View Full Version : Interest growing in local foods

09-27-2007, 06:58 AM
Local food: Interest is growing
By Monica Springer
Staff Writer

One western Oklahoma farmer uses all-natural methods to raise beef, sheep and goats. He doesn't use fertilizer or pesticides on his grass or to kill bugs. He doesn't grain-feed his animals. Kim Barker, who operates Walnut Creek Farms in Waynoka, rotates his animals on his 1,500 acres so they can diet on a variety of grasses. Barker is one of 113 farmers who provide fresh meats, produce and other items to more than 1,200 members of the Oklahoma Food Cooperative. The cooperative's goal is to re-establish a local, healthier food system, instead of relying on delivery trucks and food shipped from other countries.

Years ago, Waynoka had bakeries, orchards and wineries. "Now, we rely on the food truck to come from New York,” Barker said. "We're just like the rest of the world. If we can't feed ourselves, we're in trouble.”

‘Drastically improved'
The cooperative requires a one-time membership fee of $50. The Internet-based home delivery system brings in about $40,000 a month.
Customers start ordering the first day of the month, and orders close the second Thursday of each month. On the third Thursday of each month, farmers gather at the Oklahoma City Farmer's Market and sort customer orders:

•The vegetables: Shiitake mushrooms, peaches, sweet corn, ripe tomatoes, garlic.

•The meats: Buffalo, chicken, beef, lamb, pork, turkey. Most come from farms where the animals are grass-fed and roam free. They never see the inside of a slaughterhouse.

That is the goal of the Oklahoma Food Cooperative. "Since I started eating more local foods, the quality of my life has drastically improved,” said Bob Waldrop, president of the co-op. Waldrop was raised on a farm and said he took for granted all of the fresh meat and produce his family had. When he left home, he noticed a difference. And he didn't like it. Now, 35 years later, he remembers that taste of fresh, locally grown food. "We're putting our money where our mouth is,” he said.

Not enough
Schools are demanding local food, said Rita Scott, president of Sustainable Green Country. Although Scott said she is excited, she said there aren't enough farmers to fulfill those needs. Most Oklahoma farmers grow commodity foods — wheat, soybeans and corn — leaving a gap in fresh produce and fruit "There's a real need for farmers to start growing our foods,” Scott said. "Buying locally reduces the amount of miles the food travels. It reduces the emissions from the trucks used to transport the foods. It reduces packaging costs.”

Money in your back yard
In a vacant lot in Tulsa, local schoolchildren tend their garden. They have fruit trees, which they water, and produce, which they plant and water, as well.
The garden is in a struggling part of the city and often the children who tend it come from struggling families. The children take the produce to several farmers' markets, where the farmers don't charge the children to sell their product "It's one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city,” said Justin Pickard, a member of the Tulsa Community Garden Association. "It's a historic neighborhood, but it's run-down in a lot of ways.” The garden in Brady Heights is 5 by 10 feet. "Interest is growing,” Scott said. "Grandparents can garden with grandchildren. It connects all the generations.” Pickard said the garden brings the community together through teamwork, and ultimately may help reduce crime rates.

Selling a story
Back in Waynoka, Barker said he wishes Oklahoma communities would go with locally grown food. "Our food system is insane. We can do better than what we're doing,” Barker said. "The time is right to start going more natural. It's becoming a trend. People want local food. They want to know where their food comes from.” Barker added that if a co-op customer has a question, or wants a different cut of meat, he's always willing to help. "People that order from the co-op know the farmers. We're not selling a product; we're selling a story. If you like me and what I'm doing, you're going to buy my stuff,” Barker said. "If you don't, you'll go somewhere else.”