The idea of local, sustainable food isn’t new. It’s pretty much the only way early settlers on the Oklahoma prairie didn’t starve to death.
But in the 21st century, everything from home gardens, to restaurants, to huge organic agribusinesses help pass the practices, and the connection between the land and the food that comes from it, to future generations.
Katie Shauberger’s yard has two small garden plots, which she showed me on a cool September night. Katie is a senior at The University of Oklahoma and an avid gardener who has many reasons for growing her own food
“Well I guess there’s a bit of satisfaction in eating something you grew. You’ve taken the time and you’ve walked out there each morning to water it and weed it but actually putting it in a frying pan and tasting the difference between something from your garden or from a local garden versus something that’s flown halfway across the world, you can taste the difference.”
She sees herself as part of a movement in Oklahoma, and throughout the country
“Our parents’ generation and a little bit before grew up on the farm in a way that it was a chore, it was something they were getting away from. To be able to move into suburbia was the goal. Our generation did not grow up on the farm. We’ve seen that the city is just as bad in some ways. And so, I feel like more of our generation is pushing to go back.”
While Katie is gardening on a fairly small scale, others of her generation are setting their sights on bigger things, like OSU-OKC student Cody Yount.
“The dream is to eventually own my own farm either in Oklahoma or Northwest Arkansas,” Yount said.
Cody has something, like many people his age, threatening to make his dreams impossible
“Student loan debt. The idea of owning my own home let alone a couple hundred acres is completely out of the question.”
One of the most ambitious examples of the movement in Oklahoma is Nani. Nani is a Japanese and Native American fusion restaurant whose chefs are all under thirty. One of these chefs, Colin Stringer, has very specific ideas about how food should be sourced.
“Obviously if we have the choice we want to source local as much as possible. Whether that means going out and picking it ourselves in a wildlife refuge, or whether that means hitting up matt from urban agrarian. If we do bring proteins from out of state in they are always sustainable. That’s very important to us.”
Colin wants his home state of Oklahoma to be a competitor in the arena of what he calls “disciplined food”
“There is a disconnect between what most people view as that sort of food and what is actually available here. And so, we look up to a lot of chefs in other places who inspire us and the reason we are in Oklahoma and not in New York or not in San Francisco or not in Denmark is because we really care about this place we grew up in. This is our home and we want to be a catalyst for this city.”
At Nani, everything is been built from the ground up. They grow their own herbs in one of the upstairs rooms of the old house where they host their dinner club. They made their own plates out of items like picture frames and paving slates. They even called in a friend to build the large communal table where guests get to know each other while sharing a meal. Part of this philosophy of self-sufficiency means learning as you go.
“I kind of think anyone who is starting a business or starting something for the first time is actually more ill-equipped than they think they are. We’re not necessarily equipped to do it but I think it’s the idea of everyday being like “We’re not the perfect candidates to do this, but we have the passion and the will power to do it anyway.””
Although they are all doing things in their own way, one thing that these young people say in common is that they debt they owe to the generation that came before.Like for Colin:
“I was fortunate at my last job to really have a role model chef who didn’t waste anything. Like I’ve never seen anyone do it. That’s something we’re getting better and better at everyday.”
Or for Cody:
“Crow Family Farms out of Shawnee. They’re amazing. They’ve been farming for forever. When I think of family farmers and when I think of farmers in America, it’s them.”
Or for Katie,
“I definitely owe this to my mom. She’s had a vegetable garden from as long as I can remember and she had me out there ever single time. Whether it was just playing in the dirt or picking up bugs or finally poking in seeds or taking care of the gardens. She made sure it never felt like a chore it was always something that was fun. It was her love of gardening that definitely got me to make my own gardens.”