A growing community
Several have withered and died, but half a dozen still thrive, mainly in older neighborhoods.
“They come and go,” says Diana Askins, president of the Tulsa Community Garden Association. Its roster includes Brady Heights, Highland Park, Community of Hope, Global Gardens and a G.R.O.W. project in the Kendall-Whittier neighborhood.
Rufus Newsome, a Tulsa police officer, oversees Newsome Community Gardens on 56th Street North with his wife, Demalda. They also helped start a garden at Alcott Elementary School.
Sue Gray, Oklahoma State University’s Tulsa County horticulture extension agent, says the OSU service began several community gardens in the 1980s and 1990s, but most lasted only a couple of years.
Brady Heights is beginning its fifth growing season.
“We started with cleaning up rubble from the house that had burned and been demolished by the city and planted a few rows that we tilled,” gardener Justin Pickard says.
A few neighbors participated that year. The next year, gardeners used boards from an old commercial buildling to build nine raised beds; when those filled, another nine were built the next year.
Triangular beds were added, along with some shared spaces for strawberries, flowers and blackberries along a fence. Neighbors also planted 11 fruit trees.
“We hope to have some fruit this year,” Pickard says.
Gardeners grow an assortment of vegetables and herbs, Pickard says, but the garden has been “especially good in bringing neighbors out and having an excuse to talk to each other.”
That was part of the motivation for Global Gardens, which now operates at Tulsa Public Schools’ Eugene Field and Union Public Schools’ Rosa Parks elementary schools.
A teacher, Heather Oakley, began Global Gardens in 2007 with eight interested teachers at Eugene Field, working with students and community volunteers after school and during summers. It was incorporated as a nonprofit organization and is funded by a variety of foundations, companies and individuals.
It now serves 1,100 students and their families.
The combination of active gardening and education, says Ayschia Saiymeh, Global Gardens’ director of community outreach, “empowers them (students) to become agents of change in their communities and break the cycle of poverty.”
Much less formal but no less successful, is the “farm” in Crosbie Heights, on a lot across from the Blue Jackalope store and café, owned by Scott Smith.
It began, Smith says, with “young adults hanging out at the store looking for a community project.” Many were interested in sustainable agriculture.
The owner of the store building and lot, Miriam Mills, approved the project, and in spring 2009, half a dozen residents began work. They found rubble from an old house and some bad soil.
“That first year we spent creating beds and cleaning up the soil,” says Matthew Truelove, one of the founders.
They built a large compost pile and the next year worked that and some manure in to provide, Truelove says, “a sound organic base.” This spring, he says, the group hopes the soil “will be really good.”
Unlike Brady Heights, Crosbie Heights has no individual plots.
“It is kind of a fundamental issue to have a consensus group and work together rather than parcel out,” Truelove says.
Their gardening is all-natural — no fertilizers or pesticides. Smith donates food waste for compost. The group grows several kinds of lettuce, parsley, carrots, radishes, peas, beans and corn. The daughter of the noted “Tomato Man,” Lisa Merrell, donated some plants; the group saves seeds for next year’s crop.
“We are kind of disorganized by choice,” Truelove says. “We kind of want to start a micro-farm, and that takes a while.”
Highland Park began growing its community garden late last year with three families. Work was mostly focused on building raised beds and mulching, although some tomatoes, herbs, greens and other crops were grown in the fall.
Highland Park’s Andrew Fatone says he expects perhaps nine families to participate this year.
Gardeners also planted a plum tree and plan to add more fruit trees this year.
Community of Hope’s garden began last year when its pastor, the Rev. Bob Lawrence, requested that the church’s land-use team explore land-usage options. The group recommended a community garden, and today the land has 40 raised beds tended by 22 to 35 gardeners. They either grow produce for themselves or for the church’s Tables to Go food outreach program.
It also is an all-natural garden.
“Most of us did not know each other before the garden was built,” garden leader Teresa K. (Tess) Tucker Trainum says.
“You get to know people when you work to build something like this, and these people are simply wonderful to be around.”
The Kendall-Whittier neighborhood has had a G.R.O.W. (Gardening to Reach Out and Welcome) project for several years, located on land shared by St. Anthony Orthodox Church. Its youth mentoring program allows students to plan, plant, grow and harvest fresh fruits and vegetables while attending the year-round after-school program. Some of the foods harvested are included in the students’ daily meals. Neighbors also use the garden.
The garden area is dormant now, but Trinna Burrows, executive director of Kendall Whittier Inc., says, “In not too many weeks, it will be green and budding, and full of activity.”
A new garden will start this spring under the auspices of The Welcome Table KitchenGarden in Turley and north Tulsa. The Rev. Ron Robinson, executive director of A Third Place Community Foundation, says the garden will have raised beds for neighbors and organizations to plant and also grow vegetables for its food pantry.
His foundation also coordinates a garden at Cherokee Elementary School and assists with gardens at Greeley Elementary and other places in the area. The foundation is planning a new garden at the Welcome Table Community Center. It has also planted fruit trees at The Grateful Orchard on North Victor Avenue.