I used to work as a candy striper at the Cabbage Patch…

…and haven’t been able to eat cole slaw since. Here’s an old story from Atlanta magazine. The Patch is still green, I’m happy to report.

May 2010

Special Delivery

The Cabbage Patch Kids plant new roots.
By Candice Dyer

This crib is plush, in every sense of the word.

BabyLand General Hospital, a fantastical tourist attraction where the original Cabbage Patch Kids are “delivered” and await “adoption,” will hold a grand opening celebration for its luxurious new headquarters in Cleveland, about ninety minutes northeast of Atlanta, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on May 8.

There will be carnival rides and entertainment, yes. But the real event will transpire when LPNs (Licensed Patch Nurses) introduce a new, handcrafted edition of the collectible “babies,” and creator Xavier Roberts holds his first mass signing since 2004. (His signature scrawled across a doll’s tiny buttock ratchets up its market value.) The gnomelike Appalachian artist, known for his ten-gallon cowboy hat, has become increasingly Salinger-like in recent years, so collectors are buzzing about this public appearance like the “Bunny Bees” (lesser-known Patch offspring) that pollinate the Patch.

>> See a Cabbage Patch Kid being born at BabyLand

While most of us are downscaling, the Kids have upgraded to a sprawling, three-story Southern mansion with sixty-seven Greek columns and 20,000 square feet of wraparound porch. It sits on a 650-acre spread with a panoramic view of the North Georgia mountains, about three miles up a country road from the original location: an old downtown medical clinic. The new interior re-creates that hospital aesthetic with tiled floors, maternity wards, and a fathers’ waiting room, incorporating Lilliputian ergonomics for children along with high-tech enhancements such as motion-triggered animatronics and a sonogram to scan the womb of “Mother Cabbage.”

Joe Peavey of Atlanta Soundworks, the company that designed the sonogram, notes that a real sonogram video from YouTube inspired the apparatus, which glows pink or blue as a prenatal gender indicator alongside the I.V. drip of healing “Imagicillin.”

Roberts, who grew up in Cleveland and now lives in Atlanta, hopes the attraction will administer a similar shot in the arm to the local economy. “We have owned the land for many years, and our new building was planned before the downturn,” says his spokeswoman, Margaret McLean. “By going forward with our building, we made a commitment to our future and to the region. Xavier wants to invest in the area that nurtured him.”

Besides, unlike other toy trends that vanished in the blink of a Furby’s eye, the Cabbage Patch Kids have weathered many seasonal frosts since they first appeared as “Little People” in 1978. Their chubby cheeks were a symbol of the 1980s, when parents brawled in the department store aisles over the Coleco-manufactured versions, and today they top QVC bestseller lists and earn nods as Toy of the Year. Original Appalachian Artworks, the Kids’ parent company, plans to create more jobs as BabyLand develops a conference center and a ballroom that’s already booking weddings and proms.

Busloads of bemused spectators—as many as 250,000 a year—visit BabyLand to cheer on the ever-fertile Mother Cabbage, who goes into labor after “dilating seven leaves apart.” So far, the Patch has produced more than 120 million Kids, at an average of one “birth” every 6.6 seconds—enough that, if congregated in one place, they would constitute the eleventh-most-populous country in the world.

Now the dolls are enjoying another wave of popularity in online adoptions. “They’re especially big in South Africa,
Australia, the U.K., and Japan,” says McLean, who attributes their longevity to the values they foster.

“It’s not about conventional beauty, like Barbie,” she says. “It goes back to the saying, ‘a face only a mother could love.’ You project your personality onto these faces that might not be perfectly symmetrical, and you learn to accept and love yourself in the process.”

Photo by Original Appalachian Artworks


A frowsy hippie chick and a right-wing moppet share cocoa, ideas

Atlanta Magazine
February 2010

The Artful Dodger

Right-wing wunderkind Jonathan Krohn rebuffs the fluff
By Candice Dyer

Child prodigies inspire an unsettling mix of awe, protectiveness, and peevishness in the adults around them. When young Jonathan Krohn delivered his barn-burning speech at last February’s Conservative Political Action Conference, Rush Limbaugh beamed paternally at his new mini-me, while Jon Stewart joked, “I’m not sure there’s a nurple purple enough.”

“I thought Stewart’s routine was quite funny,” Krohn says. “But I declined his invitation to appear on one of his specials.” With the publication this month of his second manifesto, Defining Conservatism: The Principles That Will Bring Our Country Back (Vanguard Press), Krohn is instead expected to make the rounds of tea party protests and join the punditocracy as the boy king of Fox News. His new book has the ambitious aim of helping readers “understand the ideas, principles, and values of Conservatism,” and it expands on the principles spelled out in his first book, Define Conservatism for Past, Present, and Future Generations, self-published in 2008. Homeschooled in Duluth, he is fourteen but looks younger, a downy moppet eerily channeling William F. Buckley. In his book-jacket photo, Krohn sports a navy blazer, a flag pin, and a defiant smirk.

“I have an opinion on absolutely everything,” he says as we chat over hot cocoa at a suburban coffee shop. His mother, Marla, a drama teacher, watches sidelong like a sentry as he launches into the minutiae of tort reform with such rapid-fire, hyperarticulate vehemence that his pubescent voice cracks.
Krohn’s political awakening came at age nine, when he chanced upon a funny-sounding word—filibuster—and began studying it. “Back then, I was like the average young person who doesn’t understand left wing or right wing, but I knew exactly what I believed and what I stood for,” he says, recalling his embryonic self-awareness. “Of course, people say, ‘You’re just a kid; what do you know?’ I read and exchange ideas with people who may or may not agree with me.” He adds magnanimously, “Some liberals are actually nice people who can be pleasant to talk with.” My attempt at a little talking-head byplay—“You’ll find as you get older that they can be fun to party with, too”— is met with a blank stare.

