Green Like Us

In the last couple of years, Tulsa and the rest of the country have experienced a surge in interest in issues of the environment and sustainability. More and more, people are concerned with reducing their carbon footprints, protecting and conserving the environment, knowing where their food comes from and carefully choosing what they’re putting into their bodies.
While every little bit helps – reducing water and electricity use, recycling, seeking alternative forms of transportation – some entrepreneurs are going big with their mission to be green.
Lisa Becklund is a farmer, providing Tulsans with organic, locally raised and grown milk, eggs and vegetables.
Bob Mathes, Ed Conn and Dean West are partners in a firm cutting back on deforestation by reusing salvaged wood in home and office building products.
Shelby Navarro is a green-minded architect, building not only homes and offices, but communities as well.
And Seth, Deanna and John Christ are helping people across the country use less energy by switching to solar.
Here are profiles of these sustainably-minded entrepreneurs, all owners of Tulsa-based businesses.
Home Grown
In November of 2004, Lisa “BiBi” Becklund took up her Seattle roots and moved to Bristow, to start a farm.
The restaurateur, who’s been a chef “most of her life,” had no experience in farming no ties to Oklahoma. But she and Lisa Marrell, who was a server at Becklund’s restaurant and from the Tulsa area, made the decision to move, settled down on seven acres of land just off Oklahoma 33 in Bristow and opened a farm called The Living Kitchen.
Marrell left the farm earlier this year and now runs her father’s business growing and selling heirloom tomato plants. She changed the name from The Tomato Man to The Tomato Man’s Daughter.
Becklund runs the farm solo now, except for the help of an intern, Casey Scott.
“When I was in Seattle I was fascinated with the fresh food and the farmers at the farmers’ market.” Becklund said. “I found I was enamored by the farmers, and what I really wanted to do was grow my own food.”
In addition to certified “organic” cold- and warm-weather crops, which Becklund sells at area farmers’ markets, she owns 12 Nubian milk goats and 14 kids and produces goat milk and cheese. She also has 45 chickens that yield free-range, organic eggs.
The business is sustainable, engaging in practices that offer minimal disturbance to the earth, and a maximum amount of health and social benefits.
In addition to only growing and feeding her animals certified organic food, Becklund composts all of her food and paper scraps, conserves water and electricity, reuses all the glass, aluminum and plastic she can and recycles the rest.
On her Web site, www.livingkitchen.homestead.com, she offers the statement, “Without seeming like ‘hippies’ or ‘tree huggers’ (we do hug trees all the time), we are trying to create a farm and a place to live and work that benefits the earth and our community. We are not perfect and we find much of this life very challenging, but there is no other choice for us because this life is more gratifying and fulfilling than anything we could have imagined.”
Becklund teaches cooking classes at the Oklahoma State University Wellness Center, as well as various other classes, including canning, cold framing and composting, to different groups. Recently she began serving on the board of Global Gardens, a non-profit educational program that teaches low-income students — and through them, their communities — about gardening.
She said learning about gardening empowers people and puts them in touch with what food is.
“So much of what we eat is processed and made for convenience,” she said. “It’s fun to watch the kids learn self-reliance and accomplishment and, in the end, eat foods they wouldn’t eat before.”
While the organic food movement has been gaining steam for a number of years and the local food movement more recently, Becklund says she’s curious to see what the next food trend is – and she thinks she has an idea.
“The local food movement has set down its roots, and I think next you’ll start to see restaurants having their own farms,” she said.
Becklund keeps in touch with her own culinary roots by offering Farm Table Dinners two weekends out of each summer month. For about $60, guests can dine on a masterfully prepared meal from produce raised on the farm right in the farm’s barn. The meals are restricted to 24 people, and guests can register at the farm’s Web site.
The farming industry ebbs and flows like any other, with good months and bad months, but Becklund keeps her revenue steady by offering a food cooperative, paid for in the winter, when funds are slow, in which she provides food for members throughout the summer months.
“It’s been nothing but a day-to-day learning experience,” said Becklund. “I’m fortunate that I came to Oklahoma, where people are easy to connect with.”
“People here are so friendly, and I’ve been able to make a lot of farming friends who have held my hand through the whole thing,” she said. “I’ve learned a lot about the interdependence of the farming community. I wouldn’t have lasted any amount of time without them.”
