Oklahoma Sketches: Reaping what we sow
BY Staff Reports
Monday, May 28, 2007
2/04/08 at 3:37 PM
Read other stories in the series: A funereal existence ::
Last real Coyote hunter :: Big-City Cuisine in Small-Town America :: Prairie family persevered :: 'Not much left' of town except strong local pride :: Oklahoma 'ghost town' still alive and kicking :: ‘We’re all characters around here’ :: Hominy warms to Mexican cuisine :: Remnant of boom days :: Cut from the same cloth
Editor's Note: During 2007 -- Oklahoma's centennial year -- Tulsa World staff writer Michael Overall is traveling the state, writing about uniquely Oklahoman personalities.
SPERRY -- Walking barefoot and pushing a baby stroller down the side of the road, the man waves at my approaching car. But, being a city boy, I'm not ready for his friendliness -- and by the time I get my hand up to wave back, I'm already past him.
Watching him in the rearview mirror, I wonder how long a guy has to walk around without shoes before he can stroll down a gravel road like it's plush carpet. Then it dawns on me: The stroller didn't have a baby in it -- it was full of grocery sacks.
I hit the brakes, back up and roll down the window.
"Hey, I'm a little lost. Can you tell me how to find Harvey's vegetable stand?"
Of course he can.
"Around here," he tells me, "everybody knows each other."
In the southeast corner of Osage County, between Sperry and Skiatook Lake, some families have been living on the same small farms for generations.
Ron Harvey moved here more than 30 years ago, and to some of his neighbors, that still makes him the new guy.
'The Bible says . . .': A small sign, nearly covered by tall weeds, points off the gravel road to a dirt path that loops around Harvey's vegetable garden.
His granddaughters, 11-year-old Samantha and 12-year-old Taylor, come out on the weekends to help pick the okra and the tomatoes and whatever else happens to be ripe. But during the week, Harvey has a job in Tulsa.
Most of the time, his vegetable stand is left unguarded -- no one to watch it and no gate to protect it.
A handwritten sign explains what to do: Weigh the vegetables yourself. Take a little extra in case the scale is off. Put your money in the pickle jar on the table. If you don't have exact change, don't worry. Just pay the next time.
It's called the honor system.
And it's almost like finding an ivory-billed woodpecker -- once thought extinct, it turns out that a few still survive in the backwoods of the American South.
Harvey is a rare and endangered breed. He's a trusting soul.
With complete faith in his fellow man, Harvey never doubts that people will pay for what they take. And he never worries about his cash jar disappearing.
Last summer, the vegetable stand made $450, which his granddaughters saved for college. And as far as Harvey knows, nobody stole one dime or walked off with a single tomato without paying.
"The Bible says do unto others," Harvey said. "And around here, people have always tried to live that way."
'Storing up treasure': In the city, we always lock our doors, even in the best neighborhoods. Maybe especially in the best neighborhoods.
If I forget my cell phone in the car, I'll walk back 10 blocks to get it, and I'll walk fast because it takes about three seconds to "smash and grab."
Even at work, you can't keep a stapler at your desk, much less money. Your lunch might go missing from the break room's refrigerator. Umbrellas walk off by themselves on rainy days.
Luckily for Harvey, his vegetable stand is tucked away on a remote country road where the neighbors are pretty much the only ones who know about it.
The crooks will never find it. Unless they move out here themselves.
'To give and not receive': If you stand very still in Harvey's garden and listen for a moment, past the wind in the trees and the buzzing flies, you can hear the faint snap-snap-snap of a distant nail gun.
That's a construction crew building yet another new house, less than a mile away.
Over the last 10 years, a lot of old farmhouses have been replaced by new McMansions. Pastures have turned into front lawns. Old county roads have been paved and widened to make new city streets.
It hasn't quite reached Harvey yet, but suburban sprawl is closing in. More and more often, the people who drive by his vegetable garden have unfamiliar faces, and some of them don't even return Harvey's friendly wave.
You have to wonder how much longer a pickle jar can be left unguarded with his grandchildren's college money in it.
"Oh, we won't get rid of the jar," he says. "Even if people start taking it, we won't get rid of it. I guess if somebody takes it, that means they needed it more than we did. 'Give and don't expect to receive.' "
Around here, people know that's another quote from the Bible.
Michael Overall 581-8383
Cousins Samantha Harvey (left) and Taylor Harvey hug their grandfather Ron Harvey at his farm in Sperry. The trio works the garden, and the profit from
the honor-system vegetable stand goes to the girls.