Cleveland County Conservation District
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Helping People Reconnect To Our Environment

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Bring It On!

Posted on July 23, 2015 at 11:00 AM Comments comments (0)

Wow, has it been a busy summer so far! We have a lot of programs going on right now from our Beginning Farmer Workshop series we call, Fields Of Oklahoma Dreams (FOOD for short) to our Summer Scavenger Hunt for kids and kids at heart.  

This is a pic of our first Workshop for FOOD.  A panelist of speakers covering diverse operations in agriculture, from a Community Supported Agriculture farmer, to specialty crops grown in Hoop Houses for Farmer's Markets and restuarants.  As you can see it was a full house!  Since that workshop, we have also had workshops covering; Farm Business Plans, Conservation Plans, Soil Health, How to take a proper soil test, Composting and Cover Crops. Future FOOD workshops will cover; pollination, chickens, brush management, range management, hydroponic agriculture, Hoop Houses and so much more.  You can find more information under Education. 

Look what else we've been doing!  We've given away 5 barrels since the beginning of this year, and we have more ! Join us on facebook for your chance to enter to win a 55 gallon Drum!!!  www.facebook.com/cleveccd


Michele Stewart was excited to pick up the drum that she won! 


We have over 70 families participating in our Summer Scavenger Hunt! Each participant received a rain drop that they were encouraged to personalize and they registered their names.  Every Monday we send our raindrops on a Quest all over the county learning more about their environment!  We give away weekly prizes and have set up a Facebook group for them to share their adventures and pictures! This challenge was to make a musical instrument using only recycled materials. 


This summer we've also assisted through our cost share program to build 2 water wells and clear over 9 acres in Eastern Red Cedar.  

It's been really busy, but this fall is going to be even busier!  We have more FOOD workshops planned as well as some Green Acres Primary School of Urbanites Workshops, some Green Living Workshops, the 50 Gallon Challenge and an HOA program.  Keep supporting YOUR local Conservation Districts!!!!! 







New Workshop Series!

Posted on April 3, 2015 at 12:10 PM Comments comments (0)

We are pleased to announce that we will be kicking off a new workshop series called, Fields of Dreams on April 23rd at the Cleveland County Fairgrounds in Norman.  

This FREE series will help you develop your dream farm operation.  The next workshop in this series will address; loans, grants, business plans, location and licenses.  Some of our other future workshops will concern; Beekeeping, Soil Health, Composting, Marketing, Aquaponic Systems, Hoop Houses, No till, Goats, chickens and so much more!

If you have any questions, please contact us at [email protected] 





Herb Appeal

Posted on April 1, 2015 at 10:20 AM Comments comments (1)



I recently had the opportunity to ride along with the District Conservationist for the Norman Field Office of the Natural Resources Conservation Service,(NRCS).  It turns out we were visiting Betty Leggiero from Kudo's Medicinal Herb Farm.  I know Betty, she has attended several workshops that the District has conducted.  But, today we were visiting her to check out her brand spankin new Hoop House.

                                                                       

Betty had received Cost Share Funds through the NRCS to build the Hoop House and it was time for a spot check. Betty also received some Technical Assistance concerning Grassed Waterways and Diversions to handle soil erosion.  While they were busy discussing business, I took a walk around and what I saw impressed me! 



Betty has a green roof!  And rain barrels are everywhere! 



And she tells me that she couldn't have built her roof without the help of these guys.  OU Sustainability Department Students came in droves to work on this project.  They added Cottonseed Hulls, Vermiculite and Coconut hulls, then topped it with mulch.  The whole project took 3 hours. 




She uses solar! 



Then, there was the chickens and chickens coops, her composting, and the HERBS!  I can't tell you how much I enjoyed visiting Betty and brushing up against herbs.  She didn't even say anything when she caught me snipping a sprig of Rosemary to tuck into my pocket.  When was the last time that you were able to visit one of Cleveland County's local producers????  Well, you're in luck because Betty's Kudos Farms will be at Norman's Farmers Market beginning April 4th, go by and say HI! 







