Cooking with Cornmeal

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Farming, Food and Drink, Locavore, Recipe, Tricia Dameron | Posted on 30-06-2010

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Ressler Farms cornmeal

Larry Ressler's cornmeal.

I met Larry over a year ago. He was a new co-op producer—selling eggs and smoking wood—and was visiting co-op pick-up sites to meet his customers. We chatted and he asked what unmet demand there was in the co-op. Besides the typical needs at that time—produce, chicken, and bacon—I mentioned cornmeal.

Later he wrote to let me know he planted meal corn. He periodically dropped a line updating me on the corn's progress. In late June he lamented his corn was 6 inches tall, while his conventional-farmer-neighbor's corn was 6–8 feet tall. By September his corn was catching up: “It’s as big as an elephant’s eye (or something like that),” he said.

In late February Larry's cornmeal was ready. He sent me about one pound of finely ground cornmeal. It was a precious gift; I knew how much effort, thought, and consternation went into it.

This year Larry is growing about three times more corn than he did last year. Let’s wish him luck to endure this crazy weather and prevail against hungry raccoons.

Here's what I made with the cornmeal:
apple cobbler

I made one of my favorite desserts, cornmeal cobbler.
This time I made it with some apples I canned last year. But I’ve made this cobbler many times: with blackberries, blueberries, peaches, and pears. You can add different spices to the cobbler batter to complement the fruit you’re using. For instance, I added
cardamom when I made the pear cobbler.

 polenta and mushroom gravypolenta, kale, and pepper bake

I made polenta, which I baked on top of sautéed kale and roasted red peppers. Cold polenta forms a firm loaf, so I sliced the refrigerated leftovers, pan-fried the slices, and topped them with Om Gardens mushroom gravy.

lemon berry cake

I also experimented with a lemon berry cake recipe. I really liked the dense, lemony, cake-like topping that soaked up the juices from the cooked strawberries. When cooked, the batter forms a nice crisp glaze on top. This cake gets baked in a pie plate. (Disregard the springform pan in the photo. That was a bad idea.)

Lemon Berry Cake

:: 3 c strawberries, hulled and sliced (any type of berry will do)

:: 1 3/4 c sugar, divided

:: 1 c melted butter, cooled

:: 3/4 c flour

:: 1/4 c cornmeal

:: 1/2 t lemon extract

:: 2 eggs

Put sliced strawberries in a pie plate. Stir in 1/4 c sugar. In a medium-size mixing bowl combine the remaining 1 1/2 cup sugar with the melted butter, flour, cornmeal, lemon extract, and eggs. Stir until smooth. Spread evenly on top of strawberries. Bake for 40 minutes at 350˚.

Posted by Tricia Dameron. This post originally appeared on Oklavore on 6/18/10.

Native Views On Sustainable Food

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Community, Farming, Food and Drink, Indigenous culture, Shauna Lawyer Struby, Sustainability | Posted on 11-05-2010

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Paul Hawken, notable environmentalist, entrepreneur, journalist and author
once wrote:

“A Native American taught me that the division between ecology and human
rights was an artificial one, that the environmental and social justice
movements addressed two sides of a larger dilemma. The way we harm the earth
affects all people, and how we treat one another is reflected in how we treat
the earth …
The movement has three basic roots: environmental
activism, social justice initiatives, and indigenous culture's resistance to
globalization, all of which have become intertwined."

Our fate will depend on how we understand and treat what is left of
the planet's surpluses — its lands, oceans, species diversity and people. The
quiet hub of the new
movement — its heart and soul — is indigenous
culture."

Paul
Hawken
, "Blessed Unrest: How the
Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming"

Indigenousfoods  Hawken tapped into a growing consciousness that America's Native people
not only have knowledge to share about sustainability and resilience, but about
how these interweave with social justice, the third leg of the sustainable stool
that doesn't get nearly as much attention as some of the other so-called green
topics. This post by Shawn Termin
from the National Museum of the American Indian blog
delves into this topic
a bit. Termin writes:

"For many New Yorkers, 'Green is the new black,' according to Johanna
Gorelick, Head of Education at the NMAI, Heye Center in New York City.  Green
markets have popped up in neighborhoods throughout the five NYC boroughs;
shoppers use reusable material totes instead of plastic and paper bags; and
dedicated, earth-centric citizens of the Big Apple are anxious to learn about
the many aspects of the sustainable food movement. This was evidenced by an
attendance of approximately 350 museum visitors who flocked to the recent Earth
Day program, Native Views on Sustainable Foods, at the NMAI, Heye Center in New
York on April 22, 2010. 

