Highlighting CARE Champion Kwame Mboya
The land surrounding the Life
Changes & Wellness Center in Spencer Oklahoma doesn’t look like your
typical suburban lot. Where usually a neatly mowed lawn is present, instead
you’ll find a large seasonal high tunnel filled with neat rows of crops all
lined with drip irrigation, with similar horticultural crops present in the
surrounding field. Newly introduced peach trees are trying to establish, and a
new colony of honeybees has been brought to live on site. Here, Alfred
McKerson, better known in the community by his chosen name, Kwame Mboya, works
hard to raise not only crops but also awareness.
Kwame is the manager and organizer of the Northeast OKC Farmer’s Market, which aims to help fill the glaring healthy food access gap that currently exists on the Northeast side of Oklahoma City. More than 25 years ago Kwame got involved with an Atlanta-based community garden. After 5 years in the Southeast, he returned home to Oklahoma and has continued his working with communities to advance urban agriculture in communities such as that in Northeast Oklahoma City. The absence of healthy food in this community is not a new phenomenon. In fact, it extends beyond food into a true lack of opportunity, the direct result of years of discriminatory practices that may not have been written but were no less inherent. Kwame has heard from friends and elders in his community about the longtime inability to gain access to USDA assistance, or any sort of loans or funding for agricultural operations. By a similar factor, equitable land access and ownership is a long-noted problem among black communities in Oklahoma largely the result of these latent racist practices and policies. Loss of land becomes an issue as property is passed on through generations without any proof of ownership. For Kwame, fixing these systemic issues starts with accountability. He noted that unless we have open discussion about these racial inequities that exist and their real impacts on the community it’ll be difficult to make progress. For the USDA he says that this begins with documentation. Problems can’t be fixed if there isn’t information to understand the issues at their core.
The Oklahoma County Conservation District was first contacted by Kwame back in early 2019. The farmers market was still relatively new, and Kwame was looking to expand his operation. Thanks to an Urban Conservation Grant through the NRCS, the district was able to help Kwame install a 2000 square foot seasonal high tunnel to help expand the growing season and increase his production. The construction of the high tunnel provided a great marketing opportunity for the NE OKC Farmers Market to participate in the construction and learn the potential benefit of enacting this practice. Kwame’s hope is to not only increase the supply of locally grown produce, but to become a model for urban agricultural conservation, by showcasing the productivity of a small plot of land through no-till farming.
All this is to say that Kwame views an increase in educational opportunities for food growing as having a huge local economic benefit. “Free is not sustainable,” is a common phrase that you’ll hear from Kwame. It is not only important to see the value in food, particularly locally grown produce, but also to see the value in growing food. Noting the generational loss of knowledge about farming and growing, Kwame laments the lack of young to middle aged adults with little to no exposure to farming or gardening and thus raise children with the same lack of knowledge. In his mind these age groups are essential to bring excitement and credence to urban agriculture as a profession. Educational programs are paramount.
Kwame regularly looks for opportunities to bring school groups, church groups, adults, and children out to his little operation to see and learn from it. The NE OKC Farmer’s Market is fortunate to have such a supportive leader and motivated worker, because gardens don’t just happen, a sentiment well-embodied in Kwame’s little spot in Spencer. If you’re interested in learning more about the NE OKC Farmer’s Market, you can find them at Pitts Park in Oklahoma City on Saturdays from 9am-1pm.
Highlighting CARE Champion Cary Pittman
We want to recognize Cary Pittman, another of our Conservation and Agriculture Reach Everyone (CARE) Champions for Oklahoma County. Cary is the oldest of seven children and one of 20 grandchildren. He and his wife Crystal have four children, three boys and one girl. Jayden is 14, twins Cary and Caryna are 12, and Chase is seven.
Pittman became interested in agriculture when he inherited 76 acres from his family, the place where he now makes his home. When he inherited the land, it was infested with cedars and he has been working diligently to make the land more productive. He has participated in the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to get financial assistance to begin clearing portions of the land. He has cleared other sections on his own and still has more work to do. Pittman has also utilized EQIP to get assistance for constructing a seasonal high tunnel. He is currently using the high tunnel to grow micro greens such as arugula, collard greens, cabbage, and lettuce. He also plans to add okra, watermelon, peppers, and cantaloupe.