WAR OF THE HOSES

Posted on March 19, 2014 at 9:55 AM Comments comments (0)

And so it begins.  Spring is coming and with it, boundary lines are drawn, troops are assembled and weapons are chosen.  As the days warm up and the sun appears more and more often, Lawn Soldiers paint their faces with sunscreen, put on the official uniform of Spring (favorite faded T-shirt, Panama shorts and Flip Flops) and leave the safety of base camp to fire the first shots of water for the season.

Hoses are dragged out of hiding and prominently displayed as a sign that war is on the horizon.  The sovereignty of each home gathers together to discuss battle plans and the best methods of maintaining the envied green lawn for each Castle in the neighborhood.  Fertilizers, pesticides, insecticides, sprinklers, and hoses are all discussed, debated and chosen.   And in the midst of this fight against nature to keep bermuda green, my little acreage declares its neutrality by attaching my drip and soaker hoses to rain barrels.....and they don't lead to the lawn.

I am not anti-lawn.  I am however, anti-using our drinking water sources to keep a bermuda lawn green in a state that has temperatures an oven would envy. I am against  fighting the natural defenses a lawn uses to stay alive during drought.  I'm okay with not watering my lawn. I'm okay with replacing it with beds of drought tolerant pIants when I can. I'm okay with letting it go dormant in the summer, and it turns out that the City of Moore is okay with it too, as I found out when a neighbor complained last summer.

The Battle of the Hoses will rage on for another year. But I do see signs of hope, because last year 3 more lawns in my neighbor went a beautiful shade of brown, every year more and more people call the District asking about Rain Barrels. The Cities of Oklahoma City, Moore and Norman have a permanent mandatory odd/even rationing of our water. I see more drip lines being installed and people are talking about water conservation. It is very encouraging, and someday soon, someone will drive past my house and envy my tan lawn.  I believe it because I have faith that society will recognize that in some instances brown is the best way to stay green.

-Chris Ward

WORLDWIDE COMMUNE

Posted on February 26, 2014 at 10:00 AM Comments comments (0)

 Just recently someone left the comment, "Hippie" under a post about Earth Day I had shared on our Facebook page. It made me laugh.  Although I believe that the gentleman was trying to express his disdain concerning Earth Day, he missed his mark with me.  I was actually kinda flattered.

I was born in the late 60's to a set of wide eyed parents who didn't understand why getting back to basics required a movement.  They were born and raised in a community that grew their own food, canned it, made a lot of their own clothes, practiced water conservation, conserved energy and spent a great deal of time outside.  All of the sudden their lifestyle was Hip and they found themselves "with it", it was a bit of shock for two young adults from Stuart, Oklahoma.  I like to think of them as the Eco branch of the Hippie Culture without some of the other less attractive aspects of that lifestyle.

If you take a look back to the era of the mid 60's through to the 70's there is a lot to admire.  Young people stood up and openly discussed environmental issues, they demanded change and they got it; The Clean Air Act 1970, National Environmental Policy Act 1970, Marine Mammal Protection Act 1972, Endangered Species Act 1972, Coastal Zone Management Act 1972, Clean Water Act 1972, Safe Drinking Water Act 1974 and the Toxic Substances Act 1976.  They were able to bring environmental issues onto the national stage and create real change, and they did it all while wearing bell bottom jeans and platform shoes...you have to admire that!

If you take the definition of a Hippie Commune as, "People living together while sharing common interests and resources" then can't you say that we live in a Worldwide Commune?  Our resources are finite and it's in our best interest to protect them, to stand up together as one booming voice. 

Am I a Hippie?  I don't know if that generation would think so, but I like to think of myself as an active member of the Eco Branch.  Growing my own organic veggies, practicing water and energy conservation involving myself in environmental issues, letting my vote speak for me all while wearing boot cut jeans.  And to the gentleman that thought by calling us "Hippies" he would adequately express his scorn, I just want to say...Thank You.  It is a compliment that I will share with my friends, it is a label that I will wear with honor, it is an acknowledgement that my environmental conscience is alive a well.