Three prominent speakers participated in the programming.  Winona LaDuke
(Anishinabe), Executive Director of Honor the Earth; Alex Sando (Jemez Pueblo),
representative of Native Seeds/SEARCH; and Kenneth Zontek, author of Buffalo
Nation:  American Indian Efforts to Restore the Bison."

Termin goes on to describe what the various speakers discussed, primarily the
need for developing grassroots movements in Native communities that will support
efforts to reintroduce sustainable, healthy environments through the use of a
variety of organic and sustainable food production and practices.

Full post here.

Posted by Shauna Lawyer Struby

Keep on reeling in the green world

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Change, Consumption, Current Affairs, Energy, Environment, Farming, Film, Food and Drink, Home and Garden, Sustainability, Sustainable OKC, Transition Town | Posted on 11-09-2009

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Sustainable OKC, the Cimarron Chapter of Sierra Club, and Slow Food OKC are sponsoring a film series, “Sustainability on Film,” at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, Wed., Sept 15 – Sun., Sept 20, with a panel discussion following the Sunday film.

The films highlight a complex array of the challenges facing us. Film Curator Brian Hearn describes the series:

As our economic, social and environmental activities become increasingly integrated on a global scale, the human species faces unprecedented challenges. In the wake of the groundbreaking documentary “An Inconvenient Truth,” filmmakers have been examining the complex issues facing our species and planet: climate change, dwindling natural resources, population growth, economic crises and political conflict. Along the way humans are finding innovative, simple solutions from growing their own food, to green building, to developing new forms of renewable energy. These films explore how we meet our needs in the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs.

Films

Wed., Sept. 16 – “Fresh” & “Food for Thought”

Thurs., Sept. 17 – “The Great Squeeze: Surviving the Human Project” & “Greening in the Heartland”

Fri., Sept 18 – “The Greening of Southie” and “Food, Inc.”

Sat., Sept. 19 – “The Garden” and “No Impact Man

Sun., Sept. 20 – “Earth Days

Join us Sunday after the final screening for a panel discussion, “Sustainability in Oklahoma: Where Do We Go from Here?” with local experts on how Oklahomans are dealing with the global issue of sustainability. Panelists for the discussion following Sunday’s film:

Bruce Edwards, Director, Urban Harvest at the Oklahoma Regional Food Bank

Kenneth Fitzsimmons, architect, U.S. Green Building Council, Oklahoma Chapter

Stephanie Jordan, Sierra Club Conservation Committee / Buy Fresh Buy Local Central Oklahoma

Jim Roth, attorney and Chair of the Alternative “Green” Energy practice group, Phillips Murrah P.C.

Shauna Lawyer Struby, Sustainable OKC / Transition Town OKC

Jonathan Willner, Professor of Economics, Oklahoma City University

Complete listing of films, screening times and summaries of each film available here.

Nosh, nibble and buy local goodies at the Local Food Fair today

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Community, Direct Farm Sales, Family, Farming, Food and Drink, Local News, Locavore, Oklahoma City | Posted on 14-07-2009

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Sample delicious food, shop, chat and gab at the Local Food Fair this evening. No admission!organic-food-mmwwo-001

A Local Food Fair

Tuesday, July 14

6:00 – 8:30 p.m.

Harn Homestead

1721 North Lincoln Blvd.

Oklahoma City

Local foods, plants, flowers & wine vendors and live music!

Come ready to:

  • Shop for locally-grown food & wine (please bring a reusable shopping bag).
  • Learn how easy it is to make more sustainable food choices.
  • Sample fresh locally-grown food & get to know the people who produce.