In addition to growing vegetables, Pittman has a chicken coop for 10 chickens, and he gives away most of the eggs. He had also started a bee keeping operation; however, the bees did not survive the arctic cold spell in February. He hopes to get the bee operation going again soon.
In serving as a CARE Champion, Pittman’s goal is to share his positive experiences with USDA Programs and to assist others that might be interested in participating. When not on the farm, Pittman serves the community as a professional counselor and is a mental health specialist.
Photo: Pittman stands near some brush he has cleared behind his home.
Getting to Know CARE Champion Willard Earl Davis
Choctaw resident and agriculture producer Willard Earl Davis has been active in the farming and ranching community for many years. Davis grew up in Greenfield, Oklahoma in Blaine County where he became involved in agriculture through the local FFA program and was active in showing hogs. He will proudly tell you that he had the grand champion Berkshire hog in 1959 when he was 17.
After graduation from high school, Davis attended Langston University where he received a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics and a minor in agriculture. He later received a master’s in education degree from Oklahoma University. Earl spent four years teaching math at Dungee High School and Kennedy Jr. High School before going to work for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation where he spent 35 years.
While working off the farm, Davis began to purchase land and build his farm and ranch operation. He has utilized assistance available through USDA programs such as the Farm Service Agency’s (FSA) farm loan program and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) along with the USDA’s Great Plains Conservation Program. He has also participated in the State of Oklahoma cost share program through the local district where he has installed farm ponds and done extensive cedar removal. Davis recognizes that these programs are tools that farmers and ranchers have available to help implement and maintain specific conservation practices and encourage better land management.
Davis currently owns 500 acres and leases an additional 160. In the past, Davis farmed portions of his land growing wheat, haygrazer, soybeans, and maize. He retired from the farming side of his operation and now concentrates his efforts on running a beef cattle operation, a task he acknowledges has been more difficult during this ongoing severe cold weather situation.
Davis is active in the local ag community. He serves as a Conservation and Agriculture Reach Everyone (CARE) Champion for our conservation district. CARE Champions promote USDA programs throughout their community and encourage fellow producers to utilize available programs that fit their needs. Davis served as secretary of the National Black Farmers Association from 1997-2003. In 1997, he formed the Oklahoma Black Farmers Association, and he continues to serve as the association’s president.
Laura Pollard Appointed to Serve on Conservation District Board
The newest member of the Conservation District Board of Directors is a welcome and very familiar face. Laura Pollard worked as District Manager for the Conservation District for twelve years from 1987-1999. While serving as District Manager, Pollard was awarded the Conservation Education Award from the All Oklahoma Chapter of the Soil and Water Conservation Society.
Laura is a graduate of Oklahoma State University with a degree in Wildlife Biology and a minor in Journalism. After graduation, Laura received an internship with the National Wildlife Federation in Washington D.C. where she wrote for the Conservation News publication. When she returned to Oklahoma, Laura was hired as an Information Specialist with the Department of Wildlife Conservation where her responsibilities included shooting and editing film for the Outdoor Oklahoma television program and serving as on air host for five years; photography and writing for Outdoor Oklahoma magazine; coordinating the Project WILD teacher training program; and then serving as the Information Specialist for the Nongame program (now known as the Wildlife Diversity Program). Laura was awarded the Wendell Weaver award from the Oklahoma/National Wildlife Federation and Phillips Foundation in 1984 for her efforts in promoting the Nongame program.
Laura was appointed by the Oklahoma Conservation Commission to serve out the unexpired term of Director Debbie Straughn who resigned in March. We welcome Laura to our Board!!
Campbell Selected for 2018 Conservation Leadership Class
The Oklahoma County Conservation District is pleased to announce Phil Campbell has been selected to participate in the 2018 Oklahoma Association of Conservation District's Conservation Leadership Class. Campbell was selected from over 400 eligible conservation district directors to participate in the year long program.