-Chris Ward   

The Quiet Garden

Posted on July 9, 2013 at 3:45 PM Comments comments (1)

  I am a big fan of finding some peace and quiet, that is one of the reasons why I love my garden.  I go into the garden to calm my nerves, relieve my stress, find some inner peace and focus my energy.  WHAT?  Ok, gardening could give me all those things, but so far they have never happened at the same time, but it gives fruit, so I'm happy.  Plus, I have had several epiphanies while holding a hand rake, funny how all my moments of budding genius involve garden tools.

Several weeks ago, I was enjoying a fantasy of being the next Joel Salatin when something struck me as odd; it was quiet.....too quiet, spooky quiet.  The kind of quiet that freaked me out as a young mother with a two year hell bent on destruction, more mine than hers as it turned out.  Anyway, for me quiet isn't about total silence or lack of movement.  It is the sound that a gentle breeze makes moving through my willow tree, the muffled tinkle of wind chimes, the gurgle of my stream, birds chirping and bees buzzing.....AND that was it!!  I hadn't heard or seen any bees.

Isn't it strange how you never notice the, "behind the scene" things?  You don't think about them, they're just there.  They exist and function without your interference or attention, things like; water pressure, electricity, postal service, the internet and our pollinators.  If any of the other systems were to break down, I would like to think that I would notice immediately, but the bees took a while longer.  My first clue....?  I didn't have any tomatoes develop on the best looking plants I have ever grown.  My second clue should have been the obvious absence of my daughter's annual performance of her version of Swan Lake while simultaneously screeching out a German Opera every time a bee flew anywhere near her.  I didn't notice because I was enjoying the peace and quiet. 

What happened?  I know that I have been discussing the bee problem here and on our Facebook page, but those were occurrences in other states happening to other people.  What could have happened recently that would affect the bee population here?  I live in the middle of Suburban Nirvana; quiet streets filled with lovely law abiding citizens, a beautiful neighborhood surrounded by the damage path of the most destructive tornado in our state's history.  Could it be?  Could the tornado and subsequent storms have caused a bee decline?  Was it our wet spring and late freezes?  Did someone spray the open field behind my house?  I didn't know the answers; I just knew that my backyard could be compared to a Las Vegas for bees, the cool Vegas of Elvis and Rat Pack days, not today's Amusement Park Vegas.  I have multiple bee friendly native perennials, shrubs and trees.  I have water, sand and enough housing to accommodate the largest bee convention.  It's a 24-hour buffet out there for goodness sake!  But my Bee Vegas resembles Norman during the OU/Texas weekend.......deserted.

In recent weeks, I have witnessed the return of some of the bees, not as many as in the past, but it's a start although I still don't have any tomatoes. My perspective had been changed for me, I had to pull back the curtain and expose the Wizard.  He isn't the magical being I expected and OZ is just a town like any other.  Tomatoes don't just appear out of thin air, the water pressure fairy that sprinkles happy dust over my faucets doesn't exist, and it turns out that mail service can be interrupted.  Those behind the scene things usually have the biggest impact on our lives when they are not working, because that is when we notice them.  This time we have had an advanced warning, we can't leave it for someone else to deal with for us.  The usual outcome of situations where each person assumes someone else it taking the responsibility, commonly results in the electricity being shut off because no one paid the bill!  We are in this together, the bees won't wait forever for us to decide to take action and paying the bill is going to take more than individual action.  We need to do something soon, because a garden without bees is not peaceful, but it is all too quiet!  And the peace and quiet thing.....?  I'm over it already....Let's make some noise!!

-Chris Ward

LET 'EM BEE

Posted on March 13, 2013 at 11:25 AM Comments comments (0)

  Ahhh...pollen.  That powdery stuff that makes some of us miserable, but that we literally couldn't live without.  Every spring I share a divided mind about pollen, I love it, I hate it......I need it, I dread it.  Nature definitely loves a good oxymoron!  For instance, consider the low maintenance garden.  Ever seen one, ever worked one?  Exactly....but we garden because we love it, and we want to grow our own food for our families.  And some of us also enjoy the opportunity to post the pictures of our exceptionally large organic pumpkins on Facebook.  Then one day, you realize that you have lost some perspective when your FB album contains more pictures of your veggies than your kids.  You may not notice, but believe me, your children check.  But if you want Facebook worthy veggies, you need pollen and pollinators, and since I don't want to dwell on the evil side of pollen, (it will grab my attention soon enough), let's take a walk through the bright side.....the pollinators and in particular native bees.