Sponsored by:

BFBLsierraclublogo

Turning sustainable ideas into reality: Jim Horne’s very determined green revolution

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Chelsey Simpson, Community, Farming, Nature, Organic Gardening | Posted on 10-07-2009

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by Chelsey Simpson

Access Tour Alumni Association 2007 Jim Horne and the Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture have long imagined agriculture with an entrepreneurial spirit and holistic ideal that transcends conventional agriculture and big industry. Their creativity and innovation introduced a quiet and growing revolution in Oklahoma, and while they’ve taken their lumps from the powers that be, they’ve doggedly continued to help family farmers keep their farms and enriched Oklahoma in ways too numerous to compile here. This past June, Fresh Greens contributor, Chelsey Simpson, interviewed Horne for an article in Oklahoma Living magazine. She graciously shares a portion of that interview here.

More than 20 years ago, Jim Horne made a decision for which he was ostracized and temporarily blacklisted by mainstream agricultural institutions across Oklahoma: he decided to put the “sustainable” in sustainable agriculture.

When Horne made the unpopular decision to change the Kerr Center’s official name to the Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture  in 1985, he took the organization, and perhaps even the state, in a new direction. From their farm and office in Poteau, the center conducts research, produces educational materials, hosts field days and offers direct support to farmers, all in the pursuit of their mission “to assist in developing sustainable food and farming systems.”

On a rainy morning in early June I sat down with Jim Horne to talk about the role he and his Kerr Center teammates have played in shaping Oklahoma’s agricultural landscape.

When did your thinking start to shift toward sustainability?

The change started in the 1980s for me because there were thousands of farmers who went bankrupt in the ‘80s, and these were not bad farmers, these were good farmers who were going bankrupt. There were cracks in the system, and I could see that we had built an agriculture system around agribusiness, and the [crop] prices would not pay for the inputs we were using. It seemed to me that there had to be a better way to farm using the tools of nature instead of just using solutions that you had to buy.

My father passed away at 42 years of age from acute poisoning from using chemicals, and that probably had a bigger impact on me than I realized. KerrDSC_0298

I understand that it created quite a bit of turmoil and that members of the board even resigned because you added the word “sustainable” to the Kerr Center’s name. 

Why was it unpopular? How could you be against it? To make something endure forever—that only makes sense. But it carried a connotation that a lot of Oklahomans felt was a threat to the funding of their institutions from agribusiness if we promoted farming that involved a lot less chemicals. We were singled out as a group of weirdos and naive tree-huggers because we started the process of asking, “How do we make sense out of farming this way?”

My approach was to ask, “How do you meet the needs of this generation without jeopardizing the ability of future generations to meet their needs? How do we keep from destroying our ecological capital?” That was a pretty foreign thought for most people.

Professionally, it was probably the hardest time in my life. I really felt ostracized for this belief, and it was a belief that I wasn’t totally sure of. I kept struggling with how to implement farming with nature. That’s when I came up with the Eight Points of Sustainability, which is all in the book [I co-wrote with Maura McDermontt.] I started breaking it down into what would make sense to a farmer.

What kind of results did you see? Did the methods you promote manage to save any farms that were in bankruptcy?

I know it managed to save a few farms, but I can’t really say how many. So many farms were so far gone by the time we started this.

We have to move to a different style and we need our universities to do research to help us move us in this direction. We have been building that concept among everyone that we don’t want to go through this [mass bankruptcy] again—we have too few farmers already. Sustainability is a necessity, not a luxury.

KerrDSC_0320 How financially viable is the kind of farming you promote?

The whole idea is to keep every drop of rain that falls on your farm, on your farm. The waste from one enterprise—pigs or cattle or chickens—is used as fertilizer in another enterprise, and you use clover to smother weeds. That’s the kind of research that we are looking at and trying to promote because it reduces what you have to buy off the farm, and farmers who are doing it, yes, they are finding profitability. Yields are probably not quite as high, but we have less invested.

How can the general public encourage sustainable agriculture?

I think consumers are the farmers’ best friends.

