When magenta-haired Melissa Flock walked into a Cherokee County Beekeepers Association meeting a few years ago, the room full of older men asked her if she was lost. Little did they know, she was. She was lost a bit in life at that time. She had been working in Atlanta as a commercial photographer, shooting bands and running in the fast lane. She owned 50 pairs of high-heeled shoes. She worked, worked, worked. And she was angry all the time. Finally, she and her husband, Brian, did the thing about which so many people only dream. They chucked it all in and bought 15 acres of land in the country, and for the past 7 years, Melissa has been farming several of those acres organically and selling her crops at farmers markets. And yes, she keeps bees.
I drove out to her fields of dreams in Ball Ground, Georgia, yesterday, following directions that had me making rights at landmarks such as Runt's Place and Appliance Heaven. Passing "hot, boiled peanuts" signs. Getting lost at a tree farm and a retreat center for teens. And finally finding the green four-boarded fence that surrounds her front field.
I drove up the quarter-mile wooded driveway to find a gorgeous, white clapboard house with a wraparound porch, one whole section of it screened in and dedicated to cats she rescues and places with new families. Melissa was mowing the orchard when I arrived, her urban red hair twisted haphazardly up on her head. To keep the deer out, Melissa and Brian surrounded the orchard with a tall green fence as if it were a tennis court. Their dogs (I lost count how many there are--maybe 4 or 5, including Sequoia who is half-wolf and will sing on command) use it as a dog run.
Two one-acre fields are right there, like big kitchen gardens just beyond the house. Melissa picks, eats and shares continuously as she walks and talks. Sugar-snap peas. A whole hillside of micro-greens on the edge of one field. The first of the orange cherry tomatoes from the field filled with 3200 tomato plants, all started by seed and transplanted from Melissa's greenhouse. I can hardly put my arms around that number. These 3200 plants include more than 100 different varieties. It was because of Melissa's tomatoes that I first met her at the Spruill Farmers Market last year.
A brief walk through more woods, where Melissa wants to build a treehouse on each side of the dirt road with a bridge connecting them that is lit up at night, takes us to the back five acres, where honeysuckle and blackberry brambles tumble down the center like a river. Five or so huge picnic tables sit long-end to long-end, as if waiting for Food and Wine stylists to come and bring them to life. Melissa says they have a big party every October and I can almost see it, dogs and children running in the grassy pasture, people laughing, glasses clinking, and the fresh goodness of the farm enveloping everyone deep into the starry night.
Brian is grading a new field back there, which will be joined by another greenhouse. And right through the woods there, on the left, down a special path, is Wolf's Creek, a subdivision that surely includes covenants about what color you can paint your shutters. Melissa has friends there who come with their children to visit this rapidly disappearing slice of rural life.
Melissa knows her old self is almost gone, replaced by this far more authentic, far happier person. As for the hair? It stays.