By TEDDYE SNELL
The Tahlequah area is well-known for its natural beauty, and it takes a certain amount of stewardship to keep it that way.
An annual sustainability campaign kicked off last week, and although it is dubbed “National Green Week,” the event actually lasts through Earth Week, April 22-30. The campaign is the brainchild of the Green Education Foundation, which encourages schools across the country to adopt a theme – waste reduction, sustainable water, green energy, green building, etc. – for one week during the six-week observance and build lesson plans and projects to raise awareness.
Locally, a number of groups exist with eco-stewardship in mind, including Save The Illinois River Inc., the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission and the Tahlequah Farmers’ Market. Tahlequah is also home to many residents who take sustainability seriously, and one of those is Coleen Thornton, TFM member, co-owner of Heaven Sent Food and Fiber, and sustainable agriculturalist.
“Our biggest thing is building back the soil and returning to a more natural process of growing, which reduces the use of fossil fuels and soil erosion,” said Thornton. “We employ pasture rotation and do a lot of composting, which increases the growth of the grasses. We use a system of plastic mulch, and are moving to a biodegradable mulch that will dissipate over one growing season.”
Thornton sometimes uses draft horses, similar to those used on Amish farms, to pull equipment.
“I don’t use them for everything,” said Thornton. “But my equipment is rigged to use either the horses or a tractor, and I try to use the horses at every opportunity. When the soil is wet, I can use them and it doesn’t compact the soil, and it also reduces our use of fossil fuels.”
Heaven Sent Food and Fiber is now recognized as a community-supported agriculture (CSA) farm, which is an operation supported by shareholders in the community. For an annual membership fee, which varies depending on the package selected, members receive boxes of food weekly that includes vegetables, meats or a combination of both.
“Heaven Sent Food and Fiber provides what we have been told is now called a ‘full diet’ farm-based CSA, because we produce not only vegetables but meat, grains, fruit, honey, etc.,” said Thornton.
STIR’s mission is to preserve water quality within the Illinois River watershed and Lake Tenkiller area. A recent “green” effort by STIR has been to provide pet waste disposal stations to cities, state parks and recreation areas in the Illinois River watershed. Locations include Tahlequah and Siloam Springs, Tontitown and Lowell, Ark. Park locations include Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission public use areas, Tenkiller State Park and Cherokee Landing State Park at Tenkiller Lake.
“The stations dispense biodegradable plastic bags for pet owners to use in order to clean up after their pets,” said STIR President Denise Deason-Toyne. “This helps protect the river and the lake from pollution from nutrients and bacteria. We have had very good cooperation from the Tahlequah Parks Department, the mayor’s office, OSRC and the state parks department.”
Illinois River Village resident Cherae Stone recently moved from her historic 3,000 square-foot home to a living space of 240 square feet to reduce her eco-footprint.
“The most green feature of my home is its size,” said Stone. “It requires much less energy to heat and cool than an average home, and I use no toxic chemicals in its care and cleaning. There’s far too much toxicity in our everyday environment without adding more when natural substances will do a better job and at a much lower cost to our pocketbooks and our environment. It just makes sense.”
Tenkiller area resident Renee LaCombe becomes incensed when she sees people littering.
“That is so selfish and disgusting,” said LaCombe. “I’m no saint, but I take my own reusable bags to the store. It really gets on my nerves when store checkers stick three, two, or sometimes only one thing in those bags. The box they come in even says right on it ‘try to put six items per bag.’ I combine the stuff to fewer bags, which I know they find annoying.”
LaCombe also keeps an eye on product packaging for a variety of reasons.
“Even if it didn’t pollute the land and the oceans, foolish waste makes me sick,” said LaCombe. “I also refuse to buy anything with ridiculous over-packaging.”