The Conservation Leadership Class participants will travel across the state to learn about Oklahoma's diverse natural resources and the services that our state's 85 conservation districts provide to their local communities.
The Conservation Leadership Class program is comprised of five 2-day sessions where participants will learn more about the Oklahoma Conservation District Act, grassroots advocacy, soil health, water quality, invasive plant and animal species, watershed operation and maintenance, conservation planning, and the history of conservation in Oklahoma. Campbell wanted to participate in the Leadership Class to increase his knowledge of conservation practices used across our county and state. He has served on the conservation district board since his was appointed to the position in 2016 to replace retiring director Richard Parker.
The Leadership Class is provided free to the fifteen selected conservation district directors through the generous support of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts, Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Oklahoma Conservation Commission, and the Cherokee Nation.
The Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts is a non-profit organization representing Oklahoma's 85 conservation districts to provide leadership, resources and partnership opportunities for those who manage the land to enhance our natural resources for a better Oklahoma. For more information, visit www.okconservation.org.
Feral Hog Trap and Carcass Disposal Information Available
Feral swine are an invasive species that cause more than $1.5 billion annually in damage and management costs nationwide according to USDA. Elimination of feral swine is of special interest to the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts because feral hogs' rooting and wallowing activity is proven to increase erosion, especially in wetlands and along waterways. Large groups of feral swine are responsible for contaminating water sources through deposition of fecal material in concentrated areas which results in an increased risk for disease among humans, wildlife, and livestock.
The Oklahoma Department of Agriculture Food, and Forestry (ODAFF) is partnering with conservation district to make steel hog gates available to conservation districts. The Oklahoma County Conservation District does currently have one of these hog gates available to loan. We do not have the fence panels to use with the gate. You may download the plans for the Missouri Hog Gate and ODAFF rules for carcass disposal here on our website.
Below is a short list of resources you may also find useful as you work to alleviate your feral hog problem.
World's Muddiest Academic Contest Introduces Students to
Soil and Range Health
STILLWATER, Okla., June 17, 2016—With mud caked boots, furrowed brows and dusty clipboards, over 500 high school students hushedly sidestep each other through a maze of tiny plastic flags and trenches cut into the bright red soil of the Oklahoma prairie. The peculiar scene has been a May tradition in the outskirts of Oklahoma City for 65 years.
The National Land and Range Judging Contest is the culmination of local and state contests where FFA and 4-H teams use their knowledge of soil science and rangeland ecology to evaluate the land for agricultural and residential uses. At the national level, the best teams from over 30 states compete for the championship trophy. Along with several state agencies and organizations including the Oklahoma Conservation Commission and conservation districts, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) technical staff have helped run and officiate the contest from the beginning.
“This contest is an excellent opportunity to introduce youth to the land from a management and technical perspective. For kids who are already interested in natural resources, this gives them a solid scientific foundation to continue pursuing their interests,” says Steve Alspach, NRCS state soil scientist for Oklahoma.
Perhaps no one understands the unique impact of the contest better than Don Bartolina, retired NRCS district conservationist for Oklahoma County. He got involved with the contest when he began working for NRCS as a soil scientist in 1961. By 1985, Don was contest coordinator—responsible for making sure all the moving parts of the contest come together—and he’s never missed a contest.
“The contest was part of my NRCS training,” says Don. “When you’re out there and the kids are asking questions, that’s when you learn.”
In his time with the contest, at least 27,000 students have traveled to Oklahoma to compete, but for him, it’s not just about the competition, it’s about introducing youth to the natural world. He admits many of the competitors won’t go on to be involved in agriculture, but thinks there’s still value in their participation.
“It gives kids an appreciation for the land,” he says. “When you think of all the state and local contests that lead up to this, the number of students and coaches involved, it’s rewarding to know you’ve had some impact on their lives.”
The contest is comprised of three events held concurrently at the same secret location. In the land judging event, contestants enter several three to five foot deep pits to evaluate the qualities of the soil and determine its potential for agricultural production. Range judging contestants rotate through roped off rangeland sites to identify plant species and determine the site’s value for cattle production and quail habitat. Homesite evaluation challenges contestants to determine the value of a site for residential development.
