Image from LaTasha Timberlake
Founder of Lillian Timber Farms
The following is a partial transcript of my conversation over the phone with LaTasha Timberlake. Due to technical issues, the entirety of the transcript is unavailable. The urban farm, located in Northeast Oklahoma City, describes itself online as, “an educational and sustainable 501c3 farm dedicated to growing and creating organic produce and products for healthy living practices in underserved communities. We foster and create community through project-based programs.” LaTasha spent time in Hawaii learning sustainable farming practices and has returned to the Eastside to share her education, grow food, and teach new skills to the community.
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August 1, 2020
Anna: Can you tell me a bit about yourself?
LaTasha: I am a native of Oklahoma, so I was born and raised here. Also, my family has been in Oklahoma. They actually migrated here from Texas. When we first came, they actually were in the Spencer, Oklahoma area which is a historical African American community. When I was around 3-4, we moved to the Northeast side of Oklahoma City. I lived off of 6th and Lottie, which is now referred to as the Kennedy neighborhood. Growing up, we never referenced it as the Kennedy neighborhood. With the recent gentrification, and the city developing a lot of these formally predominantly African American communities and neighborhoods, a lot of them really were not referenced by neighborhoods. The Kennedy neighborhood and there’s another one over by Deep Deuce. But Deep Deuce has always been known as Deep Deuce. From my understanding, my family was very integral in Deep Deuce. I had two uncles that were internationally known musicians, Hugh Walker was one of them—a drummer. And Glen Walker. They both played Deep Deuce. My sister actually owned a restaurant, Urban Roots. She opened it in . It was on Walnut in Deep Deuce. We did have a lot of challenges with surrounding businesses coming into that area. Often times, the police would be called about noise, even though they have live music as well. Or like the tax commission or ABLE commission would be called. So, it was very apparent that we were not wanted in that area.
Anna: Did you grow up with your family talking a lot about Deep Deuce and living there?
LaTasha: Yah! Part of my family was from the Spencer area but the other part was actually in that same area, so they're graduates of Douglas high school and then Northeast High School, which is off of Kelly. So, you know, my parents and my aunts and uncles and my older cousins, they grew up, you know, going on 4th street in that area. I believe they had a small grocery store and market there and movie theater at one time. So, it was a very integral part of the culture for that community.
Anna: Does your family say much about how the area has transformed over the past decades?
LaTasha: You have to think about the difference in the age groups. My parents are late 60's and so, you know, I think the major thing that is talked about is the noticing of how the neighborhood has changed in terms of demographics. In some of the streets, you know, there are no longer any African American families left, but then, also, the property values, the things that are coming in and the physical changes in the neighborhood, are not in aesthetic with the homes that have historically been there. So, the entire look of the neighborhood has changed. Even my own neighborhood off 6th and Lottie, I was driving over there the other day when I left the urban garden lot that we are working on and I didn't even recognize it because of the buildings that have been put there. So there used to be this old, kinda, place where a lot of drug addicts and prostitutes went, but you know, they weren't harmful at all. And now, it's like, these high-rise condos that are there. So that's really weird for me because I remember what the neighborhood looked like. My parents, they are more—I don't want to use the term docile—in their conversations, whereas my siblings and I, because we see the direct connections in terms of not having access and opportunities. Whereas our parents, they grew up in a time where it was kinda take what you're given, make the best of it. And you know, do the best that you can. My age group is more like, "it's not just about opportunity, or you know, things being fair. It's more so about the inclusion of it." When they were getting ready to do this MAPS project, and all of these things, it wasn't about who was at the table. But my thing is, who's a part of the decision-making process? It's very one-sided in Oklahoma...what people are you asking? Who are you asking those questions? The people that you're asking, are they in awareness enough to really understand what it is you're asking? And what that process is? That's the point of Lillian Timber Farms. Although we are using food, it's really about educating people to understand how these systems work. Because there's no reason the Northeast side of Oklahoma City should be a food desert.
Anna: Can you explain more about what that looks like to educate people through farming?
LaTasha: One of our goals is not to only educate people about nutrition and how you can grow your own food and sustain your own health outside of traditional grocery stores and things like that, but also, to bring in programming where people are talking about how you are able to not only stay in your community but help your own community grow. For example, having people come in and really talk about what the development process is and how it really works. And how a person cannot have any money or credit or different things like that and still be able to develop an area. Because that information is there, it’s just that it's not in the right hands to be able to disperse it equally. Even for myself, I'm taking a course on small scale development, and in the course, they even had to be honest and say, "even though you're going through this process, one of things you need to know is, as an African American, it is going to be more challenging for you to get capital. So for that to be bluntly stated...for me, I'm like, ok, so, since you're telling me that that limitation is going to be there, I want to be able to create things so it doesn't have to be. That's the type of change that I'm talking about. Just because a barrier is there, doesn't mean it has to stay because "that's just the way it’s always been." I don't agree with that.
Anna: What steps do you think need to be taken to help change that and destroy that barrier?
LaTasha: So, actually finding lenders and finding banks and other developers that actually want to have a more holistic approach and fair approach in terms of making sure that the equality of the process is a game for all people involved, all stakeholders.