Garden of Eatin': Guilford Gardens in Oklahoma City is a slice of heaven in suburbia

Kamala Gamble inspires local foods movement in Oklahoma with more action than words.
by Dave Cathey Published: June 26, 2012
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All the while, her husband, Lance Cornman, was living in Oklahoma City, each waiting for opportunity to afford itself back home.

The opportunity came with Cabo del Sol, which replaced Barry Switzer's Lighthouse in 2001. Alas, Oklahoma City wasn't prepared for a Mexican restaurant with a menu inspired by interior Mexican techniques and flavors with fine dining prices in a restaurant the size and expense of the Lake Hefner-front space.

Growing her own

The Cabo experience over, Gamble sought a way to assuage her desire to source the range of ingredients she'd become accustomed to in Chicago. Sshe decided to grow her own stuff, and she had just the place to do it: her backyard.

Drawing energy from the apparently ceaseless reserve from which she found fuel to start a second career and run marathons in each of the 50 states, Gamble began taking courses in horticulture at Oklahoma State University — practically all the school had to offer.

“I'm almost a horticulturist,” she sheepishly said in a recent interview.

Now her Guilford Gardens covers more than three acres over three properties, which she and her husband have acquired over time.

Gamble befriended her neighbor to the north, a longtime vegetable gardener. As the man got older, Gamble helped him maintain his crops.

“He always had much better plants in his backyard than I did,” she said. “It's because he followed organic gardening practices back there for 20 years.”

When her neighbor died, Gamble bought the property, razed the house and planted an expansive potato crop.

But his tomato garden continues to produce with greater vigor than any other under her care. The plants there today are nearly 6 feet tall, producing a variety of luscious, fleshy heirloom tomatoes.

She bought the home to her south years ago, kept the house as a rental and has filled that backyard with three hoop houses, two bee hives and what looked like about a dozen mushroom-growing substrates. She also grows garlic, leeks, squash, peppers, lettuce, arugula, rainbow chard, eggplant, cucumber, pea shoots and beets — and that's just for the summer. The hoop houses allow her to seamlessly transition into fall and winter crops.

Community support

Her “garden” is community-supported agriculture. The public is welcome to join her CSA for a fee, which entitles you to the spoils of her bounty as they come available. The warm, wet spring we just finished has meant an early arrival of her matchless heirlooms with prime time for tomatoes throughout July.

The other way to connect to Gamble's world is through the Slow Food OKC Convivium that she, Kerry Norman and Cristina McQuistion started nearly a decade ago.

Each October, Gamble oversees a feast for more than 400 folks completely derived from local ingredients. If the annual Slow Foods picnic isn't in a class by itself, roll call is brief.

“The purpose is to bring the producers and those who buy from them together in an afternoon of fun,” Gamble said. “Plus, it just tastes better.”

Gamble said her summer CSA isn't quite full, but only has a few slots left. However, she said she always accepts people to the waiting list. Slow Food OKC is always looking for more members to help build the locavore population.

Find information online at kamskookery.com and slowfoodokc.com.

If you're unable to join Gamble's CSA, she would like to encourage you to support local farmers markets. If five guys on a basketball court can bring a city and state together, imagine what hundreds of hardworking folks with good food can do to improve our quality of life.

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by Dave Cathey
Food Editor
The Oklahoman's food editor, Dave Cathey, keeps his eye on culinary arts and serves up news and reviews from Oklahoma’s booming food scene.
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