I make a point to beefriend native bees.  There has been a lot of buzz lately and you may have wondered, "why should I care?".  Native bees are the match makers of the natural world.  To put it simply, bees introduce boy to girl, who promptly goes forth and becomes fruitful.  I love food and I assume that you do too, so whether you know it or not, you by association love bees.  Now that I have explained the true nature of the birds and bees, we have an important job to do.  Like Honey Bees, some Native Bees are suffering population decline through disease, loss of habitat and chemicals.  If you consider that bees work for you, don't we as employers owe them a safe and healthy working environment?

Here is how you can help.  Design a work space for them that will be the buzz of every hive in the world.  As every Queen Bee knows, if your workers are happy, porduction rates go up!  Put in a Pollinator's Playground using native plants, trees, shrubs and wildflowers.  Bee pesticide and herbicide free as much as possible, and if you can't avoid them for whatever reason, avoid applying them when bees are active, which is before dawn and just before sunset.  Provide nesting sites such as bare soil, dead trees, or drill holes into a stump or hang a bunch of hollow bamboo or elderberry sticks.  Put out a source of fresh water.  Bee proactive because here's the sting....if they decide to go on strike, most of our food will disappear along with them.

Pollen season is around the corner, it is beautiful, annoying, messy and necessary.  That's life, No I really mean it.....pollen is actual life.  So this season, take as deep a breath as you can wheeze, peer over the mountain of used tissues and with your blurry eyes, watch the bees doing their thing.  And if you can hear anything beyond the muffled sound of your own heartbeat, let their buzzing make you smile and fill you with gratitude because you don't have to pollinate every single one of those blossoms yourself.  Then do what I do, suck it up and go back to bed knowing that those bees got your back. 

-Chris Ward

AIM FOR THE MOON!

Posted on February 11, 2013 at 8:45 AM Comments comments (0)

  This past Saturday, I attended the Growing In Tough Times Conference held in OKC.  I went to find out what more the District can do to help our local farmers reconnect with you, our local consumers, and I came away with a ton of new ideas and something else too.  I was amazed, in awe of and inspired by these people who want nothing more than to grow healthy food for our tables.

They each share the same passion, and an overwhelming attitude of gratefulness and optimism.  What a learning experience it was for me.  You can't help but to get caught up in their enthusiasum and the feeling of being connected to something magical.....Faith.

They have faith.  Faith that their crops will come in, faith that they will get enough water, faith that their products will sell, and that it will all turn out alright in the end.  They find the faith to do it all again the next year.  That's a lot of faith. They might bemoan the conditions, that's human nature, but they get together and share those problems and work toward a solution.   It was positive reinforcement in overdrive.  The weather is against them, so they seek ways to grow their crops in extreme heat, and then expressed gratitude that it wasn't worse.   Drought is against them, so they seek ways to bring their produce to market using less water, and are grateful that they had what they need.  They can't compete with larger venues, so they ban together and form Farmers Markets and Coops, and they are grateful that people are taking notice. 

They believe in their food and their chosen path, or did that path choose them?  I kept thinking about all the things that I could accomplish in my own life and here at the District with that much passion and optimism, enthusiasm and faith.  So, strap on your seats belts, I am aiming for the moon, and I'm taking you with me, cause even if we miss, we might hit some stars!

-Chris Ward

DON'T LET THE ECOPASS YOU BY!

Posted on September 27, 2012 at 11:45 AM Comments comments (0)

    I love idioms, those quirky expressions that convey so much.  Idioms are contrary creatures, while the words are apparently clear, they encourage the reader to seek out the deeper meaning that is often expressed with a wink and a nod.  One of my favorites is "putting your money where your mouth is".  Can you think of a more quaint way of saying, "put up or shut up", which is another favorite.  This idiom came to mind when I read about the ECOpass Program and realized that this program gave me the opportunity to put my financial support into something I strongly believe in.....Conservation, and to possibly give the coolest, most unique Christmas gifts EVER!!!

