OKEMAH — One graduating Oklahoma senior has a special friend like no other, Ima Layer.
That's the name Calvan Parker gave this friendly hen back when he started his poultry project to raise money for college in 2008 when he was 13. Of the group of 50 chicks be bought then, one little hen in particular began following him around almost from the start, and he named her Ima Layer.
From there, Calvan's feathered friends began “saving the world one egg at a time” through the Oklahoma Food Cooperative.
The best part of writing about food is the opportunity to get to know the stories behind all those edibles one finds along the way. Those stories come from cooks, producers, restaurateurs and entrepreneurs. The stories usually develop and evolve over time as there aren't many overnight sensations in the production of edibles. Most locally produced food has only one or two people heading up production, marketing and transportation as well as sales if there is a farmer's market booth.
Calvan has managed all of these. I have been following his story and progress through the Oklahoma Food Cooperative newsletters for some time. It was Ima Layer who really grabbed my attention. I was compelled to meet both Ima and Calvan who is an accomplished member of the Strother High School Class of 2013.
Ima Layer isn't the only thing that keeps Calvan Parker busy. He received his FFA degree this spring being honored with a plaque and medal. He served as the reporter of his local FFA chapter and as secretary of his school's student council. He is an all conference baseball player for the Strother Yellow Jackets, receiving the team's Intensity Award. It is easy to see why Calvan was named “Top Male Leader” in his class.
Looking at some of the plaques and awards I noticed they were sponsored by many other Oklahoma Producers like Shawnee Mills. I couldn't help but think of that “It takes a village to raise a child” saying as I read the engraved inscription: Agribusiness Star, which Calvan received twice.
It doesn't take long to figure out Calvan is wise beyond his years. He also works evenings at Pizza Hut in Seminole. An excellent student, he's already been attending classes at Seminole State College. I marveled at how he managed to keep up with everything. He said the folks at Pizza Hut were very understanding. Calvan had a ready answer about what he planned to do when he grows up, “I'm going to study psychology and become a psychologist.”
He won't be far from home to start as he plans to stay at Seminole State for the first two years. I figure Ima will continue to enjoy that beautiful pasture around those movable chicken houses Calvan engineered. This graduate takes sustainable agriculture seriously. He turned an old tool shed and horse trailer into portable chicken houses outfitted with recycled school lockers for nesting boxes. The manure and clean up goes back to fertilize the pasture land as the houses are moved about.
The Parker farm is situated between Okemah and Cromwell, off Interstate 40. Every morning Calvan has a three-egg breakfast with his grandfather, who lives just across the road. Perhaps that explains some of practical real world wisdom this graduate has already attained. He doesn't just spout the sustainable lifestyle, this young Oklahoman lives it especially when it comes to poultry.
The cafe in the I-40 Travel Plaza saves their unusable lettuce leaves, tomato tops, cabbage, bread, carrots and egg shells for Ima Layer and her buddies. The chickens eat bugs and graze on pastures free of herbicides and pesticides. Calvan raises mealworms in the cellar during the winter so the chickens will have plenty of protein when the bug supply is low. This way, Calvan believes he is helping to save the earth “one egg at a time.”
In another sustainable venture, Calvan and a buddy of his took an old church bus with a totally rusted out floor and installed a plywood one in its place. They wired it to accommodate refrigeration and freezers for a farm to fork venture called “The Country Peddler.” Calvan and his mom travel to several farmers markets in the area. His mom teaches school and manages a beef cattle operation on the farm. Calvan's father passed away earlier this year.
Calvan summed things up best in a recent Oklahoma Food Cooperative newsletter: “My adventure … My dream ... My business isn't just about an egg! It's about each of us making a difference on our planet. I have had the opportunity to raise a high quality, nutritious egg for my friends and family. All the while I am learning valuable lessons in finding creative ways to recycle and reuse existing items.”
I've been blessed by spending some time with Calvan. Maybe in part it was the fact that I, too, used to gather eggs and have breakfast with my grandparents. His can-do attitude is part of the Oklahoma Spirit that drives him to a successful future one egg at a time that won't soon be forgotten.
Congratulations graduates! Opportunity is right here in Oklahoma, now come and get it.
Meanwhile, you can help support Calvan's college education by buying eggs from Calvan's Feathered Friends via the Oklahoma Food Cooperative. Find his information online at oklahomafood.coop and searching Calvan's Feathered Friends or by calling (405) 590-2822.