By Sarah Szabo / Photography By Brooke Allen & Barry Jarvis | May 01, 2015
It’s a rare business that can back up the quality of its wares with more than 100 years’ worth of history, and even rarer to find such a business in practically your own backyard. You can’t achieve a lifespan like that without a tradition of high quality, and this author can independently testify that the product here is just delicious. For the carnivores of northeast Oklahoma, the meat of Oologah-based Blakley Family Farms is some of the best of what’s around.
Sausage, bacon, liver, bacon, ribs, shoulders, steak, steak, steak—what more could you want? Seriously—because the Blakleys probably have it. Beef, pork and lamb in abundance—but the biggest part of their operation is beef. And while most of their business comes direct from consumers, they do sell their ground beef at two stores: the Rogers Square Herbs and Health Food Store in Skiatook, and Martha’s Health Food and Herb Store in Broken Arrow.
The quantities? Whatever you want—they sell it in custom cuts by quarters, halves or wholes for people who want to stock up for the year. It’s bang for your buck and your body will thank you; Blakley livestock are all naturally grass- and grain-fed and hormone-free.
The “Family” aspect of the name is no played-up marketing ploy. Save for two farmhands and two or three part-time greenhouse employees, this operation is run by 10-odd members of the Blakley family, stretching over three generations and three distinct businesses. Blakley Family Farms is the newest offshoot of what is still known today as Diamonds in the Rough Cattle Company, which was joined by Rae and husband, Lyle, Blakley’s Creekside Plants and Produce, which began operating in 1988. Rae is the manager, operator and founder of the produce portion of the Blakley family triad, but for the most part, their organizational structure is very relaxed and loose.
“It’s all together,” says Rae. “We’re not an LLC. Maybe we should be?"
Between the cattle, the meat, the produce and selling the stuff and market, everyone in the family—around 10 of them—has fallen into some sort of role. You’ll find Rae’s mother- in-law, Nancy, at the farmers’ markets; Lyle leans toward managing the farm; her brother- in-law works full-time taking care of the show cattle. Together, they’re the stewards in charge of Diamonds in the Rough Cattle Company—the original Blakley business.
Some 126 years ago—or six generations—great-great-great-grandpa Blakley arrived in Garfield County, Oklahoma, and staked his claim on Skeleton Creek. Vincent Blakley, direct descendent, is the organization’s sage overseer, and his story of the family farm is compelling in its simplicity, its purity. These are Oklahomans, these Blakleys, born from the red dirt through-and-through.
“My great-grandpa Anderson staked the place a mile down the creek from Blakley,” says Vincent, detailing the family company’s origin story. “Anderson’s daughter married him—and that was my grandpa and grandma.”
Vincent is a grandfatherly man with an easy laugh and a learned economy of words—the kind of man who exudes contentment, satisfied with how things have gone for his family in life so far. 126 years tilling the earth in Oklahoma—how does it feel to be a part of that? He reacts with a rising chuckle, as though he’s never considered the thought before.
“I guess I’m a part of it,” he says. “That’s all I ever wanted to do, so when I got out of high school, that’s what I attempted.”
The Blakleys are a constant presence at the Owasso and Tulsa Farmers’ Markets, selling their meats and produce as the seasons dictate. According to Vincent, this diversification came about for no reason less than absolute financial necessity.
“No matter how big you are, or what you do, you’ve got to have the money to operate in the morning. So many people get on a limb and they’re not diversified enough to keep all the gates open.”
Good advice. And while Vincent plays down his role in the family organization—in response to a question regarding his duties, he’s quick to say that his biggest job is “staying out of the way, now!”—he has a lot of smart ideas about how to monetize the farm. They already sell hay, local honey and hand-knit scarves in addition to the meats, the produce and the cattle, and they’re looking to expand just about everything, from selling hay to the growing population of people raising horses in the Tulsa area, to selling meats directly to restaurants, and becoming involved with the incoming Tulsa Food Hub, a collective initiative still in its planning stages from the movers of Tulsa’s culinary culture.
There’s a long, considerate pause when he’s asked if he sees another hundred years ahead, eventually beginning with a tentative “If . . . .”
“Everybody in agriculture is going to have to be diversified,” he stresses. “We had a good year in the beef business last year, but we’ve had about five or six months since. You’ve got to be able to survive those. I don’t think anyone’s going to be able to do it with one enterprise.”
From a man who never could have imagined doing anything else, this comes across as a valuable, considered approach. But beyond business, there’s a happiness to this lifestyle that’s easy to envy. He was raised a mile and a quarter north and a mile west from where the family farm has been, in Oologah, since the 1930s, when the Blakleys of Garfield County began to split off to their own farmlands. “I’m right here,” he says. “This was my grandparents’. And we were real close to them.”
“I feel fortunate to be able to do, all my life, what I wanted to do. To be successful, and raise my family, and now my grandkids. And some of them are getting out of school now, and they’ve been successful, so. What more could you ask for?” Heavy supporters of 4-H and the FFA, this is a farm family that wants to spread its gospel, share the wealth. In spring, the second Saturday of each April, they put on their annual open house, where they open to the public with free barbecue and drinks. “We just like people to come out and see what we do, where we’re at,” says Rae. “We also have school groups come out, usually in May, and they tour the greenhouse. We talk about the plants and how they’re grown, and talk about the meat, and we take them up to the farm and we show them the cattle and what the different cuts of meats are, and my husband brings the farm equipment down because lots of kids don’t get to see that kind of thing.
“I just think that opportunities given to youth in the field of agriculture are so great. Even just to grow up in it, the things it teaches you, the responsibility.” Blakley Family Farms is located north of Tulsa and south of Oologah, along Highway 169 and NS 4090 Road, and their newsletter and pricing information can be found online at DiamondsInTheroughcattle.com/.