Four years ago, Rochelle King never had grown vegetables or fruit.
A beautician who also had a day care service, she decided she needed to grow fresh produce for the children to eat.
Then, on a small patch of land in Spencer, where she also has a beauty shop today, King took advantage of a state program to use a plastic irrigation system to grow tomatoes, okra, squash, green beans, cucumbers and peppers.
King calls it The Garden Spot, where she sells fresh vegetables grown organically.
This summer, the production has been so good she is selling vegetables to Buy For Less, Uptown Market, Whole Foods and Native Roots in Norman, and Meat House in Edmond, a grocery store that sells fresh produce.
She planted more than 3,000 tomato vines that have thrived with plenty of rain and cool temperatures in the early part of the planting season.
She is one of more than 370 people who have planted gardens after applying for the Oklahoma Agriculture Department's plasticulture program.
The program was developed by Micah Anderson, 53, who joined the agriculture department seven years ago. People who have at least a quarter acre can apply for free installation of the irrigation system that uses plastic ground cover to extend the growing season for three years at no charge.
Jamey Allen, director of market development for the state agriculture department, said Anderson has been popular statewide.
“Micah is well received by new farmers and is able to connect with growers in the state,” Jamey Allen said.
Anderson said tomatoes and watermelons have done exceptionally well in Oklahoma this year.
A heat wave may not stop production as long as it doesn't last too long. Compared to last summer's drought, farmers are doing great.
Production is a lot higher this year than last, Anderson said.
This year, we're overloaded with tomatoes,” he said.
Anderson grew up near Haskell, in Muskogee County, on a farm where he was one of 11 children.
“My dad (Leon Anderson) never really worked for anybody,” Anderson said. “He just farmed as time went on.”
He learned how to grow watermelon, corn, cotton, soybeans and raise cattle.
After leaving the farm for work in a body shop he returned to his agricultural roots.
Standing in a row of tomatoes with hornets circling each plant, Anderson said the tomatoes will survive extreme heat, as long as nighttime temperatures drop below 80 degrees.
Plants do their growing at night, Anderson said.
Anderson recently was honored by Langston University with the Sherman L. Lewis Award for his work teaching farmers and children throughout the state how to plant and raise vegetables.
More vegetables and fruits can be grown in Oklahoma as the demand for fresh and local produce continues.
“Most of our food is being imported from Mexico, California and Florida and a bigger portion of it could be grown here in Oklahoma,” Anderson said.
Steve Hill, 61, of Edmond, retired from selling insurance and turned a horse pasture into garden with Anderson's help.
Now Hill is selling produce.
“Micah is an awesome resource to have around and he has helped me get going. This is what I am doing for a living now,” Hill said.
Teaching people how to farm and growing vegetables and fruit is a gift, Anderson said.
“When you plant a seed or a plant and take care of that and then you see the productivity of it, I think it teaches and it does something to you spiritually,” Anderson said.
“And it makes you a better person.”
AT A GLANCE
How landowners can apply for state program to start a garden
People who have at least a quarter acre can apply for a state program that uses plastic ground cover to extend the growing season. Equipment and supplies are provided free for three years. For more information, go to www.oda.
When you plant a seed or a plant and take care of that and then you see the productivity of it, I think it teaches and it does something to you spiritually. And it makes you a better person.”