“In America, in general, there is this pressure that if something is successful it should grow.”
There is nothing wrong with that, but with growth comes other things. The more employees, the more managers, the larger equipment, larger environmental impact, and, in our case, the less time spent farming. We love the farm work, we didn’t want to give that up; we wanted this.” -Emily Oakley
Emily Oakley and Mike Appel have a vision. Three Springs Farm is not only the place Emily, Mike, and their daughter Lisette call home, it is also an idea and a mission. They bring their passion for aggro-biodiversity, supporting the role of women in farming, international farmer to farmer exchange, and social issues surrounding food systems to their work and vision for the farm.
Emily and I sat down one evening to chat. Emily and Mike originally planned to teach farming techniques abroad. She said, “We felt weird being called experts, telling people how to farm on land where their families had been for generations. We have a sense of responsibility to the international farmers who inspired us. So now we engage in farmer to farmer exchanges on a level playing field, versus coming in as experts.”
I asked Emily about the impact of these exchanges, she said, “I felt barriers melt away, even if the crops, language, and geography were different. There’s a common experience in growing food for a living. Whether subsistence farming or farming to sell at a market.” Emily said the common experiences stood out. Emily’s family plans to develop their own farmer to farmer international exchange to provide the same learning opportunities to other farmers.
When Mike and Emily came across three acres in Cherokee County, they found the home they had been searching for in the Ozark Hills, along Spring Creek.
The farm was ideal for demonstrating how sustainable, organic small-scale farming could be economically viable and for keeping their production manageable with only two people. Ultimately, Emily’s family didn’t want to make their farm viable by paying workers unfair wages. For this reason, and because they enjoyed doing the work themselves, Emily says her family kept their new farm small. Over time, their production has evolved as they learn their customer base and which vegetable are best to cultivate and sell.
When it comes to food security, Emily says their farm is focused on fresh, local, organic food that is accessible to everyone within the community. “Food cannot be so cheap that it is on the backs of farm workers. Broader institutional changes like fair minimum wage deals, climate change policies, and making food accessible for all is critical. It is not always easy to go to a market or go to a CSA share but interacting with your local grower helps everyone understand good food.”
Three Springs Farm was the first in Oklahoma to provide SNAP benefits enabling low-income families so they could buy nutritious fresh food at farmers’ markets. This encouraged the state to look more deeply into furthering the reach of SNAP. Mike played a critical role in bringing the Double Up Oklahoma program to the market, which literally “doubles” the value of SNAP benefits spent at farmers’ markets, further connecting local farmers with the community.
Spring Creek is a singular place, the last pristine Ozark stream left in Oklahoma. The creek, beloved by the greater community, hosts a diverse ecosystem. Mike and Emily’s dedication to sustainability and social issues created an important spark for change in the area.
So when they recently noticed chicken houses going up on an adjoining property – Emily and Mike shared their observations in their newsletter. This was passed along to Pamela Kingfisher, who mobilized the community through the Spring Creek Guardians Coalition; a group familiar with the lack of regulation and a voice to combat mass development of chicken farms that increase the risk of polluting water sources.
Mike noted in a recent article that “industrial facilities with 300,000 living, eating birds in them that are pooping and creating something toxic to the environment.”
This lead to action by the community as they halted construction of the facility and built opportunities for people to dialogue. Eventually Tran Tran, LLC stopped production and there is a pending sale of the land to the Cherokee Nation.
Emily and Mike’s passion for speaking up made Emily an ideal recipient of the Significant Women In Agriculture Award. She’s changing the landscape for young women interested in agriculture while also helping empower men to view women as equal partners. In this way, women can realize their full potential in society. Everyone is a part of society when they are valued as the individuals they are and societal contributors.
The change sparked by Three Springs Farm has helped their own community and the Global Goals represented in the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. To these achievements, Emily says she hopes WomanScape readers will support and share their work.
Emily shared, “My dream for the future is that we wake up and tackle climate change today. If you can, join a local CSA, support Farmer to Farmer programs, please do. Buy at least one thing from a local farmer and you’ll be supporting a local farmer somewhere that supports farmers everywhere.”
Always seeking to be curious, brave, kind