We have this giant agricultural industrial system that is a worldwide competition, and only large, large farmers can really compete in that system. For a small farmer to compete in a global system is a disaster. What we can do is compete in a local system, and I think that is what is overlooked.

We have lost so many rural communities, particularly in western Oklahoma. What people are realizing now—and I think it is why sustainability is becoming more popular—is that having a neighbor is valuable.

A common argument against these methods is that if everyone farmed this way we couldn’t feed the masses. I’m curious what your response is when you hear that.

The typical response is that if we farmed sustainably, half the world would starve. My answer is that right now we produce enough calories in the world that every person could have enough to eat—it is all about political strife and corruption. My take is—and I have thought a lot about this—is it our responsibility to feed the world, or is it the responsibility of each community to feed their own? I think that is really what we need to think about. KerrDSC_0355

How do we equip people, whether they are in China or Oklahoma, to create their own local food system and how do we minimize the importation of stuff?

What makes you believe so deeply in sustainability and local food? 

I think the point that it comes alive to me is realizing how interconnected we are as humans and in nature. I think that God created everything with a purpose, and when we decide that we don’t need this or that we have gone awry.

We can’t impair our systems just so
we can live affluently today. It is better to work with those systems, and that’s what sustainability is all about.

A longer version of this article is available online.

Urban agrarian market takes off in Oklahoma City

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Farming, Food and Drink, Local Economy, Local News, Locavore, Shauna Lawyer Struby, Urban Gardening | Posted on 24-06-2009

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by Shauna Lawyer Struby

Woohoo. I’m so excited to write this post. Here’s another great way to support your local farmers, ranchers, producers and eat healthy local food. Blooming on the Oklahoma prairie is the new mobile Urban Agrarian Local Foods Market. I’ve been hearing about and watching Matt’s progress on this project and am so thrilled to write just a little about this. Other great local food goodness is on its way as well. Bob Davis and I chatted on Facebook last night and the way is clear with the City of Midwest City for a new farmers market in that area.

Both Matt and Bob are absolutely passionate about local food and are stellar examples of what happens when people set their minds on being the change they want to see in the world. Kudos to them! Now let’s all get out and support them! Eat, enjoy, spread the word!

urban agrarian Urban Agrarian Local Foods Market

Local, sustainable food delivered with local, sustainable energy

· Sunday, June 28, 2009

· 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.

· Across the street from Cheevers on the SE corner of NW 23rd and Hudson, Oklahoma City.

The Veggie Van is making a stop and setting up shop on 23rd street every Sunday for an outdoor market. All local food transported by waste vegetable oil. Displays are made out of recycled fence panels and if you get your stuff bagged, it is in a second-use bag from a local retailer. It is an official part of Sunday-funday in the historic district.

Products from local growers and vendors such as: Earth Elements, High Tides & Green Fields, Seasons Catering, Briarberry Farm, OM Gardens, Peach Crest Farms, Redland Juice Co., Rowdy Stickhorse, Urban Farms, Wichita Buffalo, Snider Farms Peanut Barn, Bob’s Best Bon Appetitin’ Bulgar, and others available seasonally. Plus local garden extras.

Questions: Contact Matthew Burch, matthewrburch@gmail.com.

The myth of efficiency

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Christine Patton, Energy, Farming, Peak Oil, Peak Oil Hausfrau | Posted on 26-05-2009

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by Christine Patton

Along with freedom and progress, efficiency rounds out the triad of the most treasured ideals of our country. We like things to be “efficient,” without really knowing what it means. Americans tend to use the term efficiency as a code word for getting things done cheaply and conveniently. Take agriculture, for example. It certainly is an achievement to churn out food at prices that are far less than historical averages (by percentage of family budget spent on food). That frees up a lot of money for people to spend on other things – clothes, travel, books, furniture, whatever your desire might be.

But what makes efficiency? Is it clever management? The productivity of human resources? Economies of scale? Centralization? Better information and computer systems? The competition of markets?

Business people give credit to these innovations, and all of these attributes may contribute incrementally to the cheapness of our food, but these are just icing on the cake. The real underpinning of what we think of as efficiency is cheap energy – especially cheap oil.

