[Submitted by Dustin Green, owner/operator at 10 Acre Woods and current VP of Producers on the Board of Directors of the Oklahoma Food Cooperative]
Soon after we adopted our first son back in 2011, I vividly remember a conversation where he mistook a fresh homegrown tomato for being rotten. He thought the “cardboard” tomato from the store was fresh and tasty. As a result of this conversation, I knew we had a problem that I felt I had the means to address. At the time, we had four backyard chickens, thousands of worms and decent size garden. However, we decided as a family to trade the life of fast food and immediate gratification for more connection to food and the land. We put our house on the market and 30 days later bought what is now know as 10 Acre Woods.
It was May of 2011, and we were eager to get started with our first year on our new farm. I bought a tiller, landscape fabric and a ton of seeds and plants. Soon after planting my first quarter of an acre market garden we received giant hail and a tornado, which wiped out nearly all of the progress we had made on the farm to that point. It also forced us to delay our start of sales at the Norman Farmers Market, which was one of the first markets we joined to begin selling our products. During this recovery period, I discovered the Oklahoma Food Cooperative from BJ White of The Prairie Gypsies [a local prepared food producer and caterer] while shopping at the Rowdy Stickhorse bus. My first reaction was to wonder “how had the Oklahoma Food Coop been under my nose this whole time and I had no clue?” I had missed out on years of fresh food! I soon began researching and making calls trying to find out more. After learning the ins and outs of the Food Coop – and learning what it took to become a producer — I decided this would be my main distribution source for my new farm. I went through what felt like the toughest farm inspection ever. It required several visits from the current VP of producers making sure I had everything in line and working efficiently. I also joined up with other producers to sell my produce at the Food Coop’s Saturday Market.
After the growth our farm had experienced just in the first season, I knew we had to expand. We went about doubling the size of the farm from a ¼ acre to ½ acre and adding 100 laying hens in 2012. I also discovered the love for simply growing out live plants for resale. I had made connections with folks from all over the state while selling plants and discussing gardening, and we now had found common ground to build relationships – both with our customers and with the other farmers in the local food community.
The all important next step was to come up with funding for my farm. The natural step was a CSA [community supported agriculture program], which was a way to offer shares in our farm in exchange for food. Our first CSA year was tough. I had underestimated the need for a business plan, a detailed calendar of seeding and transplant dates and completely left out the “I will need this by this week of this month for delivery”. After a rough 2012 and several crop failures and market/CSA failures it was time to start over. I went directly to the farmers I had met through the Oklahoma Food Coop and started asking questions. We visited each other’s farms, shared ideas, and offered help and support to one another. In all honesty, some of the best advice I got was that I needed to “stop thinking like a backyard gardener”, and that I needed to begin considering the needs of my community when making decisions. After all, if my customers were going to depend on me for their food supply, I had to be reliable and follow through. As 2012 wrapped up it was time to add more growing space and my first hoop house. I started by cover cropping all my planting area and having my coop buddies out to build a cattle panel hoop house.
Fast forwarding to 2017, our farm now plants up to 2 acres every season and we have multiple hoop houses up and running. We adopted two more boys giving us three growing boys who love everything about agriculture and sustainability. They take pride in what we grow and the services we provide to our community. After the first several years of struggling to find my footing, the produce and egg producers from the Food Coop had taught me the skills needed for markets and delivery system. We sold at the Norman and Moore farmers market before joining OSU-OKC farmers market several years ago. Our small market garden had grown and found success with our CSA and available farmers markets. It wasn’t long before the Oklahoma economy had taken a downturn, but thankfully I was still finding success at the farmers market and CSA. But the Food Coop – the organization that had helped me get my start and fostered so many friendships that I hold dear today — was beginning to struggle. I knew it was time to revisit those friendships and my original idea of making the Oklahoma food Coop my main market. After calls with all the produce and plant farmers of the Oklahoma Food Coop, it was clear that we needed to begin thinking beyond our current monthly delivery system to meet everyone’s needs.
As current VP of Producers I have worked with other board members and management to come up with a plan to make our freshest food available to a big chunk of customers weekly. With the expansion of my farm and the plans I have made along with other small farmers a weekly delivery for the OKC metro seems to be the next logical step in our movement to deliver local food to everyone. We are still in the beginning stages of working out logistics and a new website, but the possibility of new ideas to keep our Food Coop a leader in the Oklahoma local food scene is exciting. While we continue to work towards the next services we can offer to our members and producers, it’s important to remember all the small farms and local families who have been brought together all in the name of local food.