to the plants.

Geomancy is an ancient form of earth divination connecting human consciousness to the spirit of place. Geomancers study the earth’s energies—such as ley lines, which are thought to be lines of energy passing through the earth. Migratory animals are believed to follow them as they move across the land. Lindsey and her geomancy teacher placed stones in four locations around the garden that she claims create energetic support for the garden.

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Lindsey uses a balancing mixture based on the work of Machaelle Wright to “improve and increase the life vitality” (from Wright’s website) within the soil. It is composed of several rock dusts that are commonly used as sources of soil nutrients by organic gardeners. Bone meal, cottonseed meal, dolomite, rock phosphate, and other materials make up the mix.

The lush lettuce and ferny carrots suggest that these techniques are working. Sugar Creek Garden produces more food than the current group can consume, and they are looking for a suitable organization to which they can donate the abundance of fresh, health-promoting food they grow.

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Without an abundance of passion, patience, and persistence, Lindsey Mann’s vision would never have gotten off her drawing board. Those qualities will serve her well as she moves forward to make Sugar Creek Garden into, in her words, “a space for learning and growing. The aim is self-sufficiency—to learn in the city how to produce our own food and medicine, care for basic needs.”


Duane Marcus practices permaculture at the Funny Farm in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia. He grows vegetables, fruit, herbs, worms, chickens, insects, mushrooms, microorganisms, and anything else that is edible or promotes the growth of edible plants and animals. He also teaches workshops on gardening and sustainable living and manages two local farmers’ markets. You can read about his shenanigans on the Funny Farm.

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