Don is quick to remind people that while he’s the coordinator, it takes the time and resources of numerous organizations to make the contest possible. To touch so many lives every year requires the close cooperation of several public and private partners.
“It’s a labor of love,” says Don. “There’s not another contest with this many people from so many places working for the same thing. I hope it continues and I hope new people can get involved and keep it going.”
With the 65th annual contest, now under his belt, Don can look to other volunteer activities he participates in for Oklahoma County Conservation District and, of course, planning for next year’s contest.
Article courtesy Robert Hathorne, Public Affairs Specialist, NRCS
National Contest Puts STEM Skills to the Test
Over 100 FFA and 4H teams from across the country will converge on Oklahoma City May 3-5 for the 65th Annual National Land and Range Judging Contest. Qualifying teams from 34 states will challenge their knowledge of soil and plant science, land management and natural resources conservation in the field. Oklahoma is expected to send 10 teams to the event.
Officiation and on-site technical assistance for all three days of the contest is provided by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Oklahoma Conservation Commission, Oklahoma State University and The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation.
“These contestants represent the next generation of farmers, ranchers, conservationists and land managers,” said Steve Alspach, NRCS state soil scientist for Oklahoma. “Events like this are as much an opportunity for us to introduce high school students to a potential career with USDA as it is a STEM learning experience for them.”
STEM is a curriculum focused on the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The contest is comprised of three events: land, range and home site evaluation. Land judging contestants will enter several three to five foot deep pits to evaluate the qualities of the soil and determine its potential for agricultural production. Range judging contestants will visit several rangeland sites to identify plant species and determine the site’s value for cattle production and quail habitat. The home site evaluation event challenges contestants to determine the value of a site for residential development.
During the first two days of the event, teams will have the opportunity to familiarize themselves with Oklahoma’s soils and rangeland at two practice sites. The official contest on the third day takes place at a secret location that is revealed the morning of the contest. This ensures all teams are experiencing the official site for the first time.
Contest winners will be announced the evening of May 5 during a banquet at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.
Contest sponsors are Oklahoma AgCredit, Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts, The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, American Farmers & Ranchers, National Conservation Foundation, The Sirloin Club of Oklahoma, Oklahoma City Convention and Visitors Bureau, Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts Auxiliary, Oklahoma Farm Bureau, Wyndham Garden OKC Airport, Catering by Finley, Lee Roy and Sylvia Hudson, Parker Land and Cattle Company, Oklahoma Association of Conservation District Employees, Soil and Water Conservation Society Oklahoma Chapter and Society for Range Management Oklahoma Section.
Supporting governments and agencies are NRCS, Oklahoma Conservation Commission, Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Oklahoma Department of Career & Technology Education, and Oklahoma State University.
Newly Approved Rules for Feral Hogs
The State Board of Agriculture on Tuesday approved proposed regulations pertaining to Feral Swine.
The measure was approved by a 5-0 vote of the board during the regular March board meeting at the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry (ODAFF), 2800 N Lincoln Blvd.
The purpose of these rules is to implement the provisions of the Feral Swine Control Act and to adopt aggressive measures for the eradication of all feral swine in the State of Oklahoma. Feral swine are a non-native invasive species to Oklahoma that detrimentally impact agricultural production and natural resources in Oklahoma. As feral swine populations increase, citizens of Oklahoma suffer damage to crops, livestock and wildlife habitat. Feral swine pose a health risk to humans, livestock, companion animals and native wildlife. The Department's goal is to render the State of Oklahoma free of feral swine. The Department shall investigate and implement new population control methods, technologies, and toxicants as they become available to achieve this goal.
The approved rules will now go to the state Legislature and Governor for review and approval.
If approved by the Legislature and Governor, these rules will become effective in mid-September.
Feral Swine Rule Summary
1. States purpose and goal. As new methods for eradication become available, no effort will be made to preserve feral swine or the accompanying industry. The Department's goal is to render the State of Oklahoma free of feral swine. The Department shall investigate and implement new population control methods, technologies, and toxicants as they become available to achieve this goal.
