It rained before dawn;
cloudy, sprinkles still,
early morning. The big garden
at CommonWealth Urban Farms
is quiet and, seemingly,
greener
when I take my pail of kitchen scraps
to the compost bin in there.
The more I get to know this farm,
the people who tend it—
constantly—
the more I love the place,
the people,
the mission,
the beauty.

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It is not always easy for some
to see
the deep significance for the planet
and all Earth life
in this garden
and the many plots
of an urban farm. But stopping
on a cool (it’s 62 by mid-morning)
August day
to take in,
savor,
value deeply
the growth here
is to be moved to beg
Earth herself
to help us
find our way
to support growing food
in the city—
in every space possible.
(Yes, we can live—
well, beautifully—
without grass!)
It won’t look like what we’ve
perceived as a beautifully landscaped
neighborhood. It will be beautiful
in a different way.
There will be composting areas
which means there will be
rich, organic soil.
Rows of squash plants
may be covered now and then
with a cloth covering
to keep the cabbage worms
out. This sort of method,
as well as others, means there will not
be toxic chemicals in the soil,
air, water,
in the food.
With deep mulching
and permaculture practices,
there will be growth
without the use of so much water.
There will be fruit and nut trees
in a forest
rather than large lawns of grass
that has to be watered,
mowed,
watered,
mowed,
watered,
mowed…
The air will be cleaner.
There will be more birds
living in trees and thickets.
There will be pollinating insects,
including bees and butterflies.
There will be supportive
community
to get all the work done.
Youth and children
will learn how to grow
their own food.
There will be healthy, fresh food
right at your front and/or back door.

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For the planet’s sake;
indeed, for our sake as well,
we must learn to see differently.
We must learn to redefine beauty
and then we’ll see
infinite beauty—
the deep, quiet,
lush, verdant, nourishing beauty
of a vegetable farm
in the heart of the city.

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The CommonWealth Urban Farm in June
is a riot
of vegetables,
flowers.
And so eating
these days is sheer
bliss.
All those permaculture practices,
all that composting—
all that attention to the soil
and all that good work
by a community of folks
who are dedicated to urban farming
have produced vegetables
that are flavor-full,
healthy,
sublime…
Red and gold potatoes,
broccoli,
greens,
onions,
bok choy,
kohlrabi…
more on the way.
Barely cooking
(or not)
then eating this food—
gorgeous,
fresh,
local,
delectable—
is one of life’s great pleasures.

One happy customer
took home potatoes last Saturday
and when her husband ate them
asked where she got them.
When she told him CommonWealth Urban Farm,
he suggested
she get 10 pounds more.

 

CommonWealth Saturday Garden School
8:30-9 a.m.

CommonWealth Farm Stand, 3310 N. Olie, Oklahoma City
9 a.m. to noon Saturdays

Slow Flowers

 

 

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CommonWealth Urban Farm

Some far-sighted,
wise,
gentle,
industrious,
soulful,
committed people
we work with in Oklahoma City
are working together
as the OKC Urban Ag Coalition.
Transition OKC,
a program of Green Connections,
is at the forefront of this movement.

Transition OKC and its partners CommonWealth Urban Farms, Closer to Earth, TLC Garden Centers, OSU-OKC and Myriad Botanical Gardens have formed a new coalition dedicated to helping urban agriculture thrive in OKC. We envision our friends and neighbors enjoying urban farms and gardens, edible landscaping, and permaculture while contributing to the health and well-being of our communities and planet.

We sponsor educational and inspirational projects and programs designed to raise public awareness of the benefits of urban ag and help OKC grow food while saving water and preserving biodiversity.

The first week of September,
the coalition is presenting Oklahoma City’s first
Urban Farm Week,
to teach the values of urban farms and gardens.
Timing of the week-long series of events
is to underscore the fact that now, in Oklahoma,
fall is an opportune time to grow food.
(We’ll be sharing more event details soon.)

Leading up to Urban Farm Week
September 3-7,
is a film series,
held in the Terrace Room
at the Oklahoma City Myriad Botanical Gardens,
7-10 p.m. A reception will follow each film.
Tickets for films are $5 and may be purchased
at the link above to the Myriad’s website.

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August 8
is a film about collapse of bee colonies
globally.
More Than Honey
explores the reasons
that 50 to 90 percent of local colonies
(depending on the region)
are disappearing
and underscores the threat this is
to humans’ food supply:
no pollinators,
no fruits and vegetables,
no humans.
Noting the symbiosis between
bees and humans, Albert Einstein
predicted, “If bees were to disappear from the globe,
mankind would only have four years left to live.”
Currently, in China,
fruit trees are pollinated
by human hands.

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August 22,
Green Connections is proud to sponsor
the reception
following showing of the film
Symphony of the Soil.
Our favorite local foods chef,
Kamala Gamble, who caters the annual
Prairie Dinner and Concert,
is catering the reception.
This beautiful film speaks to the life
we all have because of soil:
“The living skin of the earth.”
“We don’t grow plants, we grow soil and soil grows plants.”
“If we have declared a war against the soil itself then we are literally committing a species-level suicide.”

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September 4
the final film of the series, Growing Cities,
will be shown during Urban Farm Week.
This is an exciting road trip around the U.S.
showing so many city gardening spaces.
It brings home the message
that ever since there have been cities,
for 12,000 years,
there have been people growing food
right where they are.

So very glad
for people committed
to permanent
cultures.

