This year’s cover crop of barley and wheat is designed to put nutrients back into this plot of Western Oklahoma soil.
Picking through a small box full of small seeds, farmer Jimmy Emmons points out, “There’s squash in here. There’s peas in here.”
But he is about to plant up to 70 other plant varieties too.
“It’s kind of neat,” he says. “And another 30 that’s just a cover crop.”
He’s been doing this on small acreages for the past few years, experimenting with a seed drill and the kinds of plans you might find in your own backyard garden, but just all mixed up.
“There are 35 to 37 different vegetables,” he says.
The idea was born from a conversation at the Oklahoma Conservation Commission to add vegetable crops to traditional cover crops. The result, thought Emmons, might feed more local people.
“I was vice president of the conservation districts in Oklahoma at the time,” he said.
His brainstorm, “If we could partner with a local food bank, we could donate those vegetables, and how neat that would be.”
Here’s how it works.
Jimmy plants his MILPA seed mix.
Then he flattens down the barley to form a protective mat.
“We’ll come in and lay all this down,” he demonstrates. “So weeds can’t grow through that.”
Less than six weeks later, his big garden is producing fresh vegetables for nearby food pantries and community centers.
No long transports or production centers needed.
Jimmy argues, “This is a way we can get back to locally grown, locally raised, very nutritious food that’s healthy.”
This garden doesn’t have any rows.
Some people have taken to calling these plots ‘chaos gardens’, though organizers prefer other names.
Picking requires hunting through the underbrush to find the okra, cucumbers or melons, but there is a lot in there.
“I know in the past we picked a thousand pounds a day out of this plot,” he says. “Some days were 2,000 to 3,000 pounds.”
Emmon’s parents and grandparents never ate store-bought veggies when they could pick from their own gardens.
These kinds of gardens, springing up on fallow farmland across the Great Plains might just do the same job for a lot of other families who really need it right now.
Produce from Emmon’s garden patch east of Leedey, Okla., goes to food banks in nearby Taloga, Woodward and Vici.
Emmons figures there are now at least 30 of these cover crop gardens growing across the state.