Community gardens have flourished in Oklahoma for years, and with new gardens cropping up all over, Oklahoma County Master Gardeners want to encourage the earth-friendly practice by offering workshops and instructions.
Though the ground is still cold and hard, winter is the time to begin serious planning for a successful spring garden.
Master Gardeners will offer a free Community Gardening Workshop to help groups such as neighborhood associations, schools, churches and civic organizations start and maintain community gardens.
The workshop, from 1 to 3 p.m. Jan. 28 at the Oklahoma County Extension Center, 930 N Portland, will include panelists Robert Henry, Oklahoma City University president; Tammy Gray-Steele, executive director for the National Women in Agriculture Association; Bob Palmer, photography professor at University of Central Oklahoma; Jerry Newhouse, former president of the Oklahoma Organic Gardening Association; Malarie Gotcher, extension associate in the Department of Horticulture and Landscape at Oklahoma State University; and Melvin Thompson, master gardener student and coordinator of the Del City Church of Christ Community Garden.
Henry, former chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, said some of his fondest childhood memories are of time spent at his grandparents' garden in Bethel Acres.
His grandparents, Alma and Tom Henry (also the grandparents of former Gov. Brad Henry; Robert and Brad are cousins), worked tirelessly on their farm, and so did the family, before and after school, Robert Henry said. “Everybody worked, all the time,” he said.
That work would enrich both the ground and the lives of family members.
They embraced sustainable practices such as rainwater collection systems for irrigation.
“She had a green hand, not a green thumb,” Henry said of his grandmother. She could break off a cutting, stick it in the ground and it would root, he said.
“My father (Lloyd Henry) spent the first half of his life trying to get off the farm and the second half trying to get back on it,” Robert Henry joked.
He remembers fondly a day his grandmother, then aged and frail, was tending her garden, huffing and puffing throughout the work.
“Grandmother, don't you think you should take a break from gardening now?” he asked.
“Robert, you'll never know how many sorrows I've buried in my gardens,” she said with the wisdom of a lifelong gardener.
Gardening is a passion in Henry's life, and since becoming Oklahoma City University's president, he's shared that passion by starting the OCU Community Garden on the campus, where students and faculty can grow to their hearts' content.
Growing new gardeners
The goal of the workshop, Master Gardeners and the extension office is to grow new gardeners through outreach programs and workshops. They all encourage planting the seed of interest when children are young.
Most children today don't grow up with farmers in their family.
Gray-Steele said urban kids often have no concept of where food comes from. “They think it comes from Walmart or the grocery store shelves,” she said.
With the National Women in Agriculture Association, she has built community gardens for urban youths in the area to learn the art and science of gardening.
Through before- and after-school programs, kids learn about gardening from soil composition up. They team up, adopt a row, grow their veggies, sell them at a farmers market on site and offer what's left to the community. The program has two age groups, the Bumble Bees & Butterfly group for ages 4 to 11 and the Hip Hop Producers.
The group recently bought the building where it is based, the former YWCA McFarland branch at 1701 N Martin Luther King Ave.
“The goal is now ... we're trying to get a greenhouse where all year-round we'll have an actual garden and fresh, locally grown vegetables for the people and youth and community, which they don't have access to at all over here,” Gray-Steele said.
The center also wil be an academy where youths can go for math and science tutoring; piano, dance and karate lessons; higher education assistance; a computer lab; and GED military and job placement programs.
“We grow character, health and income from the ground up. That's our motto,” she said.
Recognition for work
Gray-Steele said the National Women in Agriculture Association has been invited to the White House on Feb. 21 to be honored during Black History Month for its work.
The group seeks volunteers to help with renovations and educational offerings. Firefighters from Station 5 and a captain from the Oklahoma City Police Department will be there to help spearhead programs for at-risk youths. A meeting is set for 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.
To learn more
For details about the Community Gardening Workshop or to register, call 713-1125. For more about the National Women in Agriculture Association, go to www.nwiaa.org.