Let me introduce you to ECOpass, this program offers you the opportunity to support positive environmental change in Oklahoma while at the same time supporting our local farmers. While going about our daily lives, we all leave behind a carbon footprint; driving, using electricity and buying well, anything.  You can offset some of your negative carbon footprints by purchasing an ECOpass.  The money is used to pay a local farmer to implement conservation practices on Oklahoma land that will improve our soil, water and air.  Your money helps offset the high cost to farmers who want to do their part in keeping our water and soil clean. Wait, it gets better.  Not only are you involving yourself in the health of our lands and supporting local agriculture, many of the approved practices that get installed are designed to store a measurable amount of carbon in the soil that would otherwise be emitted.  According to the ECOpass website, "on average, these practices prevent the emission of half a metric ton of carbon per acre per year".  Each $5 ECOpass you buy protects one acre of land for one year.  Think about it, you not only offset your own carbon footprint, you are actually placing conservation on the ground and are making a difference to our environment and you can't get that from Farmville. 

Your ECOpass investment is also guaranteed by the Oklahoma Conservation Commission.  They have created one of the most strict verification programs out there, they visit participating farms annually to ensure that the practice was implemented and is being maintained.  What more could you ask for in return for your $5? 

And now for my love of idioms, see if you can find them all.  You can take it up a notch and purchase enough ECOpasses to offset your family's carbon foot print for a year. You can step up to the plate, and kill two birds with one stone by putting your financial support into conservation AND present them as Christmas stocking stuffers or gifts to family, friends, teachers, employees, coworkers or even the mailman. You could also purchase them in memory of someone who was passionate about the environment or just because you care. Visit their website, or drop them a line at www.ECOpassOK.com to learn more about the program, take a look at the approved practices or to purchase your ECOpasses, it can all be done on the website.  If we all pitch in together, we can change our world one ECOpass at a time because a rising tide lifts all boats. Don't let this ECOpass you by.

HIVE TALKING

Posted on September 5, 2012 at 10:20 AM Comments comments (0)

  Every gardener knows about beneficial insects, but what's all the buzz about bees lately?  

Bees have been used in Agriculture for hundreds of years, and many farmers today depend on and hire local Honey Bee keepers to pollinate their crops.  This is a win/win situation for everyone, because you can't find better honey anywhere, than from a local beekeeper.  But you don't have to be a farmer to appreciate native and honey bees, you just have to eat.  Bees are in decline and since a 1/3 of our food supply depends on their pollination skills, it is a little important that we pay attention.

Bees aren't a faithful bunch, bless 'em.  They don't leave the garden with the plant that brought them.  Bees are players, they go from plant to plant, fertilizing with pollen along the way, not caring if their efforts bear fruit as long they reach their goal of racking up the nectar!  But I care, I'm shameless and throw my plants in their path, I intentionally grow plants that will attract them. I want those bad boys in my garden.

Bees are a major pollinator for many of the veggies in my garden such as; apples, strawberries, squash and tomatoes.  They also pollinate several of my herbs; oregano, mint, rosemary, dill, tansy, thyme, lavender and mint.  Then there are the others; lilac, roses, tickseed, penstemon, daisy and indian blanket.  None of these plants would produce for me quite so well without the bees. 

This fall I am going to build a bee box and place it in the back of my garden hoping to keep some of the native bees as long term occupants.  As an organic gardener, I depend on bees to help me with my efforts to grow my own food, but as I think about it, we are co-dependent on each other.  They need me to keep my garden chemical free and to provide them with a wide variety of choices and I need them to keep the flow of strawberries coming my way to satisfy my out of control addition.

Bees are players, but since it's the best game in town, who am I to complain?  So, the next time a bee does a fly by two inches from your face, bee nice, don't flap at him, he is just letting you know that your garden has what it takes.  Who would know better?

To learn more about bees and planting a garden to attract bees, please visit our link to Pollinator.org.