Farms here in America have been consolidating for more than 50 years. The average size of a “farm” is now 459 acres. They are managed with the aid of GPS systems, barns of tractors, and miles of irrigation systems. The farms of today have replaced people, armed with knowledge of local conditions and crop varieties and supported by rainfall and rich topsoil, with machines fueled by gasoline and regular applications of chemicals created from fossil fuels.

Efficiency, in other words, means replacing energy from humans and animals and plants with the incredibly cheap, concentrated energy found in oil. It does not mean less waste (at least when measured in BTUs). Americans pride ourselves on our innovations, but we did not in fact create better, less wasteful farming systems – we just found ways to pour as much of this cheap energy into our farms as possible, without considering how long the resource would remain cheap.

Small farms are actually more productive and efficient than large farms. They produce more per acre.  However, while fuel is inexpensive, small farms cannot achieve the massive economies of scale enabled by the replacement of people with gigantic tractors and chemicals. Since a gallon of oil can replace the energy of hundreds of hours of human labor, at a fraction of the cost, it makes a whole lot of economic sense to use it in place of people.

Replacing man (and horse) with machines may seem efficient, but it is not the efficiency of nature, which uses every particle of matter and energy, including any waste produced. It is the economic efficiency of man, which inevitably generates pollution and destruction because the costs are not borne by the user, but by nature and by the community at large. What we call efficiency is simply the conversion of a fossil fuel inheritance millions of years in the making into cheap fuel and food for a few generations.

What we call efficiency is actually the height of inefficiency. The foundation of modern agriculture is mostly just the addition of more energy to the system, and any fool can do that. Our current food systems are only made possible by incredible wastefulness, ruination of natural systems, and unbridled use of our inheritance of fossil fuels. These are the costs that our economic accounting does not take into account.

How efficient will it be to manage a 1,000 acre farm when production of oil begins to decline? How efficient will it be to ship lettuce 1,500 miles when gas costs $6 a gallon? How efficient will it be to use 20 calories of fossil fuels to create one calorie of food? What will we be left with when the Age of Oil begins to wane? Eroded topsoil, depleted aquifers, and the loss of the valuable farming knowledge of entire generations of Americans.

Here in Oklahoma, we are lucky to have small farmers still holding on to their farms and activists dedicated to reviving our local, sustainable and organic foodsheds. We have the Oklahoma Food Co-operative, an Extension Service supportive of sustainable agriculture, Community Supported Agriculture shares, and several local farmer’s markets. Many of the people living here have memories of farms, of growing gardens and raising animals, and many continue to grow fruits and vegetables regardless of whether they live in the country or city. Here we are not far away from our food.  

As the price of fuel rises, the myth of efficiency will be exposed. We can choose to recognize that our ideal was an illusion, and rebuild our local food systems and economies now, or we can choose to be a deer in the headlights as the price of food rockets along with the price of fuel. We can use real design innovations, like permaculture and integrated pest management, which rely on careful observation and knowledge of the ecology, instead of the application of chemicals.  We don’t know when high gas prices will return, but oil has already demonstrated an ample capacity for volatility. Let’s prepare now, so that we won’t have to pay later.

Seeds

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in David Brooks, Farming, Film, Home and Garden, Science, Seeds | Posted on 18-05-2009

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by David Brooks

It is time
once again to put the seeds in the ground, and with that come some questions: Do
I put one seed in the hole or two? What happens if I put three? How close
together should I put the seeds? Can I squeeze one more plant in this row, or
will that crowd out the others and lead to the ruination of the entire garden?
To a seasoned gardener there is no quandary concerning the seeds, but to a
novice that plot of ground can be a puzzle of immense proportions.
 



The seeds
planted determine a lot about your garden. So, let’s look at seeds. Where did
you get them? Are they safe? Did you choose organic seeds to try and control
what is inside you food?
 

 

There is a
lot of research going into seeds and crop output in the country now. Over the
past 20 years we have seen the introduction of a number of bioengineered crops
throughout the world. The argument rages as to whether we are making it
possible to feed the world, or setting ourselves up for a genetic mess and an
insect or disease infestation that cannot be stopped.

