“A garden is like a baby, you have to take care of it every day,” says Ali Soylu while pulling weeds out of the ground.
The ground doesn’t belong to his own garden, however. It’s the community garden on the west side of Cameron University, along Ole Kim Lane, just east of Southwest 38th Street.
“I come here every day for a couple of hours,” Soylu says. “When you produce, you become happy.”
It is 8 in the evening, and the sun is close to disappearing behind the picturesque Wichita Mountains that can be seen in the far distance to the northwest. The air has cooled down. An idyllic atmosphere. It’s quiet and peaceful.
Soylu, who is a business management professor at Cameron University, is growing a variety of different vegetables in the community garden, such as cucumbers, okra, corn, beans, honeydew and pickles.
“It’s great exercise. It takes the stress out. You get some sun, and you can be outside with the nature. It really raises your self-esteem and confidence.”
Soylu grew up in the Eastern parts of Turkey and came to the United States in 1995, where he got his Master and PhD in Philadelphia. In 2007, he moved to Lawton to teach at Cameron.
“I grew up in a village. I learned from my dad how to garden. Every time I got back to Turkey in the summertime, I helped my dad gardening and farming. I just love to do this,” Soylu said.
Soylu points to a big orange cucumber.
“This one is for the seeds,” he explains. At one point, he brough seeds for Turkish and Armenian cucumbers to America, and he has grown them ever since.
“They are really good, you should try them,” Aldrick Bisscete says. He is from the Caribbean and works in Cameron’s IT Department. Bisscete came to Lawton in 2012 for school and worked his way up from student worker to full time. It’s his first year in the community garden.
Bisscete is growing zucchini, squash, okra, tomatoes, water melons – and Turkish cucumbers from seeds provided by Soylu.
Walking through the community garden, talking to the people who spend their evenings here, it becomes clear that this is not just gardening, but also a little family.
“It’s like a small community,” Bisscete agrees.
At the same time, he points out, it’s great to be away from most people.
“It’s just you and the plants. I enjoy every second of it.”
What’s important, he states, is that a lot of commitment and dedication is needed. Especially with the temperatures right now, the plants need daily watering.
“It takes an hour and a half to water everything,” says Teresa Skags, who is growing beans, peas, watermelons, squash and tomatoes.
“We already got some red tomatoes, but the rabbits got them,” she says while aiming the water hose at one of the tomato plants.
Skaggs says she’s a diabetic and must eat a lot of vegetables. The advantage of growing them by herself is that she knows there aren’t any pesticides used.
The sun has now set, and Soylu and the others are in the middle of watering their plants. Once it’s dark, they will head home. But they will be back tomorrow, to enjoy the garden in the city.