Joe Tierney is a compact, wiry man, full of energy – both physical and mental – and his hands reflect a life spent in honest labor. 4:15 in the morning finds him out of bed, and half an hour later he’s out the door. 

He does the hardest work prior to 8 a.m., before the heat hits. This time of year, it’s harvesting vegetables by hand. 

At eight sharp, he brings the crops to the wash station and cleans them in three sinks. Then it’s time to open the store, accurately dubbed Joe’s Farm, in a big, low-slung shed that was there when he bought the Bixby land in 1991. 

“That shed was made in 1965,” Tierney says. “Like me.”

Word has spread, and there’s always a long line of customers waiting. There are families from Asia, Owasso, Ukraine, Jenks, India and Arkansas, carrying picnic baskets and waiting to spend the day picking strawberries, blackberries or even flowers to take home. Summer’s bounty is vast: tomatoes, yellow squash, eggplants, okra, peppers, cucumbers, garlic, beets, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, celery, scallions, caraflex cabbage and more. Most was harvested just this morning.

Joe can’t stick around the store – today, he’s pulling sandbags out of the field. Then he repairs equipment, then more harvest, then cuts cover crops from a field. 

“We never leave the earth unplanted, because good, tilled soil grows good plants,” he says. 

It’s a USDA-certified organic farm, so there’s also a compost heap to care for. And so on, and so on, until 6 p.m., when it’s time for office work and maybe some dinner. Tierney and two laborers do the whole 18 acres.

Joe Tierney and two employees work the entirety of Joe’s Farm in Bixby, which clocks in around 18 acres. Photos courtesy Joe’s Farm

Each vegetable is a labor of love. The onions you’ll buy in July started life in a greenhouse the previous November. They were transplanted to a field in February, watered regularly, hand-weeded, and covered with fabrics if there was a frost. And Tierney just loves it. 

“Produce just gets in your blood,” he says. “You just can’t get it out. I’d plan a vacation around seeing the Los Angeles Farmer’s Market.” 

Joe grew up on the north shore of Long Island. His father was an IRS agent, his mother a nurse. But he “grew up around really good food,” and he’s always loved it. 

He went to the Culinary Institute of America – the nation’s most famous cooking school. His family moved to Oklahoma, and he worked twelve hour days at the best restaurants he could find. In 1991, he bought a farm in Bixby; he was a father, he thought it would be fairly easy work, and it was only $69,000. 

He was wrong about the work, of course. He started out by creating a company that supplied produce to restaurants. Every day, he drove a big eighteen-wheeler to Dallas, haggled with producers at the market, and brought the Tulsa chefs vegetables the likes of which they’d never seen before. 

The fifteen hour days eventually took their toll, and about eight years ago, Tierney decided to devote himself entirely to farming. 

It’s evening now, the shop is closed and the farm has once again become the domain of birds and rabbits. 

“They know me,” Tierney says. 

“Well, that’s my life,” he adds with finality. “Okay guys, I’m going to sleep.”

Previous articleNot Another “Wimpy Sandwich”
Next articleA History Worth Exploring