http://www.cherokeephoenix.orgCherokee Nation citizen Richard Roberts is the owner of Rockin’ R Farms in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, the area’s newest attractions that includes a 5-acre corn maze and a 1-acre pumpkin patch. BRITTNEY BENNETT/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Cherokee Nation citizen Richard Roberts is the owner of Rockin’ R Farms in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, the area’s newest attractions that includes a 5-acre corn maze and a 1-acre pumpkin patch. BRITTNEY BENNETT/CHEROKEE PHOENIX

Area attractions feature thrills, chills, family fun

Cherokee Nation citizen Richard Roberts wears a T-shirt that highlights the pattern of the 5-acre corn maze at Rockin’ R Farms in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. BRITTNEY BENNETT/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Cherokee Nation citizen Richard Roberts wears a T-shirt that highlights the pattern of the 5-acre corn maze at Rockin’ R Farms in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. BRITTNEY BENNETT/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
BY BRITTNEY BENNETT
Reporter – @cp_bbennett &
STACIE GUTHRIE
Reporter – @cp_sguthrie
10/20/2017 08:30 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Phoenix visited local fall and Halloween attractions to help readers find ways to celebrate the season. Included is also a list for those looking for related attractions for either family friendly fun or something spookier.

Rockin’ R Farms: Tahlequah

Click here towatch the video.

Rockin’ R Farms officials hope visitors “get lost” with them as they offer a family friendly environment that is fun for children and adults.

“This place is just not for the kids, it is adult-friendly. Anything that I’ve built, if I can’t get in it, it isn’t fun for adults, so I build it for everybody,” Richard Roberts, owner and Cherokee Nation citizen, said. “We just can’t have the kids having fun. We have to have everybody.”

Roberts said the farm’s biggest attraction is the five-acre corn maze, which during October turns into a haunted maze at night.

“We started laying it out last year. This was just a pasture with three big ol’ (old) pine trees in it,” he said. “We come out, we dug up the trees. I spent days digging up roots and killing the grass and preparing the soil for growing the corn. We wanted it to still be green at this time, so we waited to plant the corn until July.”

For the haunted maze, Roberts said they only use a portion of the maze.

“At dusk we will kick everybody out of the maze that come out during the day, and then we’ll go in here and set up,” he said. “We’re going to locate haunted people in special spots to basically drive you where we want you to go. No flashlights, no phones, it’s just walking through here in the dark.”

There’s also a 1-acre pumpkin patch where visitors can pick a pumpkin.

“We have a 1-acre pumpkin patch where you can pick your own pumpkin for 50 cents a pound,” he said. “Then we have a variety of other types of different pumpkins like Polar Bear, Rascals, Cinderellas that you can buy for 80 cents a pound, and they’re spread out throughout the area.”

Other activities include a petting zoo, hayrack ride, a jump pad and horseshoes. There is also a picnic area and a country store where items such as T-shirts, flashlights, glow bracelets and necklaces, candy bars and beverages can be purchased.

Roberts said he hopes to see new faces stopping by as they plan to stay open through November.

“There’s a payoff in seeing the kids having fun and the adults, too. It’s all for the fun of it and it’s work. It’s a job, but it’s still exciting. I get to meet all kinds of people,” he said.

Rockin’ R Farms is located at 15486 N. Spears Road and is open from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday.

Admission to the corn maze is $7 per person with children 2 and under free. Admission to the haunted maze, which is only on Friday and Saturday, is $9 per person, and admission for both the haunted maze and spook trail is $12 per person.

For more information, visit Rockin’ R Farms on Facebook.

The Asylum: Nowata

Click here towatch the video.

People looking for a truly horrifying Halloween haunt may get more blood and guts than they bargain for at The Asylum Haunted Attraction.

Visitors are invited to step inside a 1940s mental hospital, giving them a hands-on experience into the world of deranged doctors and assistants performing experiments on completely sane individuals.

“This is a two-story haunt,” Russell Kyle Rhoades, assistant director, said. “You’re going to be going through twists and turns. You’re going to get turned around quite a few times. A lot of the areas that you see might not actually be a door. There might be something else entirely that you have to find, and it’s just challenging your senses.”