2. Creates a moratorium on licensing of new feral swine hunting facilities. The previous moratorium beginning January 27, 2015 was Board order with an expiration date.
3. Creates a tracking system for transporters of feral hogs. Adds a $25 annual transport license for feral hog transporters. Previous license was free and lasted 5 years. There was a five year lag of who is really active in transportation and if someone was caught illegally transporting a phone call and a free license was the remedy.
4. Creates a 24 hour transport permit. If hauling a feral hog you must have a specific permit for each load identifying how many and where they are going. Currently, there is no enforcement tool for law enforcement to easily identify those who are illegally transporting swine. Our intent is to make these permits accessible by a smart phone app. Transporters can click their location, number of hogs, delivery point, and receive the permit number. This 24 hour permit is free and is only for tracking purposes and to give law enforcement personnel the ability to easily determine if the transporter is legally transporting the feral swine.
5. Requires feral swine hunting facilities to keep records on the number of feral swine entering and exiting the facilities and send them in monthly. This will validate and keep accurate information that is only estimated currently.
6. Creates a Feral Swine Free Zone – Prohibits feral swine facilities in the zone, prohibits any transport of feral swine into the Zone.
7. Adds a $25 Captive hog hunter fee – Feral Hog Hunt Facilities will charge and remit a $25 captive hunt fee to ODAFF that will be used for enforcement purposes.
Funds raised with the fees in these rules will be used:
• To create the smartphone app and software compatibility to institute the 24 hour transport permit
• To purchase hog traps for Oklahoma Conservation Districts to rent to landowners and to train landowners and districts how to trap hogs effectively.
• To set up a 24 hour hotline for illegal feral swine transportation or release complaints
• To investigate more effectively illegal transportation of feral swine.
in Damages Prevented by Dams, Conservation Practices During Historic May
Millions in Damages Prevented by Dams, Conservation Practices During Historic May Rainfall
Oklahoma’s network of 2,107 flood control dams and voluntary conservation practices prevented an estimated $22.57 million in flood damages from the May 1-9 storms according to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Water Resource Office.
“The flood control network was designed to protect farmland, roads, bridges, homes and lives, and that’s exactly what we’ve seen over the last week of rainfall,” said Trey Lam, Oklahoma Conservation Commission (OCC) executive director. “Like any form of infrastructure, operation and maintenance of these dams is critical if we hope to continue reaping the benefits they provide.”
According to Oklahoma Mesonet, May 2015 is so far the wettest since 1921. Some of the hardest working dam clusters over the last 10 days include:
- Fourche Maline Creek watershed, Latimer County, 14 dams, 9.97 inches of rain, $819,272 in damage prevented (Above photo)
- Upper Clear Boggy Creek watershed, Coal, Johnston, and Pontotoc Counties, 49 dams, 10.1 inches of rain, $1,029,641 in damage prevented
- Sandy Creek watershed, Garvin and Pontotoc Counties, 29 dams, 8.11 inches of rain, $764,362 in damage prevented
- Okfuskee Tributaries, Okfuskee and Okmulgee Counties, 29 dams, 7.89 inches of rain, $693,985 in damage prevented
Rainfall averages from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
“Local conservation districts and the private landowners they work with also deserve credit for this success,” said Gary O’Neill, NRCS state conservationist. “It’s important we not lose sight of the other side of the coin—soil health. Healthy soils achieved through voluntary conservation practices are crucial to halting the extensive flood and wind related erosion witnessed in this state during the 1930s and ‘50s.”
Practices such as no-till farming and stream bank fencing mean stabilizing ground cover is in place when floodwaters rise. Due to higher levels of organic matter above and within the soil, healthy soil withstands flooding, erosion and drought better than bare or plowed soil.
“High residue, no-till and cover crops build soil that is more resilient to climate extremes—both flood and drought.” said Greg Scott, OCC soil scientist. “Organic matter, earthworms and roots hold soil in place and provide pathways through the soil for water to infiltrate. Bare soil seals off, crusts over and can be almost as ineffective as concrete at absorbing water, especially in flood events.”