THE SPAGHETTI TREES HAVE ALL DIED

Posted on May 14, 2012 at 11:15 AM Comments comments (1)

When I was young, a well meaning if dysfunctional relative told me that spaghetti noodles grew on trees.  That began a yearlong dream of becoming Oklahoma's first spaghetti farmer.  It all came crashing down around me at the pasta aisle of our local Safeway when my mom felt that it was time that I was told the truth.  I stood there in horror and disbelief as she told me what ingredients made up pasta.  To give her credit all these years later, she did her research and was able to answer each of my hysterical questions.   But, if you couldn't trust that your spaghetti was grown on beautiful trees with purple, pink and orange flowers, what was next?  It was years before I ate pasta again.

As an adult, I was astonished to find out that my bell pepper could be imported from Mexico, that my seasoning could have ingredients in them that I couldn't even pronounce. And so another obsession was born.  I wanted to trace my food.  The more that I looked into it, the more I realized that I had totally given over my control of the food that I ate to someone else. To tell you the truth, I was naive about food, assuming that because I bought it locally at my neighborhood store that it must have come locally.  In my job I have met many farmers that grow produce, it made sense to me that they sold it to the store.  Then, I was enlightened even further by talking to children who had no idea that their beans came from an actual field instead of a can.  It was the spaghetti tree all over again.

Your food is probably one of the most important decisions that you make every day. Your health, well-being and energy are affected by those choices, and yet our food has become an afterthought.  Food has become something to get out of the way in order to move on with our busy lives...a convenience. With all those choices; drive-through, prepackaged, frozen meals, bags of precut salads, is it any wonder we are moving further and further away from our food and becoming a bit lazy about it. But what if we dig deeper behind the question, "What's for dinner"?   It has become important to me to know what is in my food, how it was grown and to know that nothing but food is present.  I wanted to take back control.

It was easier than I thought it would be, and I also found some wonderful side benefits.  My family slowed down for a few hours every day and spent time together preparing our meals.  I produced less trash and reduced my waste stream input.  My grocery budget hardly changed at all and we ate healthier.  We helped a local farmer live his dream of growing food and still make a living.  I know that our Chloe will never be confused about green beans growing in cans, because she will help pick them.  Chloe will know that a tomato doesn't have to be perfectly round, shiny and red in order to still be a tomato.  She will never be confused about why a bell pepper from my garden or from farmer's market doesn't taste the same as the one that was bought from a chain store, and that fresh bell peppers are not available all year long.  She will see her food develop from seed to peas.  She will learn to recognize okra, know its texture, color and smell. I want her to be able to pick it out of a line up.  Shopping for food has become fun and she loves finding new colors of string beans. We talk about food and I hope that she will have a relationship with hers.   

Today, there is so much information available and many venues to find local food. In a state that still has Agriculture as its number one industry, it's not hard to trip over a farmer's market, a roadside stand or a "pick your own".   There are local grocery stores that sell local produce only in season.  They know the farmer; they can answer your questions.   

Although I long ago gave up my dream of being a Spaghetti Tree farmer, I did grow up having a hand in my food.  Whether you are a vegan, vegetarian, carnivore, locavore or a take-outvore, if you eat, you are involved in agriculture.  And like any other relationship, you can get of it what you are willing to put into it.  Here is further food for thought, Ben Franklin said, "An investment in knowledge always pays interest".  Get to know your food and reap the benefits.

CHOOSE MY PLATE

Posted on January 25, 2012 at 11:00 AM Comments comments (0)

The USDA has a website www.choosemyplate.gov .  This is quickly becoming on of my favorites.  With pages such as "Eating Healthy on a Budget", "Look up your Foods" and the ever popular, "Analyze my Diet". Choose my plate is another initiative of our USDA to help Americans make more nutritious and healthier choices.  The program emphasizes fruit, vegetable, whole grains, protein and dairy food groups.  These are often forgotten or get pushed aside for our busy schedules.  This website gives you the tools and the tips to adjust your intake of certain foods by telling you which foods to increase and which foods to decrease. 

This website has a dietary guideline, food & activity tracker and a daily food planner; it also breaks down the food groups for you.  This is a wonderful map to use on your road to healthier eating, and has become my new best friend.  Take a look at your plate and analyze your current diet, you will thank me later.