The haunt will also require interaction with several characters, including a demented priest and a disturbed Peter Rabbit, which Rhoades called an “accident,” but has since taken off with visitors.

“People have adopted (the characters) and started to flesh them out for themselves,” he said. “It’s the patrons that make it special. We’re just trying something and it stuck and the patrons just make it what it is.”

Workers design and fabricate each costume and room, allowing what visitors see to be truly unique.

“A lot of these rooms, all these things that you see around here, we’ve built,” Rhoades said. “We spend a lot of time (working) throughout the off season because we do three events now. As soon as one event is done, we’re getting prepared for the next one, so we’re busy all the time.”

Many of the scenes in The Asylum are not for the faint of heart, especially when you might be asked to remove one from a body in the surgery room.

“The scene that we’re known for the most is surgery, and you have to pull assortments of things from a carcass,” Rhoades said. “Prepare to get bloody. This is interactive and that’s what we’re known for.”

No worries, though. The Asylum assures customers the fake blood washes out.

There is no age limit to enter, though parental discretion is advised. If the experience becomes too much, the haunt has an easy out.

“Fear is subjective,” Rhoades said. “It’s all personal, so I would suggest if you bring your kids, be prepared for them to ‘Bloody Mary.’ That’s the safe word that we use to escort them out if they’re too scared. But it’s completely subjective, so if you feel like your kids can make it, come on out. We definitely try to do something different with every event that’s unique in its own way that you’re not going to experience anywhere else.”

The haunt has plans to move to a bigger facility as word of mouth continues to build its reputation. The current site is host to The Asylum in October, Sweetheart Slaughter in February and Dodsfall in June.

The Asylum Haunted Attraction is located at 304 W. Cherokee Ave. It is open Fridays and Saturdays from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. and Sundays from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. through Oct. 29, with a special encore event on Nov. 4. For more information, visit www.okasylum.com.

Other Halloween activities around the Cherokee Nation

The Castle in Muskogee

The Castle in Muskogee caters to all ages, from children to adults. Visitors can grab a drink at pubs, participate in a zombie hunt, take a haunted hayride, experience spook trails or see performers practice hypnotism and juggle fire. The activities are spread out across 14 acres and open Fridays and Saturdays from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. until Oct. 28.

Muskogee Haunted History Tours

Muskogee Haunted History Tours invites guests walk or bike a tour of local haunts on Oct. 14, 20, 21 and 27. Tours begin at 6:30 p.m. and tickets are $15. For more information, visit www.muskogeehauntedhistorytours.com.

Route 66 Punkin’ Chunkin’ in Vinita

Participants from around northeast Oklahoma will launch pumpkins from a catapult-type contraption to see how far their pumpkins go. There will also be free children’s games, pumpkin bowling, a children’s costume contest, pumpkin decorating and more. The event is from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tickets are $5 per person and children 4 and under are free. For more information, visit https://www.vinita.com or call 918-256-7133.

Tulsa Zoo

The Tulsa Zoo hosts HallowZOOeen from Oct. 27-31, inviting children to dress up and trick-or-treat at Goblin Stops, play carnival-style games in the Pumpkin Patch Playroom and take a ride on the Haunted Train. Activities begin at 6 p.m. Tickets for non-members are $8 and $7 for members, while Haunted Train ride tickets are $5. For more information, visit www.tulsazoo.org/hallowzooeen-at-the-tulsa-zoo/

Pumpkin Festival at Shepherd's Cross in Claremore

Families can wander through the Pumpkin Patch, pet farm animals, take a trek through a hay maze or construct a scarecrow at the Shepherd’s Pumpkin Festival. The festival is open from 9 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday and runs until Nov. 4. For more information, visit www.shepherdscross.com/PumpkinFestivalatShepherdsCross.html
About the Authors
Stacie Guthrie started working at the Cherokee Phoenix in 2013 as an intern. After graduating from Northeastern State University with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications she was hired as a reporter.

Stacie not only writes for the Phoenix, but also produces videos and regularly hosts the Cherokee Phoenix radio broadcast.

She found her passion for video production while taking part in broadcast media classes at NSU. It was there she co-created a monthly video segment titled “Northeastern Gaming,” which included video game reviews, video game console reviews and discussions regarding influential video games.