 

Many of you
are seasoned enough to remember in the mid-nineties when it became almost impossible
to buy a taco in America. A bioengineered corn seed named
Starlink made
it into the food supply and was quickly deemed unsafe and not fit for human consumption.
The corn had made it so deep into the food supply that anything made with it
was pulled from the shelves and millers nationwide had to stop milling and
empty any silo that could possibly have had
Starlink in it. To this day
labs check each load of corn delivered to a processor for traces of
Starlink
corn.
 

 

The quality
of the seed determines the quality of the product you grow. Choose wisely.

 

The Future
of Food
is a good documentary to watch concerning this issue. The length is
around 1 hour and 30 minutes, but it’s well worth the time spent.

 

After you
watch the documentary the timeline following will make more sense. Please take
time to watch it and then enjoy your backyard garden.

 TIMELINE

  • 1901 -
    Ishiwata Shigetane discovers that the cause of a disease outbreak in silkworms
    is a new species of bacteria, later called Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt.
  • 1905 – Sir
    Roland Biffen shows that the ability of wheat to resist infection with a fungus
    is genetically inherited.
  • 1907 -
    Erwin Smith and C. O. Townsend discover that the cause of crown galls is a
    bacterium called Agrobacterium tumefaciens.
  • 1930 – In
    the 1930s, plant breeders notice that plants infected with a mild strain of a
    virus are protected from infection with a more destructive strain.
  • 1938 – The
    first commercial insecticide that contains Bt hits the market.
  • 1947 -
    Armin Braun shows that A. tumefaciens introduces a factor into plant cells that
    permanently transforms them into tumor cells.
  • 1950 – In
    the 1950s, studies show that proteins produced by Bt bacteria kill insects.
  • 1972 -
    Ernest Jaworski reports that glyphosate herbicides work by inhibiting a
    critical biochemical pathway in plants.
  • 1974 – Jeff
    Schell and Marc Van Montagu discover that a circular strand of DNA (a plasmid)
    carried by A. tumefaciens transforms plant cells into tumor cells.
  • 1977 -
    Eugene Nester, Milton Gordon, and Mary-Dell Chilton show that genes on the A.
    tumefaciens plasmid are transferred into infected plant cells.
  • 1981 -
    Helen Whiteley and Ernest Schnepf, at the University of Washington, clone a Bt
    toxin gene.
  • 1983 – Jeff
    Schell and Marc Van Montagu, Mary-Dell Chilton and colleagues, and scientists
    at Monsanto introduce genes into plants by using A. tumefaciens plasmid
    vectors.
  • 1986 -
    Roger Beachy shows that plants bioengineered to produce a viral coat protein
    are protected from infection with the virus.
  • 1990 -
    Field trials show that Bt cotton strains resist bollworm and budworm.
  • 1996 -
    Genetically engineered virus-resistant squash seeds hit the market.
  • 1996 – Bt
    cotton hits the market.
  • 1996 -
    Herbicide-resistant strains of soybeans, cotton, canola, and corn reach the
    market.

 

Census of Agriculture

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Direct Farm Sales, Farming, Local Economy, Tricia Dameron | Posted on 09-03-2009

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by Tricia Dameron

Data from the 2007 Census of Agriculture was released in early February. The Census of Agriculture is conducted every five years; this is the third time it was conducted by the USDA. Prior to 1997 it was conducted by the Census Bureau. It's full of fascinating information about agriculture in our state and country. For example:

  • Compared to 2002, 10,350,621 more meat chickens were sold in 2007, from 235 fewer meat chicken farms [Table 27]
  • The average age of the Oklahoma farmer is 57.6 [Table 1]
  • The number of female farm operators in the U.S. increased 30% between 2002 and 2007 [Table 50]
  • U.S. sales of organic foods rose to $1.7 billion from $393 million in 2002. That's an increase of 335% [Table 2 and Table 48]
  • Oklahoma had 46,224 acres of harvested cropland, of which 8,887 acres (19%) were organic crops [Tables 8 and 48]

But here's the kicker: In Oklahoma direct farm sales rose to $11.5 million from $3.7 million in 2002. That's an increase of 209%. How does this compare with our neighbors? New Mexico: 70%; Texas: 51%; Arkansas: 44%; Missouri: 43%; Colorado: 30%; Kansas: 3%.
In fact, Oklahoma had the largest increase in the country! The runner-up was Oregon with an increase of 163%. [Table 2]
Venues for direct farm sales include farmers' markets, roadside stands, CSAs, pick-your-own sites, online sales, the Oklahoma Food Cooperative, and farm-to-school programs.
So, what can we do to encourage this growth? Are there any public policy changes that would nurture a thriving local agricultural economy?

