B U S I N E S S + C U LT U R E 59 grown” leaders to help maintain family businesses or start new ones. Patten Seed Company, which owns the Super-Sod brand, was started in Lakeland, and now is one of the South’s largest producers of turfgrass sod and seed. Started by Robert L. Patten, a school teacher who owned a general store in Lakeland in the late 1800s, sold seed and fertilizer, and “everything in between, from horse collars to caskets,” according to the company’s website. Today, Patten Seed is a privately held family and employee-owned business, and its home office remains in Lakeland. Another company that is still in operation more than a century later is Miller Hardware Store. W.D. Lee, one of the original settlers of the area, built a two- story building, which at that time people considered a sky-scraper, for his son-in-law, Linton Miller, to open a hardware store. While the business is now located in Valdosta, it is still managed by Miller’s son and grandsons. The Lakeland store has been restored and repurposed as the corporate offices of FMB Bancshares. According to Mary Carol Lee Greene, marketing director of Farmers and Merchants Bank in Lakeland, “We are so proud of the restoration. This building was built about the same time as Farmers and Merchants Bank originated in 1907. The pine floors are original as is the tin ceiling.” With locations in Lakeland, Valdosta, Homerville, and Conyers, Farmers and Merchants Bank has been operating for more than 100 years. A more recent entrepreneurial venture includes Georgia Olive Farms, which was started by brothers Jason and Sam Shaw, and their cousin, Kevin Shaw. The Shaw family has been part of the Lakeland community for several generations, and Georgia Olive Farms is quickly gaining national attention. Kevin, and his wife, Gayla, also produce Gayla’s Grits at their Lanier County farm. The couple began grinding naturally grown white corn into grits for family and friends. With an overwhelming response, Gayla’s Grits is becoming a Southern favorite. Southern Charm Located a few miles from Lakeland is Banks Lake, a nearly 3,600-acre lake that attracts visitors from across the country. Established as a National Wildlife Refuge in 1985, it offers visitors a boat ramp and fishing dock, as well as boat rentals and a bait and tackle shop on the premises. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Banks Lakes has approximately 20,000 visitors per year. Visitors can enjoy the swamp with all the cypress knees sticking up above the water, a freshwater marsh, open water, and uplands. Kayakers, canoers, and fishermen often see the great blue herons, sandhill cranes, osprey, wood storks, and the American alligators that inhabit the area. John Fitton, director of operations for the Lakeland-Lanier County Chamber of Commerce, said Banks Lake recently had visitors from Japan and Germany. In addition to Banks Lake tourist also enjoy seeing the Milltown Murals that are on displayed throughout Lakeland’s downtown area. John Fitton, director of operations for the Lakeland-Lanier County Chamber of Commerce.