While working at the Phoenix she has learned more about her Cherokee culture, saying she is grateful for the opportunity to work for and with the Cherokee people.

In 2014, Stacie won a NativeAmerican Journalists Association award for a video she created while working as an intern for the Phoenix. She was awarded first place in the “Best News Story-TV” category.

Stacie is a member of NAJA.
stacie-guthrie@cherokee.org • 918-453-5000 ext. 5903
Stacie Guthrie started working at the Cherokee Phoenix in 2013 as an intern. After graduating from Northeastern State University with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications she was hired as a reporter. Stacie not only writes for the Phoenix, but also produces videos and regularly hosts the Cherokee Phoenix radio broadcast. She found her passion for video production while taking part in broadcast media classes at NSU. It was there she co-created a monthly video segment titled “Northeastern Gaming,” which included video game reviews, video game console reviews and discussions regarding influential video games. While working at the Phoenix she has learned more about her Cherokee culture, saying she is grateful for the opportunity to work for and with the Cherokee people. In 2014, Stacie won a NativeAmerican Journalists Association award for a video she created while working as an intern for the Phoenix. She was awarded first place in the “Best News Story-TV” category. Stacie is a member of NAJA.
Brittney Bennett is from Colcord, Oklahoma, and a citizen of the United Keetoowah Band.  She is a 2011 Gates Millennium Scholarship recipient and graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and summa cum laude honors.
 
While in college, Brittney became involved with the Native American Journalists Association and was an inaugural NAJA student fellow in 2014. Continued mentorship from NAJA members and the willingness to give Natives a voice led her to accept a multimedia internship with the Cherokee Phoenix after college.  
 
She left the Cherokee Phoenix in early 2016 before being selected as a Knight-CUNYJ Fellow in New York City later that same year. During the fellowship, she received training from industry professionals with The New York Times and instructors at the City University of New York. As part of the program, she completed a social media internship with USA Today’s editorial department.
 
Now that Brittney has made her way back to the Cherokee Phoenix, she hopes to use the experience gained from her travels to benefit Indian Country and the Cherokee people.
brittney-bennett@cherokee.org • 918-453-5560
Brittney Bennett is from Colcord, Oklahoma, and a citizen of the United Keetoowah Band. She is a 2011 Gates Millennium Scholarship recipient and graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and summa cum laude honors. While in college, Brittney became involved with the Native American Journalists Association and was an inaugural NAJA student fellow in 2014. Continued mentorship from NAJA members and the willingness to give Natives a voice led her to accept a multimedia internship with the Cherokee Phoenix after college. She left the Cherokee Phoenix in early 2016 before being selected as a Knight-CUNYJ Fellow in New York City later that same year. During the fellowship, she received training from industry professionals with The New York Times and instructors at the City University of New York. As part of the program, she completed a social media internship with USA Today’s editorial department. Now that Brittney has made her way back to the Cherokee Phoenix, she hopes to use the experience gained from her travels to benefit Indian Country and the Cherokee people.

