, Muskogee, OK

Local News

July 29, 2013

Organic farmers dig in


From college to

organic farming

Cassie and Andy Herringshaw met at the University of Oklahoma. She majored in biology, and he was seeking a degree in business finance.

After getting married in 2005, they received master’s degrees at Iowa State University. That was where their lives turned to organic farming.

“The summer before I went to grad school, I worked at a high-fructose corn syrup plant. I was an accountant,” Andy said, adding that Iowa produces a lot of corn.

And a lot of corn goes into high-fructose corn syrup. The syrup is a sweetener in all sorts of products, including carbonated beverages.

“I decided I don’t want the world to look like that,” he said.

At Iowa State, he learned how agricultural land is used by large farms and processors and by smaller farms.

The couple lived on an organic farm in Iowa, Andy said.

“We lived in a passive solar house, so it could heat itself by the sun,” he said.

The experience inspired them to build a straw bale house.

The two also learned that there was far more to a successful organic farm than compost.

“While it is not hard to garden organically, it is hard to make a business out of it,” Cassie said. “Are you actually getting an increase? It’s easy to have this idealistic view of agriculture.”

Andy agreed, noting that “growing is only half the trouble. Then, you have to market it.”

Helping others

help themselves

After graduating from Iowa State, the Herringshaws spent three years in Bolivia, helping provide water to rural residents. They worked through a community relief agency, the Mennonite Central Committee.

“We didn’t grow up Mennonite, but we liked their approach to international development,” Andy said. “We had a friend who served with them, and they had a position in which the job requirement included riding a motorcycle in the countryside.”

The Herringshaws lived in Moro Moro, a village of about 700 people. They had a mud brick house with concrete floors, electricity and a flush toilet, Cassie said.

But, Andy said, they worked in the countryside, about two hours from the nearest paved road.

Cassie said homes in Moro Moro had maybe a thatched roof or mud roof, little or no electricity and no running water.

Andy said: “Our main job was to coordinate communities to build the water lines. We’d bring the materials, but the community would actually build them.”

Cassie said the 3/4-inch lines would tap into mountain springs. The longest line might have been a mile.

The water was not for showers or washing machines, Andy said.

“Every house got one faucet and a tank with 100-gallon capacity,” he said.

Tapping a slow spring made it harder for a home to get water.

“But it was better than having women haul the water,” he said.

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