Chickasaw Woman Recognized as Significant Woman in Oklahoma Agriculture
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — Marla Saeger, president of the board of directors of the Tahlequah Farmers’ Market, was recently recognized as a Significant Woman in Oklahoma Agriculture by the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry.
Saeger, a Chickasaw citizen, was nominated as part of the Significant Women in Oklahoma Agriculture Project, which acknowledges prominent women in agriculture in each of the state’s 77 counties. To date, more than 50 women have been recognized.
“Only 5 percent of the women chosen were from farmers markets,” said Saeger. “It fills me with pride to know that I am one of those significant women in agriculture. I think of my dad and how proud he would be of me.”
Saeger’s father, Marvin Easley, taught her the importance and value of growing food. Easley was born in the Great Depression era, and farming was how his family survived. Saeger recalled that he spent hours researching farming techniques in books and magazines.
“It was a common practice to use the ‘Three Sisters’ method, and my dad did so much studying and research on Chickasaw and indigenous ways of farming,” Saeger said. “That’s how I learned what I know – by watching him.”
The Three Sisters is a vegetable medley of corn, squash, and beans that are planted together so each plant can support and nourish each other. Traditionally, the vegetables were planted together in late May or early June.
It was through helping her father with various agriculture-related practices that Saeger developed her passion for it.
Agriculture is how she keeps her father’s memory alive. Saeger’s father died in 1982, and she has “stepped into his shoes” in a big way.
“He has never seen this part of me, and I think he would be proud to see how far I’ve come in this area of my life,” she said.
Saeger has kept his memory alive in more ways than one. Her father was an accountant, and that was one of the professions Saeger tried before becoming heavily involved with the farmers market. She took a bookkeeping class in high school, and, after graduating from Broken Arrow High School in 1979, studied economics at Oklahoma State University.
In 1982, she married her high school sweetheart, Bob Saeger, and the two moved to his hometown of Tahlequah. After moving to Tahlequah, Saeger transferred to Northeastern State University to finish her accounting degree.
Saeger began building on the board’s existing foundation immediately upon becoming chairman in 2010.
One new program is “veggie bucks,” in which she specifically focuses on third-grade students, by setting up mini farmers markets at schools. One class of third-graders go to the market at a time where they receive bags full of literature and 12 “veggie bucks” to spend at the market.
Marla explains this has been instrumental in allowing children to see where their food, and fresh fruit and vegetables in particular, actually comes from.
“They see it in a bag, a can, a casserole or on a sandwich,” Saeger said. “Not as a fresh product. Allowing them to meet the farmer that grew it is even better.”
She was a founder of Double Up Oklahoma, a statewide healthy food incentive program, modeled from the Fair Food Network’s initiative that doubles the value of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance benefits spent at participating farmers markets. She is still active in the program and participates in the statewide conference call each month.
Oklahoma agriculture will always hold a special place in Saeger’s heart.
“I love how diverse we are,” she said. “We all have different stories to tell, and I am just really proud of my farmers market.”