“A priceless gift” is how one local farmer views a legacy gardening.
Stacy Dunkin’s grandfathers both grew large gardens, so it was only natural he learned to love gardening, too. In fact, Dunkin considers himself fortunate to have been taught “the knowledge of how to feed oneself.”
The owner of Three Forks Farm and Vineyard, Dunkin has been a regular vendor at the Tahlequah Farmers’ Market for two years.
“I really enjoy talking to the people who attend the market. It’s rewarding to talk to folks about the vegetables we grow,” said Dunkin, who spends most of his time discussing how to cook, prepare, and even grow all the different kinds of vegetables. “The feedback we get from our customers helps us become better farmers. I enjoy sharing my knowledge with folks about gardening.”
He is also a biologist for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Stacy and wife, Judy, moved to Tahlequah in 2000, but his family has lived in the area since about 1890.
“I’ve been farming pretty much all my life, and about 22 years on my land,” he said.
Before that, his grandparents shared a passion for the green thumb pastime that put food on many families’ tables.
“Both of my grandparents were market gardeners,” said Dunkin, meaning they sold to others, as well as provided for family. “If you where part of the family, you were expected to help out in the garden. It also helped if you wanted to eat.”
Both sets of his grandparents grew up during the Depression, so for them, it meant food security – and it was just how people survived.
“They grew and raised their own food,” said Dunkin. “I feel fortunate to have grandparents who cared enough and were willing to pass down the knowledge on how to feed oneself. It’s a priceless gift that has served me all my life.”
As a child, it was a lot of work for him in the summers. As an adult, it is very rewarding, said Dunkin. He gardens after work and on weekends.
“For me, its a form of recreation. I find it relaxing and rewarding,” he said. “I think, as a child, it teaches you a lot of basic life skills in terms of work ethic, teamwork, and perseverance to see a task from beginning to end.”
The motivation to garden for Dunkin was to grow his own organic, fresh, and nutritious food for his family.
“If people knew how commercial farms grow vegetables and use pesticides, everyone would have a garden,” he said.
Dunkin grows just about everything but corn, which takes a lot of room and is very cheap to buy organically, he said.
“I grow what my family likes to eat and I sell the surplus,” he said. “I don’t grow anything I would not eat. I am always trying new varieties of vegetables to see what grows best. That’s one of the fun parts of gardening. I find most people are interested in new vegetables and willing to try them.”
Microgreens are one way to keep it interesting, and those were added this year.
“We were looking to add some additional variety to our offerings at the Farmers’ Market,” he said. “Our microgreens are grown indoors organically. Microgreens are not sprouts. They are grown longer until the first true leaf emerges.”
Microgreens are super-nutrient dense.
“You get a lot of nutrients and minerals in a small package. Microgreens have up to 68 times more nutrients per ounce than its mature counterpart,” he said. “They are a great way to naturally add vitamins and minerals to your diet with a lot of bulk.”
The USDA National Nutrient Database has some surprising information on the nutrient content of microgreens, he said.
“They are really gaining popularity with health conscious people,” Dunkin said. “Currently, Oasis Heath Food Store in Tahlequah is carrying our sunflower shoot microgreens.”
In the coming weeks, radish, broccoli, and a mild mix of microgreens, as well as sunflower shoots, will be ready, and he will add other microgreens as the demand grows.
Also new this year is a salad green called mizuna. It has a mild mustard flavor.
It doesn’t take acres to have a large producing garden. Dunkin’s main garden is just 50 feet by 60 feet.
“We use market gardening growing techniques to produce a lot on a small acreage,” he said. “We also have a small seedling-starting greenhouse and a small hoop house, where we overwinter crops for us to eat in the winter and for the early spring farmers’ market.”
Some say “tomAYto, some say tomAHto,” as the song goes. He uses the words “natural methods” in place of the word “organic.”
“The use of the words ‘certified organic’ is protected by law. We are not ‘certified organic’ and we don’t want to confuse people.” said Dunkin. “Although we are exempt of certification, because we are a small farm, and can legally use the words ‘USDA Organic,’ we don’t because we want to be transparent with our customers.”
He said they may start using the words “USDA Organic” to make sure people know they are buying organically grown produce, and then educate people to the difference between “Certified Organic” and “USDA Organic.”
“We follow the USDA guidelines for growing organic produce,” said Dunkin.
For the foreseeable future, Dunkin plans to continue to grow what they currently have, adding a few different varieties here and there. Right now, the focus is on increasing the variety of microgreens grown for selling.
Family members help Dunkin in his garden, a legacy he hopes to continue. Dunkin hopes to pass this passion on to grandchildren someday.
“Gardening can teach you a lot of great life skills and a lot about yourself,” he said.