- ABOUT US
Two business owners collaborate to bring fresh, locally sourced food to central Oklahoma.
By Kerri Shadid
Published September/October 2012
The tomatoes look like they’ve been Photoshopped. It’s rare to find such vibrantly red, perfectly formed specimens. One bite proves the taste of these beauties, grown on an Oklahoma farm, is as perfect as their appearance. Nearby, organic wild mushrooms from Om Gardens in Norman look like brown and cream carnations in a basket.
Fresh produce is not the only local offering that exceeds expectations at Earth to Urban Local Food Hub in Oklahoma City. The shop is filled with a cornucopia of nuts, cheeses, honey, vegetables, fruits, chicken, beef, jams, breads, and pizzas—all grown or prepared by some of Oklahoma’s finest food producers.
Earth to Urban, which is located southwest of the old Farmers Public Market near downtown Oklahoma City, is the product of a collaboration between Matthew Burch’s Urban Agrarian and April Harrington’s Earth Elements Farm, two businesses well-known in the Oklahoma local food scene. Urban Agrarian sources the produce, in high demand from such restaurants as Oklahoma City locavore hotspot Ludivine, while Earth Elements processes it into baked and canned goods and runs an onsite kitchen open to entrepreneurs.
The store feels like a farmers’ market held in a converted barn in the country. Rather than putting customers in the usual position of lumbering up and down the flourescent-lit aisles of a big-box grocery store, this shopping experience provides them a sense of getting closer to—not farther from—the origins of the food they are buying.
While there are many suppliers in the state that offer Oklahoma products, Earth to Urban is unique in that it is 100 percent local. Even the prepared food made by entrepreneurs in the kitchen uses flour, fruit, and vegetables grown and made in Oklahoma.
Harrington and Burch, who worked together at Earth Elements Farm in 2008 and 2009, had discussed the idea of starting a local food hub for years. But the catalyst for the creation of Earth to Urban came last year, when Harrington learned that her kitchen in Lexington was slated for demolition through eminent domain in the widening of U.S. Highway 77.
That prompted the duo to turn their talk of opening a joint enterprise in Oklahoma City into a reality.
Finding the location was something of a happy accident. Both Burch and Harrington were drawn to the Farmers Public Market area, but it took six months of looking before they realized that a mutual friend’s father owned an empty building in the district.
“It was a beautiful space, with hardwood floors and high ceilings,” says Burch. “And it was empty, which meant we had to add a lot but also meant that we did not have to destroy a lot.”
Renovations included upgrades to the plumbing and electrical systems. Burch and Harrington also built an office and a kitchen, but the structure’s aesthetic of exposed wood and rustic cool remains the same.
Driving up to the store feels like discovering a secret part of Oklahoma City, near downtown but moving at a slower pace. The off-the-beaten-track aspect of the Farmers Public Market district is exactly what Birch and Harrington hope to change.
“Earth to Urban is in the historic produce district of Oklahoma City, which could use a spark, and we hope to provide that,” says Burch. “Oklahoma City could really use a produce district again.”
This is more than a market—its founders hope it is the beginning of a community of local food producers all working together in one place.
The centerpiece is the Earth Elements Entrepreneurs’ Kitchen, where local chefs and bakers who want to start their own businesses but lack the means to buy a kitchen can rent the space and create food that is then sold in the market. For example, this is where chef Chris Becker—who worked with Mario Batali at his Italian restaurant Lupa in New York City—makes his Della Terra fresh pasta, which is popular at restaurants in the Oklahoma City area.
“It is exciting to see people with ideas and to offer them something that makes their dreams possible,” Harrington says.
For entrepreneurs who are looking to start small with their businesses, the Entrepreneurs’ Kitchen offers the perfect solution.
“I knew that I needed to find a space that I could use on a weekly basis without having to deal with all the overhead of renting a building and paying utilities,” says Becker.
Harrington knew that she and Burch had created something special at their open house in October 2011 when a crowd of people five hundred strong showed up.
“Earth to Urban is really based on the idea that people want to build a community,” Harrington says. “Local food is a belief system for those who want a better product, and that generates this community.”
But Burch and Harrington are not content to rest on what they already have accomplished. Future plans, including the addition of more seating, a prepared foods section, cooking classes, tastings, and social hours will continue to build on the sense of community they have helped create.
Get There: Get There: Earth to Urban Local Food Hub is open year round at the Farmers Public Market Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. 1235 Southwest Second Street in Oklahoma City. (405) 231-1919.