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Back to basics

How a new gardening trend is helping neighborhoods become more self-sustaining.

Dr. Richard Bost and Susan Singh are founding members of Transition Tulsa, a grassroots effort encouraging people to become more self-reliant within their communities.

Dr. Richard Bost and Susan Singh are founding members of Transition Tulsa, a grassroots effort encouraging people to become more self-reliant within their communities.

Imagine living in a neighborhood where instead of driving to the store to pick up food for dinner, you walk down the block to the neighborhood garden and grab what you need for your meal. 

Sounds somewhat “Little House on the Prairie”-ish, but it is actually happening in neighborhoods in modern day Tulsa. 

“We want people to learn to become more self-reliant within their own communities,” says Dr. Richard Bost, co-founder of Transition Tulsa. “In case of some sort of disaster, be it a power outage, fuel shortage or transportation crisis, we need to learn how to survive without having to depend on outside resources.” 

This is not a Tulsa-centric trend. The Transition movement is actually a global development that started in England. It is comprised of vibrant, grassroots community initiatives that seek to build community resilience in the face of challenges. They differentiate themselves from other sustainability and environmental groups by focusing on homegrown, citizen-led initiatives that use their own local assets.   

“The Transition movement demonstrates reliance,” says Susan Singh, another Transition Tulsa founding member. “It uses the wisdom of a community to use the resources they already have to help each other instead of relying on the city or government to provide those services for them.”

Transition Tulsa has been operating in several neighborhoods for the past two years — Crosbie Heights, Owen Park, Country Club Square and Brady Heights. These four neighborhoods are linked together through a grassroots organization called the Founders District.

Joni LeViness chairs the group, as well as being a homeowner in Crosbie Heights.

“We work hard to share our resources within our community,” LeViness says.  “One thing we do is a street-bank program. For example, if someone has a ladder, then everyone can borrow it, or if someone can do taxes, they can barter services with someone else in the community for perhaps another service, depending on the needs.” 

The focus of the first collaboration between Transition Tulsa and the Founders District was the community gardens of Crosbie Heights and Brady Heights. Both neighborhoods already had community gardens in place, but with the help of Transition Tulsa and Green Country Permaculture, the residents learned how to better utilize natural resources to make the gardens flourish in a more permanent and self-sustaining way.

James Spicer of Green Country Permaculture played a major role in making this happen. He saw the Transition Tulsa movement as a great opportunity to use the company’s techniques to help improve the community gardens.

Brady Heights resident Nathan Pickard and his son, William.Permaculture gardening means utilizing local resources (be they social, material, etc.) to reduce waste streams and environmental depletion, while simultaneously creating a sustainable source of food. Green Country Permaculture already works with schools and other organizations and saw this as a perfect fit within its philosophy.

“They help us to use our natural resources most effectively to grow the gardens,” says Bost. “They utilize strategies such as swales, rain-water catching, water irrigation and raised beds, just to name a few. In fact, the entire Transition movement was started with Permaculture teachings.” 

Green Country Permaculture is even using the Brady Heights garden as a model for other communities, showing them how more neighborhoods can create their own food supplies using these gardening techniques.

“We see the community gardens as the starting point to a healthier community,” says LeViness. “Then that leads into health and wellness, education and transportation initiatives that hopefully will follow.” 

Crosbie Heights citizens currently have a three-day supply of food from their community garden and other resources, if the national transport services people rely on were to become unavailable. Presently, the neighborhood is working on increasing its on-hand, sustainable supply of food. Residents hope to learn to preserve the food as well, through free or inexpensive classes on canning and food preparation offered at the Phoenix House. 

As the Transition movement continues to grow, the hope is that community gardens will become more widespread.

“It’s all about having less stuff,” says Bost. “Being less busy. Having more quality relationships that can grow and flourish within our own community.”



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