Note: Revenue figures are not adjusted for inflation. All figures are rounded up.

Death of a Community

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Community, Family, Farming, Finances, Homesteading, Ron Ferrell | Posted on 16-01-2009

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by Ron Ferrell

The topic we all are really uncomfortable talking about is our pending, inevitable demise. As a society, we don’t do a very good job of incorporating the dying process into the living process. Most everything we see and hear feeds our obsessions with staying youthful, (anti-aging, a face as free of wrinkles as a baby’s behind) all of which really translates to, "I DON’T WANT TO DIE!"

Well, die we will. It may be premature and sudden or ugly and prolonged, and there is no graceful way to face the ultimate challenge. Death. The challenge falls to the caregivers and the loved ones left behind to deal with the aftermath of a life gone before us. 

As I stood in a rolling prairie cemetery last Saturday at my mother’s funeral, it dawned on me how utterly amazing it was that the early settlers to this county ever survived their first winter in this bleak, desperate place.  It was grassland that needed to be destroyed in order for these wayward people to grow food for their survival and eventually thrive as a community called Rhea, Oklahoma.

I wanted to say to all of my nieces and nephews and everyone who came to pay tribute and lay to rest a woman they loved, that at the top of this hill stands a marble tombstone honoring another woman who came to this hillside in the late 1800’s desperate to claim something of her own in order for her family to survive. My Great Grandmother Martha Ferrell, along with her 3 sons, and not much else, parked a covered wagon in the middle of the section so that each wheel touched the corner of a 160 acre plot in order for the 4 of them to collectively stake their claim to a section of land…the very land where I was raised. 

These new settlers to Indian Territory lived in, or perhaps more accurately camped at, this spot for over 2 years before having the resources and the will to build a one room, half dugout with logs cut on the banks of the Canadian River a couple miles away, and then dragged to their property with teams of horses. Their water came from the spring fed creek, carried in buckets to their camp site. 

Looking north from the cemetery up a wide spring fed creek stands a small white farm house that my parents built for their new family. Standing beside that house is the house that my Grandfather and Grandmother built for their family before it. 

Silent beacons to every family connected to this same prairie landscape are the hundreds of tombstones telling small bits of family histories, all connected to one another in many ways. Family and community were synonymous terms for those early settlers. Every family’s survival depended on the commuity’s collective success, and second only to shelter, food was the key to staying alive. The ability to grow food and preserve food was probably the biggest challenge facing these early settlers. 

One of my parent’s biggest challenges in raising 8 kids on a red dirt hill was growing enough food to keep us alive for a year at a time. We used the same row-crop equipment to grow food that we used to grow cotton and feed grains. Other than salt, sugar and some other staples, we grew and preserved most everything we ate. 

A successful garden demanded full participation from every family member, and your neighbors. I remember my mother canning vegetable soup with one of our neighbor ladies. We had home grown vegetables for every meal in those days, eggs and meat that we raised on my great grandmother's homestead farm. 

Our Mother, like most Mothers in our community, cooked 3 full meals, everyday. It was just what they had to do to survive, and they did it with skill.

So in this uncertain time, wondering what we'll do if times get tough, we need to pause for a moment and reflect on what those who have gone before did to survive. They sustained each other as a community, and now we are burying that community, one wonderful soul at a time.  

Sustainability is a word invented to describe our worst fear: that we cannot sustain our current trajectory without some major hardships, if at all.  Those early settlers faced the same fear daily. But they did survive, with grit, determination, and lots of hard work. Are we up for the task?