Tyler services Vian community through aquaponics, food pantry
VIAN – Cherokee Nation citizen Richard Tyler is one of seven recipients of the Cherokee Phoenix’s inaugural Seven Feathers Awards. He received the service award for work within his community.
In 2013, after seeing people struggle to have enough to eat, Tyler felt it was his duty to help his fellow community members and start the Vian Peace Center, a food pantry that served around 100 families monthly. Later that year, the area suffered job losses and the center was serving up to 780 families a month.
At the end of the year, 265 families were able to have Christmas dinner and gifts, but helping others depleted his finances and by March 2014, he was sleeping in his truck at the pantry.
“It was like 5,000 pounds of food a day was going out the door. I was going through my savings like crazy. I realized that I had ran out of money because I had been so involved in just trying to feed people. I lost my home. I lost everything. I was sleeping in my truck at the pantry. It was kind of a hard deal. And I wouldn’t tell anybody. Everybody thought I was just working. They didn’t know,” Tyler said.
After getting help from a stranger who gave him a place to stay, Tyler said he had a vision to start a hoop house that would help grow healthy foods to continue feeding people.
From there, he was able to build and operate a commercial aquaponics farm. Aquaponics is the marriage of aquaculture and hydroponics, a combination of raising fish and soilless plant growth in an integrated system.
Starting Native Oklahoma Aquaponic Harvest, or NOAH, with his wife, Jacqueline Tyler, in 2015 has allowed Tyler to give 30% of chemical-free, healthy produce back to the community, which includes the Vian Peace Center and the Vian Public School’s backpack program. NOAH also donates to the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma.
“Now we have close to $7 million worth of assets. Our company just took off. Aquaponics just took off. We had the first aquaponics commercial greenhouse of its size, large scale, in Oklahoma. We gave out a million and a half pounds of food last year through our pantry,” Tyler said.
He said his business also operates a library, homeschools children and works with a Native American elder program to take groceries to elders twice a month.
“I’m just trying to promote the project, not me. The Lord gave it to me and the Lord blessed it. It’s taught me a lot about people and what you can endure. It’s given me a bridge because if somebody comes in (the pantry) and says ‘I’m hungry and I’m homeless,’ I understand. Not from a perspective of looking in, I was actually there. So I understand what the emotions are and the feelings. I feel like I have more compassion for them because I know what they’re going through,” he said.
Nominated for the award by his wife, she stated all of the things he’s done for others.
“Richard is a dedicated servant to his people and is a great inspiration for young people to follow his lead of giving and lending a hand to people who truly need it,” Jacqueline said in the nomination form.
Tyler will be recognized on Nov. 23 at the Cherokee Phoenix Seven Feathers Award Gala in Tahlequah.