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Rural rancher plants in northeast Oklahoma City as free food for people

Penny Ridenour / Red Dirt Report
Karen Waddell and Susan Bergen check the tiny spouts from their planting last week at Shiloh Camp.
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- Once upon a time, Karen Waddell, CEO of the Lynn Institute, was having lunch with her friend, Susan Bergen, who is a rancher in Sulphur, Oklahoma.  Waddell shared that the Lynn Lifestyle Summary for northeast Oklahoma City was about to be released and the findings were that there is a critical shortage in access to fresh fruits and vegetables in that city quadrant. 

There, it might be easy to find a quick bite of grease or sugar with only three grocery stores, 32 convenience stores and many fast-food restaurants, but not- so easy to locate a non-fried vegetable. 

Mere days from this lunch conversation, Bergen called Waddell back and asked her how many vacant acres of land she could find in Oklahoma City in a short time.  And here is where the fairy tale gets real.  Bergen brought a tractor and an 11-foot “no-till drill” nearly 100 miles from home to plant free food in northeast Oklahoma City.

“For me as a food grower, I might know about solutions people in the city don’t know about,” Bergen said, calling the northeast area of town a “food desert.”

Normally she uses the mammoth planting drill to plant grasses and greens for her cattle on the ranch.  She knows the winter crops that do not require tilled ground, as they will sprout through grass and weeds, and they will produce all winter long.  For her trip to Oklahoma City, Bergen simply switched the seeds in the drill to more human-friendly fare.

Waddell and Bergen drove all over Northeast Oklahoma City last week and planted literally millions of seeds for collard greens, beets, radishes, and turnips on grassy areas at Christian Faith Missionary Baptist Church, Mt. Triumph Baptist Church, Trinity Mission Baptist Church, Millwood School, Shiloh Camp, Metro Tech, and Mama E’s restaurant.  They even jumped a curb and planted in the road median in front a housing project.  The various sites will get the word out when and how the public can access the harvest.

“About 28 days from the first sprout, we ought to be having collard greens for dinner,” Waddell said, so that means October 15ish through April, people can still be eating from the bounty Bergen planted.

Bergen said she asked God to give her a sign that she was doing the right thing, and soon a large, tattooed man approached her.  When he saw what she was doing, he broke down into tears and she had her sign.

“God is good,” Bergen said.  “And there is a period at the end of that sentence.”

Waddell said the point of the project was not just to give people access to better food, but to empower them to make overall better decisions about their bodies.

“We all need to take responsibility for our own health, and it starts with better food habits and moving around,” Waddell said.  “We don’t all have a tractor, but we can all do a little in our own backyard.”

The Lynn Lifestyle Summary was initiated in April 2014 and is a 10-year comprehensive economic and social plan to address the critical health needs of northeast Oklahoma City. 

As the Lynn Institute transitions from its sole focus on clinical trials and scientific research, its board of directors, comprised mostly of career health professionals, decided to look deeper into the gaps in healthcare in our state. 

They decided to hold themselves accountable to making a change in the state’s areas of poorest health – northeast Oklahoma City, north Tulsa, southwest Oklahoma City and a large swath of area in southeast Oklahoma.  

Waddell contends it is no accident that the areas with the poorest health are also the poorest economically. 

“You can’t look at the health of the community without looking at all the factors that affect our health,” she said.

Bergen is passionate about educating people about how to grow food all year long in whatever space they have available, as well as cooking it so it tastes good.  Unbeknownst to most, radishes are good for more than pickling or putting in salads, apparently they are actually sweet and delicious if roasted with a little olive oil and seasoning. 

She said she will work with the food sites to provide education about all the things the food can do.

“We have believed a lie that there is a scarcity of food.  We need to empower people to not be hungry.  We are going to teach people they can have good food and all they want of it,” Bergen said.

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Penny Ridenour

Penny Ridenour is a transplant Oklahoman of almost 20 years with enough red dirt under her...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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