Tahlequah Daily Press

June 25, 2012

Organic farming reduces footprint

Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — Barefoot Farm owners Johnny and Karen White discussed low-impact gardening and eating locally-grown food as part of the Tahlequah Public Library’s Living Green Series on Thursday.

Karen said her husband is the primary farmer, and she takes center stage to give public presentations of their experience of becoming a certified organic farmers. Karen gained public-speaking credentials as a part-time lecturer at Northeastern State University and dietitian with Cherokee Elder Care.

According to Barefoot Farm information listed on the Local Harvest website, the White’s certified-organic farm is an all-natural plantation that is an extension of their low-impact homestead, which is heated with a wood stove, said Karen. Barefoot Farm uses a single acre to produce a wide range of produce, free-range eggs, and dairy goats; as well as a few grass-fed cattle on adjoining land. The Rose-based farm got its name from the fact that the farmers are often barefooted when working.

“Organic is just a system that minimizes pesticide use, and it only allows certain ones that are usually made from plants and flowers and things like that,” she said. “They’re not usually broad-spectrum things that kill off little insects like lady bugs and things. And it helps build the soil to keep it fertile. You’re just trying to make a healthier plant and reduce pesticide use.”

Healthy, natural growing conditions and the benefits of buying and eating locally-produced food encompassed Thursday’s presentation of why those issues are important.

“It’s obviously fresher and that affects nutrition,” said Karen.

“The longer it’s off the plant, it loses nutrients. There are certain vitamins that are more susceptible to degradation over time, so [locally-grown] things are healthier and it keeps you in touch with the seasons. If you’re eating raspberries in January that are from the frozen section, they’re not from here. So you kind of lose appreciation for them. I guess it’s pronounced more when you’re eating those things from where you are only when they’re in season. When the strawberries come in and they’re local, they taste so much better than strawberries shipped in from somewhere on the continent over the winter.”

Eating locally-grown vegetables and fruit or land-grazed cattle also helps reduce the carbon footprint made by mass-food production and delivery.

“Most local producers, I think, are more sustainably minded and on a smaller scale,” she said. “When you have a lot of animals on a big feedlot, then you have a manure problem. It used to be, on a small farm, you could work manure into your garden and make it more fertile, but you’re potentially polluting water – like when we think of the chicken farms getting into the Illinois River from runoff from chicken manure and things like that. It’s in reducing your footprint so that your food doesn’t have to travel as far in terms of using a bunch of oil being trucked here and keeping your food dollars local.”

White said she anticipates food prices at grocery stores will continue to rise with the cost of oil production.

“When we have a local food system, we have alternatives, and I envision down the road that it’ll be cheaper to shop locally than to buy from the grocery store,” she said. “I’ve been thinking about when we go to the farmers’ market every week. After we finish selling I separate our funds, and this week I went grocery shopping with some of the money, and I was buying food for my family from money we got at the farmers’ market. I just love that idea. I hope you guys feel good about supporting my grocery shopping, but it’s kind of neat. It didn’t have to go through all of these different channels. We could just survive off of having these local businesses.”

The Whites invited those interested in learning more about organic farming and eating locally-grown food to visit them at Barefoot Farm, at 1689 N. 485 Road in Rose, or call (918) 479-4700.

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