Wood Workers
Bob Mathes, Ed Conn and Dean West took various routes to arrive at the same destination: Partnership in the 2-year-old Timber & Beam Solutions, supplier of historical wood and artifacts for builders, architects and home owners.
Mathes, president of the company, left a 25-year-long career in retail and consumer marketing to join TBS. He says his company rescues antique wood, originally harvested from old-growth forests to build barns, stables and homes, once the structures have been slated for demolition.
Timber & Beam Solutions mills the 120-year-old wood into beams, trusses, pergolas, cabinets, trim, flooring, siding, stairs, columns and nearly any other architectural element desired.
The company gets its materials from structures already fated for demolition that would be “burned or buried” otherwise, said Mathes.
The company gets most of its material from Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas and the Great Lakes area, places where 100-year-old barns and stables are not uncommon. When, for whatever reason (such as disrepair or liability) those structures need to come down, Timber & Beam offers to tear them down and haul off the debris, turning it into a lucrative business.
In recent years, exposed, rustic beams have become popular in building, both in contemporary and classic homes. While beams from reclaimed wood cost more than plain, new ones, they cost much less than new beams distressed to look old would. And, they’re much easier on the environment.
West, owner and founder of West Construction, said his company, which he founded in 1997, first experienced working with reclaimed wood in 2002, when a customer asked for it.
He had a difficult time finding the wood the customer wanted from available vendors, so in 2007 he formed TBS and began scouting his own reclaimed wood in 2008.
In June of this year, West, Mathes and Conn, whose background is executive management and commercial lending, plan to launch TBS as a nationwide provider of antique reclaimed wood. The company has an office and inventory yard in Tulsa, which boasts 100,000 beam feet of reclaimed wood, as well as offices in Aspen, Colo., and Rosemary Beach, Fla., and lumber yards in Aspen and Wisconsin.
In June, they’ll open a showroom at 314 W. 14th Place to showcase the available materials and applications TBS offers. One room of the office boasts wood from five different states. The entryway walls are made of siding built from casualties of 2007’s ice storm.
Its office in Apen was built out of 20,000 beam feet of reclaimed wood, and Mathes joked that it’s a brand-new building that looks 100 years old. TBS is also responsible for a bridge in Jenks made from salvaged trees and will install working barn doors in the soon-to-be-opened Siegi’s Sausage Factory restaurant in south Tulsa.
West said it’s hard to measure how many trees are spared by TBS’s reclaiming habits, but he offered an example: The company’s Aspen office used 20,000 beam feet of salvaged wood. A large tree can produce 3,000 or so beam feet of wood. So, on that project alone, it’s safe to say that six trees avoided uprooting.
West called building from reclaimed wood a sort of way to get back in touch with one’s roots.
“The wood used to build these barns came from a forest within 20 miles of that structure,” West said. “Someone cut the tree down by hand, dragged to the site by a horse and dolly, and cut the beam by hand.”
From the Ground Up
Shelby Navarro’s interest in sustainability isn’t a recent development. He’s not following the “green” trend that so many of us are (but for good reason).
The sustainable lifestyle has been ingrained in Navarro since he was a youngster, growing up on his grandparents’ farm in Verdigris. On an 80-acre plot of land, his family raised and fed off of cattle, ducks, chickens and geese, an organic garden and a pond full of fish.
“My grandpa read Organic Gardening magazine before it was cool,” Navarro said, laughing.
Not only did Navarro’s grandfather recycle, but he also made things out of reused materials, such as wine glasses from beer or pop bottles. He also built solar panels to heat the family’s home.
“He was always looking for ways to save energy and fuel and to eat right,” said Navarro.
But it wasn’t because he was part of a “green movement.”
“Back then, that was just the way you had to do things,” Navarro said.
It’s also the way Navarro’s been doing things since he’s been in the architecture business, for about 11 years.
And he says clients who come to his firm, ONE Architecture, come with the same mindset. They may not want to “hug a tree,” but they want to save money and energy and create a healthy environment for themselves, their families and their employees.
Although Navarro’s firm doesn’t just do sustainable building, it seems to be the thing ONE is recognized for, and now the clients who come to Navarro do so expecting to minimize their carbon footprints.
But, Navarro says, green building isn’t just about the materials used. It’s also about location, interaction with the community and maintenance.