Money

BY LINDSEY BARK
Reporter
11/29/2017 08:15 AM
SALLISAW, Okla. – Cherokee Nation citizen Tyler Choate grew up learning the construction business from his father. He eventually parlayed those lessons into a successful business called TTA Construction. Choate’s construction venture, however, didn’t have an easy start. After the recent economic recession took a toll on his father’s business, he started doing pipeline work. When that didn’t work out, Choate’s first business venture was selling portable buildings, which didn’t last. Being out of business and work, Choate built his way back into the construction world in 2012. He collected tools and equipment to start a business, and the CN’s Tribal Employment Rights Office certified him as a vendor. One of his first jobs was helping construct the South Ridge apartments in Tahlequah. “I literally drove down, walked into the job trailer and ask the guy ‘do you have anyone that’s hanging you all’s dry wall?’” Choate said. While working at the apartment complex, Choate discovered he won a CN contract to hang dry wall in 30 tribal homes. From there, Choate’s business grew. He spent days working jobs and driving to job sites handing out business cards. When he came home, he caught up on paperwork. In the first year, Choate’s business made approximately $50,000. However, it’s doubled in revenue each year since. “The first year I made $50,000 and I’d have to pay people out of that and buy tools. I barely just survived. But I managed to pay my credit card bills that I had taken out to buy tools,” Choate said. “Every year since then we’ve doubled our revenue. So hopefully we can keep doing that.” In 2016, TTA Construction was named the Construction Company of the Year at the tribe’s annual TERO awards banquet. “We’re 100 percent Native American-owned, and I’m pretty proud of being Native American-owned,” he said. “I feel like in this part of the country there’s actually more doors open to me because Cherokee Nation has such a great influence.” Choate said his company in 2016 built 50 CN homes and that it’s built more than 100 homes in the past few years. His business also constructs custom homes. As a construction management business, TTA Construction provides services such as general contracting, design build, pre-construction, sustainable and green construction, facility maintenance, emergency services and repairs and specialty projects. Choate said he wants to grow TTA into a multi-million dollar business and take on entire construction projects. For more information, call 918-773-7127 or visit <a href="http://www.ttaconstruction.com" target="_blank">www.ttaconstruction.com</a>.
BY NATIVE OKLAHOMA
11/09/2017 08:30 AM
In the lines of his paintings, Tim Nevaquaya sees the influence of his father, the acclaimed Comanche artist Doc Tate Nevaquaya. Although the elder passed in 1996, he left behind an artistic legacy that runs like a current through his children – almost all artists. To his son, that legacy lives, breathes and still creates. To the average viewer, Tim’s style is nothing like his father’s. But the artist sees Doc’s prints all over it. The traditional forms and the subject matter are his father’s influence, a consequence of learning from an important Native American artists of the 20th century beginning at age 3. Doc surrounded himself with artists. “I started to observe what they were doing and realized from an early age this was what I was going to do for the rest of his life.” As a child, he drew. As he grew older, he became his father’s apprentice. They collaborated on paintings, as the son did background work upon which Doc painted the detail for which he was noted. The elder Nevaquaya practiced a style of painting made prominent by the Kiowa Five artists – a style that depicts images in flat two-dimensional representations using neutral or pastel colors. This approach was called the traditional style, and its practitioners ushered in a new era of Native art. In his early 20s, Tim became serious about his art and looked to his father and other traditional masters for direction. It wasn’t until about 10 years ago that he discovered his own. “As time went on, I started to learn that form of art, but I realized that there was something more to what I was doing,” he says. “…I was doing realistic art, and I came to a point in my art when I was frustrated with what I was doing because there were no real breakthroughs. I was struggling at that time.” While working, he smeared the paint. At the point of correcting himself, Tim smudged the lines on his canvas, curious to see what would happen. “People talk about having a ‘happy accident,’ but to me this far excelled that,” he said. “The more spontaneous I got, it seemed like the painting actually started to improve. I began to realize that something was starting to evolve here. Right there was the beginning of the new revolution, new growth.” It was more than a revolution for an artist who had struggled so long with his work and had hopes to become a full-time artist. It was a revelation. Through this technique, Tim translated the mystery and spiritual power of ceremonial dancers that had fascinated him since his youth. And like the Comanche warriors who painted symbols of the spirit world on their war shields, he was practicing a form of medicine. It’s still good for his soul, he said. “The dance was really mysterious