“Look, I’m doing this to help my country,” he says. “I’m not just some cute kid, some anomaly, some traveling sideshow. I know what I’m doing. I hate to sound like some dream crusher, like some angry old conservative, but some people simply do not know what they are doing, and that is the worst thing.”
A sinking suspicion sets in that he could be alluding—justifiably—to me, the interlocutor who earlier, when attempting to get him to discuss life as a kid outside of politics, invoked the “old soul” cliche when he cited Frankie Valli as his favorite musician. He has endured enough little-shaver condescension.
“Age is irrelevant,” says Krohn, who is fielding offers from think tanks. “I want to be judged as any other political analyst. What I write is what I write is what I write.” Asked if he experiments with other forms, such as fiction or poetry, he guffaws. “Poetry? Why would I do that? What would I write—an ode to healthcare reform?”

“Well,” I say, “you never know what you might want to do. You might feel compelled to write a poem someday.” When one of the Palin daughters breaks your heart, I think silently. Then I add, like some
hippie-dippie Polonius, “That’s the beauty of being so young—so many possibilities, including opportunities for rebellion.”

He rolls his eyes. “I will rebel against conservatism the day Michael Moore makes a good movie.”

Photograph by Alex Martinez

Georgia, U.S. face veterinarian shortage

Alone on the Grange

The farm-to-feline practice of Dr. Donna Thompson carries the load of two Georgia counties and highlights a bigger problem—a vet shortage that affects humans beyond their pets.
By Candice Dyer
Under other circumstances, Lady would have been put down. The once-graceful horse, a piebald American Paint, kept walking in circles and falling, until finally she could rise no more.
“We don’t have any horse vets near here,” says Lady’s owner, Gina Davis, proprietor of Southern Class Farms in Toombs County. “Horses aren’t easy to transport like puppies; most vets don’t make house calls, and most vets today tend to be genuinely afraid of horses and large animals in the first place.”
Dr. Donna Thompson, though, is not like most vets; she does not shy away from any hurting animal, except maybe, she concedes, a rattlesnake. A couple of times a week, Thompson—the only veterinarian serving Telfair and Wheeler counties—extends her territory to Toombs to administer medicine and fluids to Lady, who is trussed and harnessed to stand upright for a long convalescence from a neurological disorder called equine protozoal myeloencephalitis.

“She’s able to walk some on her own now,” Thompson says. “I’d probably make more money around here as a mobile vet, because I wouldn’t have the overhead, but I like having my place.”

Her place is Countryside Veterinary Clinic, a mixed-animal practice (meaning she handles pets and livestock) in McRae, a flyspeck community of around 2,700 in the piney woods of South Georgia. Thompson, who earned her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree in 2002 from the University of Georgia, says she was influenced early in life by All Creatures Great and Small, a series of stories about a mild-mannered country vet in England. “What we do here is really not that much different,” she says, even though the James Herriot mood is occasionally salted with a Harry Crews moment. “Dove season opened last week.” She points bleakly to a dog with bandages around two of its paws, hunched in a backroom recovery kennel. “This fella may have stumbled into the middle of a shoot or something. We’re not sure what happened, but it looks like he was shot deliberately. The sheriff’s looking into it.”

Thompson is the caretaker of about 3,000 regular patients, not including walk-ins. She is on call all the time, her cell phone number a sort of 911. The night before, her dinner was interrupted by a message about a listless goat. The next morning, after a few hours of gently prodding the bleating animal’s belly and treating his urinary infection, she called the owner and announced: “The kid just peed like a champ, but I’d like to keep him overnight.” The young goat cocked his head in her direction with seeming gratitude.

The grassy paddock and barn in back of Thompson’s downtown office are hospitable to ruminants like the goat, which are not always welcome at other clinics, even in this rural, agricultural belt. Fitting, considering her job title, coined in print as early as 1646, derives from the Latin veterinae, which means “working animals.” But as social perceptions of animals have shifted from chariot- and plow-pulling utility to fawning, sentimental anthropomorphism—98 percent of Americans count pets as “members of the family”—more veterinary grads are making a beeline for small-animal practices in the big city. Only 4 percent of UGA’s 2009 DVM grads entered large-animal medicine and 13 percent went to work in a mixed-animal practice, presumably because a cosseted shih tzu in Kirkwood commands less dirty work than a herd of Santa Gertrudis cattle kicking up muck in Hahira. Also, women have dominated vet schools since the early 1990s (and now constitute about 78 percent of grads nationwide) and traditionally have not gravitated as readily toward cattle, poultry, and hogs.

At the moment, thirty counties in Georgia lack a vet practice devoted to the “food supply” end of the field, and twenty-five of those are adjacent to each other, increasing the distance vets must travel to support agricultural clients. Moreover, about ten more counties are currently served by livestock vets who are near or past retirement age. They tend to trudge on until they can recruit replacements.

Before Thompson opened her doors in 2004, local owners of both livestock and little breeds were driving thirty minutes or more for treatment. “It would be nice to have another vet around, even on a part-time or fill-in basis, so I could take a vacation sometimes,” says Thompson, thirty-five, who grew up in Vidalia and speaks with a 98-degrees-in-the-shade Southern accent. “Atlanta is just very enticing to people. If I hadn’t grown up around here, I probably would not want to move here right out of school, either, so I understand.”

The veterinarian shortage in South Georgia proves frustrating and costly to aggies and pet owners and exhausting to Thompson and her colleagues. But it also highlights a much broader national shortage—projected to worsen by up to 5 percent annually—that threatens even the bipeds at the top of the food chain.
Read the rest here: