We speak to Elia Woods about their passion-driven work at CommonWealth Urban Farm, an urban micro-farm in Oklahoma City. Their words contain what we've heard from farmers all over: how good farming tastes, how unappreciated it can be, but also absolutely rejuvenating & necessary. Tater Tats helped fund a drip irrigation system for their new hoophouse. You can contact Elia Woods at firstname.lastname@example.org
Tell us about your project, what do you do?
CommonWealth is a micro farm in the heart of Oklahoma City, drawing together a diverse and dedicated group of people. Our focus is on community abundance: using gardening and food to connect with neighbors and enliven our local community. We grow vegetables and cut flowers for individuals and restaurants in our metro area, and we offer workshops and service/learning events on gardening, composting and urban farming. We are passionate about building a sustainable society and believe that local food is a key part of what makes a community healthy and resilient.
How did you get into this business? What introduced you to and made you passionate about what you do?
After a successful career as a studio artist, I was ready for a change. When the idea of a teaching farm came to me, I knew that was what I wanted to do next. I'd been a home gardener for thirty-plus years, and my love of gardening had grown deeper and deeper during that time. A group of us in the neighborhood began meeting regularly and visioning together, and soon, CommonWealth was born.
I can't think of any kind of work more engaging and challenging and interesting than farming. It is co-creation with nature. One of my favorite quotes is from Thomas Jefferson when he said: "Though an old man, I am but a young gardener." There is always more to learn.
What are you most excited about right now? What are some of your future goals?
We're very excited about our new hoop house. This winter has been extremely cold so far - most of our outside crops, even under cover, got zapped, so we're selling mostly from what's in the hoop house. We are SO glad to have finished it in time to plant for winter harvest.
Future goals: we're starting an apprenticeship program this spring to help train people who want to become urban farmers or skilled home gardeners. We are also planning to plant a new food forest this spring and implement more permaculture practices on our farm.
What frustrates you most about your work or the current food culture at large? What do you wish to change the most?
We work really hard and don't make much money. This is discouraging at times. Our economy as a whole is extractive, and a lot of the money comes from very damaging practices. For instance, people are happy to pay three dollars for a bag of Cheeto's, but not three dollars for a pound of carrots (full of nourishment and amazing flavor); this seems a bit upside-down to me. I hope to find a way that we can support ourselves financially doing work that we love that nourishes us and the earth. I think it's possible, but we're not there yet.
Any recent moments of optimism? Things you see changing for the better?
Every time I plant a seed and it germinates, I am filled with hope. After planting countless thousands of seeds, you'd think the feeling would wear off, but not so! I am surrounded by ancient cycles of life, death, and the decay that nourishes life again. Which is to say, being in the garden is being inside of what's true.
In this era of "post-truth," climate change, and social injustice--seeds still sprout, and plants still grow. In our city, there is a far greater awareness of and support for urban agriculture and sustainable living than was there when we started. I really don't know if we human beings will change course before it's too late, but I know that we are voting, with hands and feet and hearts, for life.
We have an amazing team of people who keep showing up and working hard through all kinds of weather and assorted obstacles, who live creatively and generously, and who love working together. We are a tremendous source of encouragement to each other.
Favorite vegetable to eat, grow or wear?
Oh, to have to choose! Well, perhaps lettuce. There are so many different varieties, and each one is beautiful and unique. We had a really wet spring last year, and our lettuce was crazy delicious. All that extra water filled out its taste potential - I would sit down in the garden and eat an entire head of "forellenschluss" romaine lettuce. Most people don't know how good lettuce can be when grown under prime conditions: juicy, crisp, flavorful, satisfying.
Anything else you want us to know? Anything you want us to help you spread the word about?
We are delighted and grateful to be chosen as a grant recipient by Tater Tats. And we love their tats!