to me. In grade school, my teachers didn’t quite understand the images I was doing. They didn’t realize that I was starting an art career. I didn’t realize it. Today, they’re a primary focus of what I do,” he said. He said people don’t realize the work that goes into being a full-time artist such as designing a pallette, manipulating colors and the prep work. But he said it’s worth it. “I tell a lot of up-and-coming artists that the only way this knowledge will come to you is by being consistent in the work you’re doing. You’ll never have the grand revelation until you start to indulge in what you’re doing, because all you’re doing is learning and learning and learning. I tell them to keep reading, keep searching, be passionate about what it is, and this thing will come alive on you and will help you.” For more information, visit <a href="http://www.timnevaquaya.com" target="_blank">www.timnevaquaya.com</a>, call 580-291-9572 or search Nevaquaya Fine Arts on Facebook.
BY BRITTNEY BENNETT
Reporter – @cp_bbennett
11/07/2017 04:00 PM
CATOOSA, Okla. – More than 100 Tribal Employment Rights Office-certified vendors gathered on Nov. 2 to highlight and grow their businesses at the Engage Expo inside the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa. “It’s just a great chance for our TERO vendors and then our Cherokee Nation entities and then some other outside businesses that do minority procurement to come together and show off their business and network with other people,” Stephen Highers, Cherokee Nation Commerce department entrepreneur and development manager, said. To be TERO certified, businesses must be Indian-owned by constituting no less than 51 percent ownership. There are more than 800 TERO-certified vendors. Highers said vendors spanning various businesses come from across the United States to attend the expo, bringing sample products and information. “We have artists in the room that are here today. We have big construction companies. We have small businesses that are in the room, and then we also have a lot of resource partners,” he said. “So we have different Native American tribes here. It’s just kind of a great day to celebrate all that is being a certified Indian-owned business.” Vendors also took part in free workshops on capacity building and received information about bidding on projects with CN and other businesses. The TERO helps businesses working with the CN fill contractor vacancies by referring TERO-certified businesses. In 2017, TERO vendors earned more than $36 million in contracts. “We hope that this whole day is about capacity building and growing their capacity, whether that is networking with another TERO vendor and they form a relationship and now they can grow together, or figuring out how they can get their foot in the door with the federal government or another procurement agency,” Highers said. CN citizen Greg Stice, owner and designer of Cherokee Copper, a jewelry-based business, attended to promote his work as a TERO-certified artist. “I’m proud to be a TERO-certified artist,” Stice said. “It gives credence or credibility out into the world that we are a Native American company, a Cherokee company, and we’re proud of that.” The company is also family owned and operated and uses copper, silver, brass, hemp and deerskin to create each handmade piece. “In Oklahoma everybody thinks silver and turquoise, but that’s Navajo,” Stice said. “Cherokee (art) is simple – the copper, the pearls, the gemstones, the things that are coming from Mother Earth. It’s either under the land, on the land or in the water.” Stice said Cherokee Copper products begin at $20 for items such as earrings and pendants. More intricate pieces can cost upwards of $400 or more. Custom orders can also be placed. Also on site was Cooper Construction owner Brian Cooper, who started his business more than nine years ago at the urging of several co-workers familiar with the TERO program. “TERO has helped me start, and they’ve helped me grow,” Cooper said. “The program has just been great for us. Without TERO, there’s no way we would be where we are today.” Cooper said more than 96 percent of his business comes from tribes that have found him through the TERO, including the CN to work on the Cherokee Casino & Hotel Roland. He encouraged any Indian-owned business to become TERO certified. “It allows me to stay within the tribe and work with our own,” he said. “You just have to ask for help if you need it and don’t panic whenever you see all the paperwork.” For more information about becoming TERO certified, visit <a href="http://www.cherokeetero.com" target="_blank">www.cherokeetero.com</a>.
BY LINDSEY BARK
Reporter
11/03/2017 08:00 AM
