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Garden & Gun Announces Second Annual Champions of Conservation Honorees

Garden & Gun and partner Explore Asheville recognize ten undersung scientists, advocates and innovators who are helping defend the South's imperiled ecosystems

CHARLESTON, S.C., Sept. 18, 2023 /PRNewswire/ -- Garden & Gun, in partnership with Explore Asheville, unveils this year's Champions of Conservation in the October/November issue on newsstands today. Following a 2022 debut, Garden & Gun's Champions of Conservation program celebrates and salutes leaders and innovators whose groundbreaking work and environmental projects are making a Southern impact.

This year's Champions are made up of ten exceptional scientists, advocates, and pioneers on the front lines of conservation efforts critical to the protection of Southern ecosystems. Advocating for threatened waterways and fighting for agricultural, environmental, and cultural change, the dynamic group of crusaders from across the region are working to ensure a more sustainable future for the next generation.

"Conservation has been part of the editorial ethos at G&G since day one," says David DiBenedetto, senior vice president and editor in chief. "So much of what we love about the South springs from the land, and it's an honor to bolster the incredible work of those who are trying to protect it. Hopefully others will take notice and champion them alongside us."

After months of extensive research, the Garden & Gun editorial team hand-selected each champion with help from a panel of conservation experts. This year's panelists include Sally Bethea, the first woman in America to become a "riverkeeper"; Caleb Hickman, a G&G 2022 Champion of Conservation and Supervisory Biologist for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina; Mamie Parker, a success coach and consultant at Ecologix Group, Inc; Simon Perkins, the President for Orvis; Felica Sanders, the Coastal Bird Conservation supervisor for the North Carolina Department of Natural Resources; and Jonathan Wilkins, a hunting educator and facilitator with Black Duck Revival. Their collective knowledge helped unearth a lineup of exceptional advocates including Asheville's own Chris Smith of the Utopian Seed Project. His work developing new farming techniques is helping develop a more robust food system for the future.

To celebrate the 2023 Champions of Conservation, Garden & Gun and Explore Asheville invite guests to the Blue Ridge Mountains on Thursday, September 21, 2023 at 6:00 p.m. for Cocktails and Conservation – a cocktail reception and thought-provoking discussion hosted by DiBenedetto.

In conjunction with the Champions of Conservation partnership, Garden & GunThe Good Road, and Explore Asheville are excited to announce a dynamic partnership that will shine a spotlight on Asheville's rich cultural heritage, vibrant food scene, and commitment to environmental conservation, social justice, and community engagement.

In Season 4, Episode 404 of The Good Road, airing November 7th at 9 p.m. ET on PBS, viewers will embark on a journey that celebrates the Wilma Dykeman Legacy through the lens of Asheville's iconic French Broad River Arts District. This episode will feature captivating conversations with Becky Stone and Kate Epsen as they explore the Wilma Dykeman Greenway. Additionally, viewers will gain insights into the incredible work of Hood Huggers, as they rebuild Affrilachia and revitalize the community through walking tours led by DeWayne Barton. And, viewers will also delve into the world of farm-to-table dining with none other than the renowned chef John Fleer, joined by bluegrass musician Woody Platt.

Additionally, Garden & Gun will host a series of short form Asheville episodes, all designed to captivate and inspire audiences across the nation and offer viewers an intimate glimpse into the heart of Asheville's culinary and cultural scene on

"Explore Asheville is proud to present Garden & Gun's 2023 Champions of Conservation. These national champions, including Asheville's own Chris Smith and JJ Apodca, exemplify our commitment to sustainable and responsible travel," says Vic Isley, president and CEO of Explore Asheville and the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority. "Surrounded by some of the world's oldest mountains and one its most ancient rivers, humans have been drawn to this amazing place we call home for hundreds of years. We believe that preserving the natural beauty of our region and supporting our vibrant community go hand in hand with providing unforgettable experiences to our visitors."

Learn more about the 2023 Champions of Conservation in the October/November issue of Garden & Gun on newsstands and online at Garden & Gun Good Road content can be found at


  • Jacqueline Echols of the South River Watershed Alliance (Atlanta, GA): Long before Atlanta's South River became a political flash point, Echols began fighting to conserve the waterway.
  • Mike Chamberlain of the Wild Turkey Lab (White Plains, GA): Georgia biologist and hunter is stepping in as wild turkey numbers are plummeting.
  • Julie Moore of the North Carolina Plant Conservation Program (Raleigh, NC): Carolina botanist Moore won't rest till the South's iconic insectivorous plants are protected.
  • JJ Apodca of the Amphibian and Reptile Conservancy (Asheville, NC): Apodca works as an inventive herpetologist that wields DNA in wild and wonderful ways.
  • Jennie L. Stephens of the Center for Heirs' Property Preservation (Charleston, SC): Families with heirs' property across the region have an ally in Stephens, a South Carolina dynamo defending descendants.
  • Adam Chappell of the Arkansas Soil Health Alliance (Cotton Plant, AR): Chappell inspires farmers with his knowledge and success of regenerative farming.
  • Alvin Dedeaux of Loco Trash Bash (Austin, TX): Local fly fishing guide Dedeaux starts annual river cleanup of the Lower Colorado river.
  • Mitzi Reed of the Native American Fish and Wildlife Society (Philadelphia, MS): Choctaw biologist Reed doubles down as she roots out invasive species and beckons youth to join the cause.
  • Chris Smith of the Utopian Seed Project (Asheville, NC): In the face of climate change, monoculture, and an uncertain future, grower Smith tries new tactics.
  • Ryan J Brown of the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (Richmond, VA): Brown works to make the outdoors a place where all Virginians feel welcomed by establishing the first Office of Diversity and Inclusion within the Department of Wildlife Resource.

About Garden & Gun
Garden & Gun is a multiplatform media company that celebrates stories of the American South through powerful journalism, bold photography, exquisite design, and finely curated retail and experiential journeys. The brand is anchored by its award-winning national magazine launched in 2007, Garden & Gun, which reports on the South's sporting culture, food, music, art, literature, and its people and their ideas. The coveted audience of 1.6 million is further engaged through numerous New York Times best-selling books, Fieldshop by Garden & Gun retail experience, the Garden & Gun Club restaurants, and 75+ events each year. Visit

About Explore Asheville
Asheville is where unrivaled natural beauty and bold creative expression meet. The colorful Blue Ridge Mountain city is steps away from the world's most biodiverse forests and the tallest peaks in the East. For generations, Asheville has nurtured and inspired a compassionate community that's deeply rooted and ever evolving – just like the ancient French Broad River that runs through it. It's an anchor destination for two of the most visited National Park Service units in the United States – the Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. For the most up-to-date happenings and travel ideas, visit

About The Good Road
The Good Road offers a compelling look at the messy and complicated business of global charity. Hosts Earl Bridges and Craig Martin- longtime philanthropy veterans, globe-trotters, and best friends- set off around the world to places where people are doing good. Sometimes that good is several plane rides away and sometimes just off your own daily commute. Season four will take you from the war torn streets of Mosul, Iraq to the beautiful but threatened coral reefs of St. Thomas and beyond to meet the philanthropists, changemakers, and do-gooders making a difference in their communities.

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