 

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View of the lot-deep CommonWealth Urban Farm
in Oklahoma City’s uptown Central Park neighborhood

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Back end of garden
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Recently-added sprouting house

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In the city this week,
I went to visit
someone I admire greatly.
Someones, actually,
though I only saw one:
Elia Woods.
She is a founding person
of Commonwealth Urban Farms of OKC.
We met Elia and Allen Parlier
during the permaculture course
a couple of years ago
and it was then we made our first visit
to their community in the Central Park neighborhood.
Starting with front yard gardens
and a composting project,
they were already well on their way
to establishing urban farming on empty lots
around the city. And
in the last two years, the CommonWealth community
has labored well,
establishing a mature urban farm
that fills a city lot with healthy soil
and healthy food.

On a muggy Oklahoma June day,
Elia and I sat in the shade
beside the garden relishing
all they have accomplished
and sharing conversation
about her dreams for all
that is still to be done
to grow viable urban farms in Oklahoma City.
There’s a waiting list
for their CSA, called the Veggie Club.
This year, they’ve added flowers
to their offerings,
and are selling sprouts
to restaurants.
CommonWealth is a model
for those who want to establish
viable urban farms producing
and selling
healthy, organic food.
They not only work the garden,
market the produce,
teach workshops,
they have been deeply involved
in advocating for city ordinances
that allow for and promote urban agriculture.

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Elia leading a workshop.

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Some of the CommonWealth Urban Farm community

CommonWealth Urban Farms’ vision is of a vibrant local food network in Oklahoma City, through which every person has access to real food while supporting the health of the environment and of the community. Our mission is to grow food on vacant lots throughout Oklahoma City, to provide training and resources for a network of urban gardeners, to create jobs that contribute to individual and community health, to expand retail outlets for locally grown food, to turn local waste into compost, and to connect neighbors and neighborhoods so that our common waste and underutilized resources become our common wealth.

We are passionately committed to creating a food system that is environmentally respectful, offers right work to its employees, supports the local community, is financially sustainable and provides healthy, real food to all eaters.

If you’re looking for a cheap source of food, our CSA is not for you. Corporate agriculture and Wal-Mart provide that, albeit at a high cost to our health and to our beloved earth.

This is what we offer: Fresh, real food, grown in living, fertile soil. Direct contact every week with your farmer. A chance to vote with your dollar for a just food system.

 

A couple of weeks ago,
visiting the close-to-the-city gardens of our friends
Bruce Johnson and Barbara Hagan,
also friends of the CommonWealth community,
Bruce shared that he had long thought
that the agrarian life was a rural life
and that the industrial life was in the city.
It has dawned on him, he said,
that there has been a shift:
that industrial agriculture is dominant in rural America
and that the agrarian life is happening in the city now.
Truly,
we can see it
right there in Oklahoma City’s Central Park,
at CommonWealth’s beautiful Urban Farm.

More of it.
We need more of it.
Tomorrow,
the CommonWealth farmers
and Green Connections‘ partners at TransitionOKC
join with other members
of the OKC Urban Ag Coalition
at an event they have organized
to support the urban farm and garden movement.
Grow It Forward
is 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday, June 7
at OSU-OKC’s ARC building,
400 N. Portland.

What actions can we take to grow and strengthen urban farming and gardening in Oklahoma City? Come explore the possibilities in the first-ever urban agriculture Open Space event, where the community will set the agenda for change!

 

 

 

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A year ago,
permaculturist Mark Shepard
came to Turtle Rock Farm
and taught us about forestry ag:
building a food forest
on the prairie.
He helped us lay out swales and berms and pocket ponds
on the slope below the “hill”
where we have mowed our labyrinth.
The swales and berms follow the contour,
with the pocket ponds on the ends.
Rain water collects temporarily
in the ponds and then flows into the swales,
where trees would be planted.
With rain predicted the week after the swale-building,
we spread a mixture of prairie grasses on the berms
and were relieved and grateful
that the rain did materialize.
In January,
an Oklahoma City Boy Scout troop
helped us plant drought-resistant varieties
of trees and shrubs.
This spring,
we have barely had any rain. Immeasurable amounts.
Yet, the Yellow Clover is abloom
on the berms
and the swales are green.
Many of the tree starts are growing.

The summer forecast
is that the drought and heat
pattern of the last several summers
will remain.
So Ann and Frank are placing five-gallon buckets
in the swales
and watering the trees and shrubs,
to help them get established
in the dryness.
After the trees are more mature,
the expectation is that this will not be necessary
and the prairie will be producing
increased habitat and food
for bees, animals, humans.
These times call
for creative solutions.
We hope our efforts at this experiment
add to the knowledge.

 

 
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Last April,
permaculturist Mark Shepard
came from Wisconsin
and guided us through the process
of creating swales and berms
on the prairie hillside above the Big Pond.
Rain came immediately,
to our utter astonishment
and profound appreciation,
and the swales slowed the water,
directed it to pocket ponds
so it could slowly soak
into the prairie
instead of rushing down the hillside.
It was an unusual summer;
periodic rains came in the hotter months.
Though we had no “gulley-washers”
to completely fill farm ponds,
the swales and berms
allowed the rains to slow
and soak
and the grass grew
lushly.

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The time has come
to plant trees and shrubs
along the berms and swales.
Ann and Frank
dug 180 holes
and this weekend
a Boy Scout troop
will help us
plant…
American Plum
Indian Currant
Native Pecan
Red Mulberry—
to further prevent erosion,
provide food and habitat
for bees, animals
and humans.
Maybe this project
will guide us to new,
less-invasive,
healthier ways
to grow food
right here amidst the native grasses,
(without destroying their 20-feet-long roots)
and in spite of the windy,
drought-to-flood extreme conditions
of the Great Plains.

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Days that Wow.
Our April Newsletter.