TULSA, Okla. – Cherokee Nation citizen Lori Smiley began framing photos and artwork in Houston nearly 20 years ago. After coming back to Oklahoma, she started a business called NDN Custom Frame. After residing in Tahlequah for the past 18 years, Smiley moved her business to Tulsa but keeps her Tahlequah ties and works with customers in the area. NDN Custom Frame is a mobile framing service in which Smiley works with customers in framework customization at their homes or businesses. “We’ve always prided ourselves on customer service, and so we’ve kind of just taken it to that next level. What we do is we actually go to our customers’ homes or our customers’ businesses and we pick up the artwork and we deliver it back to them,” she said. Smiley said a customer might show a piece of artwork or a paint chip to help match the framework within their home or business. “What we do is we actually go to their home so that we actually get to see the surroundings that it’s going to be hanging in, so that we can get an idea about their style before we actually choose the frames. I usually give them about three or four selections of samples. If they like one of those and we go with that. If not then I’ll send three or four more out to them,” Smiley said. NDN Custom Frame also specializes in photo restoration, taking old photos for resizing and digitally making corrections. Smiley’s business is CN Tribal Employment Rights Office-certified, and she’s worked with the CN on projects, including framing and restoring photos in the Three Rivers Health Center in Muskogee, the Wilma P. Mankiller Health Center in Stilwell and the Vinita Health Center. “They (CN officials) would bring us a small photograph, and then we would blow them up so that we could frame them, which I love that concept because so many people end up waiting while they’re in the clinic and that gives them a chance to walk around and give them something interesting to look at. So many people find their relatives…in some of those photographs, too. So I think that kind of makes it cool,” she said. Smiley chose to have a mobile framing service over a retail shop because it allows her to “focus” on her job. “It gives me more time to focus on just the framing and not have to worry about managing a retail shop and be there all the time. Plus, I can work around my customers hours and work at their convenience.” She said she prides her business on its quick turnaround time and pricing. “That’s the other benefit to not having a retail location is we’re able to keep our price down without having all the expense of having a retail shop every day,” she said. Pricing varies and depends on the style of framing, size and matting. NDN Custom Frame uses acid-free materials and conservation glass. Smiley said she’s worked with repeat customers during the years and now “generational” customers. “I actually have generational customers now because I have framed for people’s parents and now those children are grown up and now I’m framing for them.” As a Cherokee business owner, Smiley said she’s “proud” and gives credit to the CN for helping grow her business. “It makes me proud that I am a successful business owner and that Cherokee Nation has helped play a part in that by giving me the opportunities to bid on some of these bigger projects so that I can prove to them what I can do.” For more information, visit NDN Custom Frame on Facebook, call 918-431-3100 or email <a href="mailto: ndnframers@yahoo.com">ndnframers@yahoo.com</a>.
BY KENLEA HENSON
Reporter
11/02/2017 08:15 AM
SALLISAW, Okla. – Cherokee Nation citizen Jeff Cawhorn discovered his love for working with stone after being fascinated with arrowheads and flint napping as a boy. However, it wasn’t until a year ago that he turned his love for stone art into a side business out of his Sallisaw home. “I was just fascinated by (arrowheads), so I started toying around with making my own just in my spare time. I would pick up a piece of flint or something like that and start chipping away at it and everything, and that’s kind of what lead me to where I’m at now,” he said. “I’ve always had a knack for making stone tools. I was fascinated just looking at them from an early age and I still am.” Since Cawhorn began selling his handmade products such as arrowhead necklaces and earrings, spears, tomahawks and knives, his business has taken off. He said most costumers are local and from Oklahoma, but occasionally he receives orders from states as far as New York and Hawaii. “For a long time I was never confident enough to sale anything I had. I would make a necklace with a point on it for my own personal use or for my grandkids then everyone seemed to want one, so it kind of took off from there. After a while I started feeling confident in what I was making to actually sale it,” Cawhorn said. When making his products, he likes to use the rocks and stones found in local creeks and rivers as well as antler sheds that he finds on his whitetail deer farm. “We raise white tail deer to breeders, hunting ranches and individuals that want to purchase to turn lose on their property to enhance the deer genetics that are already there,” Cawhorn said. “A lot of the materials I use come from the animals I raise. I pick up their sheds and use them to make handles for the knives and for some of the displays and for the knife stands.” To create a knife, Cawhorn searches for a large piece of “chert” or “river cobble” along the creeks and rivers. Next he buries the stone under sand below a fire and cooks it for a couple of days to change the color and to give it a glossy effect. Then he breaks up the stone with a copper mallet or a hammer stone and shapes the broken stone into a point. For the finishing touches he adds an antler shed as the handle, and depending on the customer, Cawhorn will carve designs or words into the antler handle for a custom finish. “Everybody seems to really like (my products). I stay busy filling orders and everyone seems to be happy with what I do and I enjoy doing it too,” he said. As a full-time teacher at Central High School, he stays busy teaching humanities, psychology, physical education and drivers education. But with his home business, he’s able to continue his love for working with stone. Cawhorn is a Tribal Employment Rights Office-certified artist. To view his works, visit his personal Facebook page. To request a custom order, call 918-869-2597.
