21 October 2010

Bruce Edwards - Urban Harvest Oklahoma City

Fighting Hunger … Feeding Hope is the slogan of the Oklahoma City Regional Food Bank - www.regionalfoodbank.org. The program distributed 36.5 million pounds of food during Fiscal Year 2009, through 450 agencies in 54 Central and Western Oklahoma counties.

In addition to distributing donated and purchased food, the facility has a 3.5 acre working farm. Bruce Edwards, director of Urban Harvest, is the man behind the gardens. With one, half-time, employee and dedicated volunteers, the farm grows fruit, vegetables, and herbs for families.

Edwards' job description barely covers the tasks and responsibilities to which he applies his creativity and energy.

The program offers basic sustainable gardening classes to the public. Last spring a few hundred people attended and many grew their first gardens. Edwards taught raised bed gardening, organic pest control, container gardening, composting and worm composting. The classes are offered on a sliding scale of $5 to $25 and are free for those with low or fixed incomes.

We encourage class participants to take out part of their lawn and put in plants that they can grow to feed themselves good food, said Edwards.

Of equal importance is the fact that the garden produces food that is distributed primarily to programs that feed children. Crops included peppers, okra, tomatoes, strawberries, cucumbers, squash, other seasonal vegetables and herbs.

The orchard has peach, pear and plum trees so far, Edwards said. We are putting a fence around the orchard to protect the trees from beavers and fencing provides a trellis to grow black berries and blueberries.

The current 28-foot by 48-foot hoop house is being converted to grow strawberries in 7-foot tall, vertical Hydrostacker pots. The fruit from the 2,520 plants will be distributed to children through programs such as Boys and Girls Clubs next spring.

Edwards wants to use a new 12 by 20 foot hoop house to show back yard gardeners that they can extend the length of their harvest by growing vegetables earlier in the spring and later in the fall. It will be inexpensively constructed with PVC pipe, cattle panels and 6-mil plastic.

Edwards believes in composting everything possible to keep the soil healthy and productive.

Donated baked goods are removed from their packaging by volunteers and then added to the compost pile.

The Food Bank receives fresh produce which sometimes arrives spoiled, damaged or out of date, said Edwards. This year we composted 280,000 pounds of food waste.

In the composting teaching area, volunteers called Red Dirt Soil Builders, learn to compost. After training, they volunteer 50 hours of work in exchange for free compost.

We keep costs to a minimum, Edwards said. The wood we used for the worm barn was all salvage. A machine separates the contents of the worm bins. The castings are applied to the gardens and offered for sale.

The worm barn

In the greenhouse, Edwards raises seedlings from February to April, for 42 community gardens which he supports with training, fertilizer, equipment and seeds.

Edwards gives talks about his unique tilapia raising and Aquaponics system. One-inch tilapia are raised in a tank for a few months, and then moved to a larger tank to mature into a sellable size of 1.5 lbs in about 9-12 months time.

Tilapia in the tank


Water pumped through the fish tanks is filtered and sent into vegetable growing areas. In 4-to-6 week intervals, 850 units of lettuce or other greens can be harvested each year.

A low-cost, low-tech Aquaponic system has Tilapia on the bottom with water pumped to the top bed, then to a middle bed where Edwards grows micro-greens and herbs in coir and worm castings.

In the demonstration community garden, Food Bank employees grow food which they use or donate. Cover crops go in next.

Edwards is passionate about every aspect of growing and providing nutritious food to children and families.

Harry the rabbit's job is to eat and produce food for the worm barn.

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