Beaver County Extension

Oklahoma Market Garden School helping fruit and vegetable producers bloom


Lynn Brandenberger, OSU Cooperative Extension horticulture food crops specialist, visits with a participant in the Oklahoma Market Garden School hosted at Langston University.

The Oklahoma Market Garden School isn’t exactly a secret. It’s been around for 10 years. But for growers interested in the latest and greatest inside scoop on the management, production and marketing of fruit and vegetable crops, the school just might provide a few secrets to success.

Targeting both new and experienced growers, the curriculum focuses on a wide range of topics such as getting organized, soils and fertilizer management, crop establishment and irrigation, production guidelines for fruit and vegetable crops, season extension, pest management, food safety and marketing.

This year, specialists and experts from Oklahoma State University, Langston University, Noble Research Institute and the Oklahoma Wheat Commission shared their knowledge with participants.

The chance to learn something new is what attracted Ben Coffin of Guthrie to the course.

“It’s always good to learn some new things from different people,” said Coffin, who has fruit trees and grows numerous vegetable crops, which he has been selling at farmer’s markets in Guthrie and Edmond for the past 5 years. He also uses what he produces in his catering business.

“I’ve already picked up a few ideas of different ways, some of the information around soils and the different methods of how to build up your soil organically,” he said.

Micah Anderson, Langston Extension horticulture educator and a course presenter, said even experienced growers will discover new techniques, strategies and knowledge through the class.  

“Even though they have experience, they can understand more about what they’re doing and get a better handle on what they’re doing,” Anderson said.

Experienced or not, the school has something for everyone.

Backyard gardener Nichelle Tipton of Oklahoma City, who was attending the course with her mother, also was drawn to the course for the knowledge she could gain.

“Anytime they’re doing anything on any type of vegetable, we go to that. We always learn something new,” said Tipton, who pointed out she’d recently picked up a tip from another course participant about growing potatoes. “We’d been wanting to try growing potatoes in something other than just digging them up and destroying your potatoes. I’d seen what she talked about on Pinterest, so it’s just getting ideas on how to grow things differently.”

Meanwhile, Langston junior agricultural business major Alisa Sims said when she heard about the class and learned she could take it for free, she jumped at the opportunity.

“Growing up, my mother basically was always outside gardening and I was never interested in gardening until now,” she said.

Though she doesn’t yet have space to apply all she’s learned through the course, Sims has been helping Anderson with some cabbage trials ongoing at Langston and this summer she will be participating in horticulture research on plasticulture at OSU.

Beyond doing a deep dive into successfully growing vegetables and fruits, the school also does some important work on broader levels.

“One thing I get excited about is the thought that people can basically become independent small business people based on what they learn in this school. That could be in an urban environment or it could be in a rural environment,” said Lynn Brandenberger, OSU Cooperative Extension horticulture food crops specialist. “There’s a tremendous amount of potential there, particularly for young people. In this part of the food business, we can start out really small and then grow.”

Brandenberger, who is one of the specialists leading the course at Langston, partnered with Steve Upson, former OSU Cooperative Extension horticulture specialist and current senior consultant with the Noble Research Institute, to develop the school a decade ago.

He explained while agronomic crops like corn, wheat and soybeans, require major investments in equipment and lots of acreage to be profitable, raising vegetables and fruits is very doable with less equipment and land.

“They can start with a shovel, rake and hoe and get going,” he said. “They’re not going to make their living the first year like that, but they could actually start that small, learn how to do it and then grow. So, I think this has tremendous potential for small business growth, I really do.”

Anderson also sees the school as a good way of breaking down cultural barriers.

“Everybody’s got to eat,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what color people are or what nationality, they can all relate to a garden and agriculture. There’s no barriers when you’re talking about farming and gardening.”

Langston’s focus on horticulture is new – Anderson has been in his present position since November – and this is the first time the Historically Black College/University has hosted the course.

He provided shuttle service from the university’s Oklahoma City campus hoping to entice a different audience to the course.

“With Langston being involved, we’re able to bring in another group of people that normally hadn’t been coming,” Anderson said. “Running a bus down to Langston’s Oklahoma City campus means we’re able to bring in some people in the inner-city and urban gardeners who normally probably wouldn’t have come to a regular session they’ve had in the past.”

Ultimately, Brandenberger believes the school is crucial to enterprising fruit and vegetable growers, but has plenty of implications for nongrowers as well, given the strong emphasis on eating healthier. Initiatives like this course also help inject diversity into the food production system.

“It’s a key aspect of producing food locally for people to have it available for them locally,” he said. “We need to be a more diversified system where we’ve got things being produced all across the country. Weather events and other events could happen and really interrupt the production of food in specific areas of the country. If it’s much more diverse, the system is a lot more robust and can handle things that might come up.”

The Oklahoma Market Garden School has been offered at least once a year since 2008. Plans are underway to develop an electronic version of the course.

For more information about the school, contact the nearest local county OSU Extension office.  

Story by Leilana McKindra

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