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How Oklahoma farmers and landscapers adapt to extreme heat and severe weather

Micah Anderson stands with one his students at Langston University. Cooperative Extension and Outreach Programs at the university teach the next generation of Black farmers how to grow food and have a sustainable farm business.
Micah Anderson
Micah Anderson stands with one his students at Langston University. Cooperative Extension and Outreach Programs at the university teach the next generation of Black farmers how to grow food and have a sustainable farm business.

Micha Anderson has 11 acres of pecan trees and a half acre of fruits and vegetables on his farm in Piedmont, Oklahoma. Anderson has farmed his whole life in the state.

He grew up on a farm in Haskell Oklahoma where his grandmother taught him how to raise cattle, pigs and chickens, and how to grow sweet potatoes, watermelons and other crops.

Anderson also works as an extension agent for Langston University where he teaches the next generation of Black farmers how to grow their own food and have sustainable farming businesses. He said the weather in Oklahoma is much different than it was when he was growing up.

“As a kid, it was really different. You could pretty much count on what was going to happen. And we were on the east side of the state. You could count on rain,” he said. “We didn't really ever irrigate anything. We just kind of planted stuff and it would produce.”

Anderson is concerned the weather has gotten more unpredictable in the last ten years. Not only do droughts and thunderstorms seem more frequent and intense to him, damaging winds and hail have taken a toll on some crops at Langston.

“My sweetcorn got damaged and we were still able to harvest it, but it wasn't, like, real pretty,” he said. “This year, two weeks-worth of crops we grew at the university had to be disposed of because of the hail.”

Luckily, most of the crops were able to recover, he said. Anderson suggests planting some crops in a separate garden a mile or two away from each other, and replanting downed crops right away because hailstones put nitrogen back into the soil.

Micah Anderson grows watermelon and sweet potatoes amongst other crops on his farm in Piedmont Oklahoma. He said he grows hybrid watermelons that can withstand extreme temperatures and severe weather.
Micah Anderson grows watermelon and sweet potatoes amongst other crops on his farm in Piedmont Oklahoma. He said he grows hybrid watermelons that can withstand extreme temperatures and severe weather.

The changes in Oklahoma's weather also give Anderson more reason to grow more hybrid plants than heirlooms. He said most of his watermelons are hybrid, but he likes to plant them with one or two heirloom varieties.

“Some people like the old heirlooms like the black diamonds and what have you,” he said. “But they don't know how to live in extremes as well as the hybrids do.”

Anderson says growing hybrids is like raising a mule. They’re just more resilient — less prone to diseases and can withstand extreme heat and weather.

The National Weather Service issued a heat advisory for Oklahoma Tuesday. Tulsa’s heat index was 107 degrees with 30% humidity. Tim Maxville does landscaping in the city. He and his son woke up a little earlier than usual to beat the heat.

“By the time 3 p.m. rolls around, we have gotten a lot of work done and have been in the heat. That’s when you risk heat exhaustion,” he said. “We line things up so we can get done before it gets really hot and take breaks whenever we need to.”

Maxville recommended taking regular breaks when needed, replenishing fluids throughout the day and after work and eating lighter foods. In fact, he prefers to get a couple of street tacos and some rice to pull him through the day.

“Mexican food seems to be pretty much okay to eat. I can work in the heat all day long and never get sick from it,” he said.

Britny (they/them) reports for StateImpact Oklahoma with an emphasis on science and environment.
StateImpact Oklahoma reports on education, health, environment, and the intersection of government and everyday Oklahomans. It's a reporting project and collaboration of KGOU, KOSU, KWGS and KCCU, with broadcasts heard on NPR Member stations.
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