Oklahoma Extension Program Connects Urban Youth to Agriculture
WOODWARD, Oklahoma – “It feels like spaghetti!” yelled one Oklahoma high school student, in reference to the mound of red wigglers in her hand.
That relatable description was enough for other students to drop their hesitation and jump into making a worm compost bin at the Anichini-Moore Ranch & Farm in Woodward on a recent, hot summer afternoon.
The activity for this group of 9th and 10th graders was part of their introduction to sustainable agriculture and the interconnectivity of production techniques, soil management, water conservation, environmental stewardship, and ecological processes that drives the success of this Oklahoma farm located in a region plagued by water shortages, extreme weather events, and various agricultural challenges.
“The farm is a diverse working farm with an equally diverse educational mission related to resiliency that has become more important with our persistent and prolonged extreme weather cycles,” said Kathy Moore, Anichini-Moore Ranch & Farm owner/operator. “I hope that by exposing the students to the benefits of growing in cooperation with nature they will see agriculture differently, or with a new perspective, and also see how small farms can be economic generators for their communities.”
The educational effort is part of Camp T.U.R.F., a two-week Oklahoma State University Extension summer program that introduces at-risk urban youth to opportunities in agriculture. Camp T.U.R.F. (Tomorrow’s Undergraduates Realizing the Future), in its fourth year, is targeted to high school students who will be the first in their families to attend college. The program is sponsored by the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education and the OSU Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture.
The agro-ecology tour of Anichini-Moore Ranch & Farm was sponsored by the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) program, OSU Extension, Anichini-Moore Ranch & Farm, Woodward Farmers Market Association, and the Woodward Convention and Visitors Bureau.
During the tour, both students and adults learned about heritage livestock breeds, including Large Black pigs and Belted Galloway cattle; rain water harvesting; soil composting; production diversity; environmental management; and recycling – and how the sustainable ag practices play a part in soil building, erosion control, improved water quality, plant health, and a balanced ecosystem. In addition, the students learned how the practices on the farm help support area communities by producing local foods and value-added products.
“My goal is to demonstrate how small farms and ranches may be risk management tools for food production at the local/regional levels and why it is important for land grant universities and small farmers and ranchers to work together,” said Moore, a Southern SARE Administrative Council member. “I think it's important to share the philosophy of the farm to expose students and the public to the idea that there is actually a menu of alternative ideas and solutions to producing food and solving common agriculture and horticulture issues.”
Anichini-Moore Ranch & Farm was purchased in 1995. At the time it was highly erodible land with one water well and no windmill or electricity. The only observed wildlife was grasshoppers and rattlesnakes, recounts Moore. Today, the farm is an example of a balanced ecosystem of soil and water quality, wildlife habitats, heritage livestock and heirloom fruits and vegetables – all supported by organic methodologies and products.
For more information on Camp T.U.R.F., visit the OSU Horticulture and Landscape Architecture website.
Published by the Southern Region of the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program. Funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), Southern SARE operates under cooperative agreements with the University of Georgia, Fort Valley State University, and the Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture to offer competitive grants to advance sustainable agriculture in America's Southern region.