Apr 7, 2007Oklahoma Farm Shows Kids How Things Grow
Search the Internet with the phrase “starting a farm” and you’ll be given 37 million pieces of advice. Weeding out the good advice from the bad and the practical from the impossible seems as though it would take forever. It took Jim and Cathie Greene just six years.
The Greenes, who have not a seed of agriculture in their backgrounds, were on a family trip from their home in Oklahoma to the Mall of America in Minnesota when they stopped at a flower farm in Iowa.
“It was just so beautiful there, and I’ve always loved working outdoors,” said Cathie. “I thought to myself, ‘That’s what I want to do.'”
And she has. The Greenes now operate Wild Things Farm, a 90-acre venture in Pocola, Okla., that started in 2000 as a wildflower farm. Hence the name. The enterprise has expanded to produce a long list of fruits and vegetables from blackberries to zipper cream peas. They sell them picked or u-pick, and even offer greenhouse-grown greens in the winter.
When the couple decided to make their farm dream a reality, Cathie, a former nurse practitioner, began attending meetings and Extension sessions to learn everything she could about the wildflower business.
It was at one of those meetings that she decided strawberries would make a good addition to her farm. Then, a kindergarten class was in need of pumpkins, so she learned to grow those. A trip to a farm in Lawrence, Kan., led to the Wild Things corn maze. Sorting through words of wisdom and those lacking it, Wild Things Farm has managed to develop a collection of crops and attractions that suit the operation. The Greene’s most recent expansion took the shape of an herb garden, which Cathie hopes will lead to cooking classes.
Teaching is one thing Cathie has become accustomed to since forming Wild Things Farm. She realized early on that agricultural education was something from which local children could benefit.
“For being in a rural area, it’s surprising how many kids don’t know much about agriculture,” she said. “We’ve had kids here who thought strawberries grew on trees. A bus pulled in, and the kids saw our goats and yelled, ‘Look at the cows!’ It was really surprising to me.”
To remedy such misunderstandings, Greene started hosting school tours, an idea she got from a North American Farmers’ Direct Marketing Association meeting. Last spring, 2,000 school children visited the farm, and 6,000 came through in the fall.
“This year we might get up to 10,000 kids in the fall,” she said. “We try to have fun and sneak in some education. We’ll talk to them about germinating seeds and then let them actually make a seed roll. We talk about harvesting and usually have cucumbers about that time, so we let them make pickles.”
It isn’t all fun and games for the Greenes, though. They still deal with the same difficulties as their neighboring farmers.
“I think the hardest thing is coping with changes in the weather, and then of course your pests and your wildlife. We just had deer eat our whole last crop of peas.”
Despite such setbacks, Greene said the experience of opening and operating her own farm has been everything she hoped for and more. Her willingness to try new things and ability to distinguish good advice from bad has resulted in a satisfying experience for the first-generation farmer and her family.
“There’s always something to learn and always something new to try,” she said.
Something new for the farm this year is the marriage of two of their potbelly pigs. The date is set for Oct. 7, and Greene anticipates good attendance for the farm ceremony. And where there’s good attendance, there’s a good opportunity to educate.
Wild Things Farm also puts on a summer camp, which typically runs for five days in June, allowing children to spend a substantial amount of time at and learn about the farm.
Wild Things Farm operates with a great deal of help from daughter Jennifer Dyke, who manages the phone, schedules tours and helps with many of the tours and chores around the farm; son Ryan, a college student; and younger daughter Taylor, 11.
Cathie is the chief farmer – plowing, planting, feeding animals and cleaning bathrooms. Jim has an off-farm job, but puts in many hours on the farm and does the accounting for the business.
Cathie grows certain crops for teaching purposes. Sunflowers are the fan favorite, allowing her to show classes the crop growing and send them home with a sample complete with seeds for the possibility of growing their own. It’s that combination of farming and teaching that she finds most rewarding.
“When you have kids or a family come out and say that this was the best trip they’ve ever been on, it makes everything worthwhile.”