GARDEN SPOTLIGHT: Farm Life Suits Community Board Member James Pickel

GARDEN SPOTLIGHT: Farm Life Suits Community Board Member James Pickel

Farm Life Suits Community Board Member James Pickel, Owner of Prairie Earth Gardens

By Susan Grossman

Published in The Bridge, Summer 2020

A red enamel coffee pot sits atop a wood-burning stove inside what serves as the office of James Pickel. The gravel floor, stone walls, and tin ceiling create cozy warmth on a late winter day as sunlight pours through the multi-paned windows across the front.

Clad today in a flannel shirt, overalls, and a fleece vest, Pickel presides over Prairie Earth Gardens where every Saturday he greets customers buying fresh eggs, honey, greens, herbs, and other seasonal produce. His office is inside what is called the Baby Barn, a 100-year-old stone structure situated at the front of his property.

Look for this sign off 8500 Eastern. Photo by Sean Ball.

Located northeast of downtown Oklahoma City at 8500 N. Eastern Avenue, Pickel often jokes that his farm is “the worst retirement plan in the world but a great way of life.”

Six years after selling the company that still bears his name – Smith & Pickel Construction – Pickel has slowly expanded his capacity. In addition to the weekly market, he provides naturally grown produce year-round to more than 30 Oklahoma City chefs and restaurants. Flats of microgreens and pea shoots sit on long tables in a greenhouse, ready to be prepared for delivery. Plants growing edible flowers are also on hand.
Pickel moved out to the property, situated less than 10 miles from downtown Oklahoma City, 41 years ago. After graduating from Oklahoma State University, and a stint living near Classen Boulevard, he chose to live close to the city but still in the country.

“I grew up in a small town, Duncan, and was raised by my grandparents who were gardeners,” he explained. “I have been gardening my entire life.”

Prairie Earth Gardens vegetable row. Photo by Sean Ball.

The close proximity to Oklahoma City served him well during his construction career when he oversaw multiple projects. Pickel has been actively involved in nonprofit and civic organizations for years, up to a high of 22 at the same time. He is a longtime member of the Community Board for Myriad Gardens Foundation, for which he also has served as chair.

“When I first joined the Community Board, the beautification and improvement of downtown Oklahoma City were important to me,” he said. “At that time, there was not much to attract people. Things are much different now, of course, with the development of downtown, but I still serve to ensure that we continue this commitment to enhancing our city.”

The Saturday Market at Prairie Earth Gardens is open 8 to 11 a.m. throughout the year. Purchases may also be preordered via email during the week for pick-up on the barn side. For more information follow them on Facebook and Instagram, or sign up for weekly email updates at prairieearthgardens@gmail.com

Instagram @prairieearthgardens
Online facebook.com/prairieearthgardens

James enjoys his biggest helpers. Photo by Sean Ball.