BY KENLEA HENSON
Reporter
10/30/2017 12:00 PM
BLACKGUM, Okla. – It’s been nearly two years since Cherokee Nation citizen Richard Tyler and his wife, Muscogee (Creek) Nation citizen Jackie Tyler, broke ground on their aquaponics business called Native Oklahoma Aquaponic Harvest, or NOAH. Today, their 8,000-square-foot greenhouse, the first and largest commercial aquaponics farm in Oklahoma, is doing everything they “prayed” it would. “We built this with the concept of 30 percent of everything we do would back and offset the food pantry and help our community,” Richard said. In 2013, Richard operated the Vian Peace Center, a food pantry serving around 100 families monthly in and around Vian. That same year the area suffered job losses, and the center had to serve about 780 families a month. The increase hit hard Richard’s and the community’s finances. “At the end of 2013, we were able to help 265 families with Christmas dinner and toys, but it depleted all my finances. So in March 2014, I was homeless and I was sleeping at the pantry in my truck. A lady rescued me, and God gave us the vision (of aquaponics) to turn us around,” he said. “I started a small hoop house to show it would work, and everybody was excited about it, but you couldn’t get a commercial system because nobody was willing to lend on it. So when me and Jackie got together she said, ‘you know I think the Lord wants you to re-apply,’ and we did and here we are. It’s been a real blessing.” Aquaponics combines raising fish and soilless plant growth in an integrated system. The fish waste provides organic plant food, and the plants filter the water for the fish. With this aquaculture and hydroponics mixture, the food is safer and healthier, Richard said. He said by growing food in water there are no bug and erosion problems, and the food absorbs more nutrients. “What happens is since the roots are in water they can absorb 100 percent of the nutrients, so that makes (the produce) 25 to 35 percent more healthy. And without any chemicals, preservatives and pesticides on it, there are no cancers, childhood obesity or a lot of things that are associated with pesticides and preservatives.” The aquaponics business has also allowed the Tylers to reach their goal of providing the community with safe and healthy produce as part of a “Give 30” program they developed. The program gives 30 percent of what is grown to the community, supplementing the Vian Peace Center and the Vian Public Schools’ backpack program. Richard said he’s also working on contracts with entities such as Harps Foods, the University of Oklahoma and Ben E. Keith Foods. However, he said it’s going to take more greenhouses to supply the Oklahoma-based companies. “Where were at right now we need more growers to meet that higher demand. We’ve had interest from large Oklahoma-based companies that want one million heads (of lettuce) a week, but we can’t meet that demand until we get more of these going, but they are there,” he said. “In Salinas, California, where 98 percent of your lettuce is grown, they’re going through a tremendous drought. Where they’ve been in a seven-year drought now they’re looking at another seven to nine-year drought, so their supply chain is going to start breaking down on lettuce. With the indoor environment, it’s safer because we aren’t subjected to that (drought), and it doesn’t matter if it rains or snows. We are still inside of a building, so we can grow 365 days a year.” He said he hopes the CN and other tribes would install aquaponics to create jobs, profit and increase health benefits. “It opens job opportunities. It helps the economy. We were reading an article today, and Oklahoma is the highest in the unemployment rate and there’s less job security. We need to move those coastal businesses because it’s over a billion dollars a year back into Oklahoma, and it creates jobs for this area and for our people,” he said. “If the tribes grab a hold of this they could put this produce in their commodity warehouses, their casinos, their hospitals, their elderly feeding programs and all over the schools, and the people would get the best nutrition they could.” <strong>Take an Aquaponics Tour</strong> Native Oklahoma Aquaponic Harvest offers tours to schools, groups and individuals wanting to learn more or interested in starting an aquaponic greenhouse. A business tour is $75 and includes the process of owning and operating an aquaponics business. A regular tour is $10 and covers the facilities with no business information. Visit <a href="http://www.noahfarmok.com" target="_blank">http://www.noahfarmok.com</a>. <strong>NOAH Farmers Market</strong> Native Oklahoma Aquaponic Harvest also opens its farmers market on Fridays and Saturdays at its Blackgum facility. Foods for sale include strawberries, kale, tomatoes, radishes, cucumbers, okra, lettuce and fish. Local farmers bring crops as well as goat cheese, beef, Berkshire pork and regular pork. For more information, visit <a href="http://www.noahfarmok.com" target="_blank">http://www.noahfarmok.com</a>.