Mike Appel & Emily Oakley

by Rebekah Greiman


Just past the beehives, the blueberries, and the asparagus, the fields are being prepared for the spring planting. The cover crops, planted in the winter to prevent erosion and improve the soil, are close to being tilled under. Inside the greenhouse, tiny seedlings are sprouting to life. Mike kneels in the dirt, pulling weeds from around the fledgling strawberries.

“It’s just us out here,” said Mike. “Whether we survive or fail is left up to us. We could do everything right, and one dip in the temperatures that we aren’t ready for—like last year’s 27 degrees below—and we’ve lost an entire crop.”

Mike Appel and Emily Oakley bought the farm—six-plus acres of farmland in Oaks, about an hour east of Tulsa on Oklahoma 412. A wooden barn, an ancient spring cellar, and a forlorn 1920s farmhouse came with the purchase of the land. The couple tore down walls in the home to make a living room, added a second bathroom onto an old mud porch, ripped up linoleum and carpet, and busted a hole into the attic to make more living space.

“We looked at probably over 150 different properties before we bought this one,” Emily said. “The house was in rough shape—it didn’t have any interior doors, heat, air conditioning—but the land was perfect for organic farming.”

Rufus Newsome discusses growing up poor and hungry in Mississippi, growing his own food, and community gardening.

The couple raises kale, strawberries, green beans, spinach, and anything else the soil and the weather allows. They stretch the April-to-October market season with a succession planting process. Meaning, as one bunch of carrots becomes ready for the dinner table, another row is planted. As they plant carrots, they harvest carrots; they plant some, they harvest some, and so on.

“A lot of people think it can’t be done,” Emily said. “People were telling us, ‘You won’t make it here with this soil. You can’t be organic and grow fruits and vegetables in Oklahoma and make money at it.’ But eight years later, here we are, making a living at it together.”

They alone run their business and work the land throughout the 115-degree summers, pulling weeds, hoeing rows and corralling their two dogs and three cats out of the greenhouse. There are no workers, no grad students to help out, and no easy fixes.

The way on and off the farm is over a makeshift bridge of twin steel I-beams. Once crossed, it’s over an hour back to Tulsa and suburbia, where most of the produce is found under fluorescent lighting and cellophane wrapping. At least until April, when Mike, Emily, and 70 other vendors will provide tender piles of produce at the Cherry Street Farmer’s Market, and bring the farm back into the city.