Navarro said he’s seen more energy in the sustainability movement since celebrities started to get on board a few years ago and, locally, since Mayor Kathy Taylor started her Green Team, of which Navarro is a member.
Navarro speaks regularly to building and community associations about the importance and benefits of green building and the sustainability movement.
Navarro is a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified architect, a member of the AIA State Board of Directors, advisor to PLANiTULSA, and a member of the Pearl District Association, where many of his current and upcoming projects lie.
He’s designing a community garden at Jackson Elementary School, 2137 N. Pittsburgh Ave.; providing LEED consulting for a Woodward school project; working on a LEED-certified home for a private client; building two sustainable homes in Sand Springs for private clients; conducting three sustainable remodels in midtown for private clients; designing a church in west Tulsa; drawing two sustainable restaurant designs for Blue Dome District clients, working on a warehouse remodel/reuse in downtown’s Brady District (his personal development project, which is top secret for now); and re-purposing two buildings in the Pearl District, one of which will be ONE Architecture’s new office and another that may become a neighborhood bar or coffee shop.
With all of his development, Navarro said, he aims to promote smaller houses, mixed density, walkability and community interaction. He’s working on a neighborhood project just outside of Oklahoma City that will employ all of those elements, providing residences for all age and socioeconomic groups in one site. The development will also employ permeable pavement, rainwater collecting and ENERGY STAR, LEED or Green Globes certified homes.
His completed projects, like the Nine Duplex, the state’s first LEED platinum certified home, as well as his work on Elliot Nelson’s El Guapo’s Cantina and Blake Ewing’s Joe Momma’s Pizza downtown have already earned him local and national acclaim as, not only a sustainability-minded architect, but also a creator of unique work and living spaces.
Sun Worshippers
In a matter of about two weeks, Sun City Solar Energy, owned by John and Deanna Christ and run by Deanna, sold 15 solar installation systems with revenue “way over a quarter of a million dollars.”
The family-owned and operated business got its start in 1983, when tax breaks for solar installation prompted families across the country to rethink their energy sources.
Sun City grew to 11 locations in four states, beginning in El Paso and ending in Tulsa, but when the tax breaks ran out, so did Sun City’s steam, and in 1985 the Christs closed all of their locations except the one in Tulsa.
John Christ opened Champion Builders, building and remodeling energy-efficient homes, but Deanna Christ hung on to Sun City, and since 2005’s federal tax rebate program reinstated rebates for solar energy users, business has been booming, said Seth Christ, solar consultant and son to John and Deanna.
Now Sun City boasts five locations – Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Pocola, Springdale, Ark. and Sherman, Texas – and installs and maintains solar electric power, solar hot water, solar pool heaters and solar attic fans.
Seth Christ, systems designer and consultant, said the majority of Sun City’s business comes in the form of solar hot water installations.
Hot water accounts for 25 percent of a family of four’s utility expenses.
“One hundred years ago, if you wanted to heat something, you’d start a fire,” said Christ. “It’s the most effective way to heat something. Ninety-nine percent of the electricity in Oklahoma comes from fire, from burning natural gas or coal. But it’s inefficient to burn something from 50 miles away to generate electricity that you’ll use to start another fire, to heat your house or water.”
“People with electric hot water systems are the best candidates for solar,” he said.
He said a number of factors go into the cost of a solar system, but for a family of four, a hot water system will cost less than $10,000 and the family will recoup its investment in nine years. Add on to that the 30-percent tax credit, which has no maximum limit, and solar energy might look very appealing to a family looking to cut costs and energy.
While many who consider installing solar panels initially seek solar electric power, they often find hot water systems are more efficient and cost-effective.
Christ said most of Sun City’s clients turn to solar, not because they want to minimize their carbon footprints, but because they want to reduce their dependency on foreign oil.
Sun City’s only local commercial clients have both been large oil companies who’ve installed solar panels on their offices. Sun City’s largest private residential customer is a retired petroleum executive.
“You know when gas prices were so high last year and the gas companies were making so much money?” asked Christ. “They turned around and invested all that money they made into alternative energy.”
He said the cost of the systems, which is the biggest impediment to families and businesses considering solar energy, is likely to come down as quickly as next year, making them more affordable to average folks.
With that possibility and the tax cuts that are already in place, Christ says his business will be “a mad house.”



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