The Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma's Urban Harvest program was launched to grow healthy, organic foods on behalf of people whose next meal isn't assured. A decade later, the program is considered a national benchmark. It has grown beyond the boundaries of the food bank, feeding the hungry and helping nurture Oklahoma communities the same way it nurtures its crops. Program director Bruce Edwards said Urban Harvest, which recently received an award from the Sierra Club, has helped develop and maintain more than 40 community gardens around the state by sharing information, gardening wisdom, seeds, plants, tools and equipment with those who are willing to get their hands a little dirty. "We have our demonstration garden here at the Regional Food Bank to show people who are interested what the possibilities might be,” Edwards said. "We can walk you through and show you some of the different things you might want in your garden.” The demonstration garden is entered through a tall, ornate entryway leading to a series of boxed gardens, pathways and picnic tables. It even contains a small stage. "We just want to show all the possibilities,” Edwards said. "You might want to have a little performance, play some music or just have a spot where someone can speak to a group.” With Edwards, limits are constantly being expanded. A retired U.S. Army horticulturist, Edwards has been in charge of the Urban Harvest program for seven years. While community garden assistance is just a single part of the program, it was an organic bit of growth of its own. "We feel like the sense of community is beneficial whether any of the food grown at the community gardens ever comes back to the Food Bank,” Edwards said. "They have obvious financial and health benefits for the gardeners, but it's a great way to get to know your neighbors.”
Volunteers valuedEdwards said it's also a great way to continue the rural traditions on which Oklahoma was founded. Jack Hayes, who began one of the first community gardens for Selecman United Methodist Church, agrees. "I get tickled bringing kids out to our garden,” he said. "I pull a potato or a carrot out of the ground, and they say, 'Is it okay to eat that?' They don't even know vegetables grow out of the ground.” Besides potatoes, Hayes gets squash, zucchini, tomatoes and beets from his half acre on SW 41. "Come on out,” he said. "We'll show you around.” Carrol Scheiber started the Happy Worm Community Garden at NW 28 and Council Road about a year ago. "Urban Harvest tilled our garden for us last year and supplied us with plants and worm compost.” Edwards and company also installed a drip irrigation system to efficiently water Scheiber's worm-glorified soil, which yields strawberries, broccoli, tomatoes, squash, okra, potatoes and green beans. "We supply food to the Food For Kids program besides what we grow for ourselves,” she said. For all the talk that green living and local, sustainable foods gets, the commodity community gardeners say is most precious is volunteers. "We started with about 20,” Scheiber said. "But it ended up about two. As the summer gets hotter and people realize how hard the work is, the numbers thin out.” "If you want to join us, come on out” said Hayes, who grew up on a farm near Washington, OK, in the 1940s. For Hayes, gardening is about more than bringing home a nice batch of tomatoes and peppers. He feels a responsibility to keep alive the practices upon which Oklahoma was founded. "I'm just an old farm boy,” he said. "I got dirt runnin' through my veins.” For a transfusion of that dirt, a free education in horticulture and gardening, call Edwards about donating your time and energy at 604-7108.