Head Country BBQ, Ponca City
My first stop on the OK tour took me to Ponca City, up north almost to Kansas. There I met Danny Head (l) and Paul Schatte, owners of Head Country BBQ. Head Country is an Oklahoma institution, and they designed an all-natural sauce specifically for sale in Whole Foods Market. Paul showed me the bottling process and allowed me to have palettes moved around for the photo shoot. The hospitality and generosity (of time and samples) he showed us was the beginning of a running theme from the vendors throughout the week.
3P’s in a Pod, Mounds
Carissa Pankey and her mother, Jean, run a family business making natural soaps and bath and body products at their farm in Mounds, OK, near Tulsa. It just so happens that family includes donkeys, chickens, too many dogs to count, a one-horned goat named Van Goat and a beautiful, HUGE bull named Buster, who roams freely on the grounds and followed me around like a curious yard dog.
Carissa immediately struck me with her enthusiasm for her farm and her pets and took me on a tour. She gathers much of her inspiration while being with the animals and working outside. One can tell that creating the products in an all-natural manner is very important to her as he has a very deep respect for the environment and all the wonderful creatures she experiences it with.
Cross Timber Farms, Blanchard
I have to come out and say it – I was blown away at Cross Timber Farms. The Lusby family who live, work and school there have created a wonderful living and learning environment while building a business making bath and laundry products from goats milk. The five Lusby children (Front l-r: Hannah, 8; Gabriel, 4; Miriam, 10; Back: Ethan, 12 and Quinton, 13) are mature beyond their years and take part in all facets of raising the goats and managing production.
After meeting mother Lisa, I walked into the house and was greeted by five small hands extended in warm introduction. The subsequent tour of the farm (and Gabriel’s new bunk bed, at his personal request) gave each of the children a chance to take turns telling me facts and stories about raising goats. Miriam was quite excited to relate the quirky morning habits of one of the mother goats, and I almost forgot I was talking to a 13-year old as Quinton explained the diagnosis and treatment of a particular goat disease.
One thing I realized out at Cross Timber Farms is that the kids are not just working on a farm; they are learning about biology, agriculture, nutrition, medicine, business and marketing. It is an education they could never get from just studying their books. The most important lesson from that day, however, was one they left for me: I am fortunate to have an awesome job that allows me to meet people like this.
Hilltop Gardens, Muldrow
There are people who love what they do, and then there is J.D. Hill.
J.D. is a beekeeper who jars and sells all-natural honey and bee pollen. He takes great pains to ensure the creation, collection and bottling process remains all-natural.
The morning I arrived to photograph him, much needed rain had also arrived in eastern Oklahoma so J.D. showed me around his small packaging facility while we waited for it to subside. His knowledge of the art of bee keeping was evident as he explained the process of gathering and preparing honey to sell. His charisma and warm country drawl could just about convince anyone to don a bee suit and give it a try.
Finally the rain let up as we sat in his truck outside of a ‘yard’ of hives. J.D. determined that it was time to get out and suit up for a try at a photo. Once he had the bees smoked and a slab of honeycomb in hand, bees swarming to it, he motioned me out of the cab to approach with a long lens and click away. I jumped out and crouched along a predetermined perimeter and got my shots.
Having been stung by a bee for the second time in my life three weeks ago, I was admittedly nervous and scurried back to the truck after snapping a number of frames. J.D. put the hive back together and came back to the truck bed to shed his suit. As I waited, I noticed him wiping at his neck and hair, large red splotches beginning to form on the back of his neck. He jumped in the truck with bee stingers poking out of his cheek and forehead. A lone bee escaped his collar into the cab.
“Well, I committed the biggest mistake of bee keeping,” he related with a wide, self-accusing smile. “Forgot to zip the very top of my suit all the way. Probably got it about 150 times just then.” We both laughed heartily. Bees continued to filter out of his hair. I promised not to tell anyone, and if it weren’t for J.D.’s tacit respect for the bees and his place in caring for them, I wouldn’t have.