The start of summer is a few days away and it’s said that no matter how many years a farmer has been farming, there are always surprises and challenges to face. Emily Oakley and Mike Appel of Three Springs Farm are our June member spotlight, and that old adage is definitely  true for them this season.

Emily and Mike met where you imagine all future organic farmers would meet… In an agroecology class on the first day of college. The two worked together, routinely outlasting their classmates in the Long Island heat and humidity, and soon Emily was convincing Mike that Oklahoma was the perfect location to build an organic farm.

Three Springs Farm organic farm owned by Mike and Emily Oakley in Oaks, Oklahoma

Emily is a first-generation farmer who grew up in Oklahoma and knew the market was ready for an organic farm and CSA program, plus the land was more affordable and Emily had local connections to help jumpstart the business. For three years they borrowed land in Tulsa thanks to the generosity of a local woman who let them use a few acres of her horse pasture. Emily looks back now and realizes what a sacrifice that was to give up that farm space, and she still refers to the landowner as a fairy godmother.

However, the pair soon needed more space and were hunting for property that they could certify and turn into a home as well. Another community member who had been watching their success grow stepped up to help them find their next farm, and they’ve been farming there for just over 17 years now. Each week they deliver organic produce to customers in central Tulsa via a tab model CSA program. This way they can deliver flexibility, affordability, and more options to the community as they can choose the products they want in their share, when they want them, and charge against a balance they paid earlier in the season. Mike and some friends even developed an app to make online share ordering easier for shoppers and the farm, and recently applied for a USDA grant to try to make it available to farmers across the country!

But while the farm is doing well and the CSA has great shopper retention, the farm is facing a challenge they thought they were protected against. Mike and Emily realized they were drifted on recently despite taking all the precautions to protect themselves from this calamity. The farm rests in a valley without neighboring farms, so they never thought it could happen to them. Currently they are working with their certifier, the department of agriculture, and have shared samples with Oklahoma State pathologists to begin to sort out what was sprayed and by whom. While they’ve notified their CSA members of the incident, it’s now a waiting game to see what the damage is and if they’ll lose their certification. 

It’s easy to imagine this experience will make Emily and Mike even more hardened advocates for the health of their environment and community. Both are working on local grassroots efforts to prevent CAFO expansion, and Mike, who serves on OFA’s Policy Committee, is particularly passionate about national issues like strengthening organic standards and making farming policies more organically focused. 

While these two are busier than expected this season, Emily shared a centering thought: Working with others, like being a part of OFA, brings a connection with other growers, a sense of community that cuts across farming systems and regions, and can give a farmer the impetus to keep going. “It feels like you’ll never make it past 5 years, or 10 years, then you do. But you wonder if you’ll keep going. But once we got 12 or 15 years in, we felt our systems were solidified and knowledge was increasing. Now we have an amazing community and farm set up—and nothing would give us greater reward and gratification than this.”


Would you like to nominate someone for the Member Spotlight? Please email your recommendation to madison[@]