- Associated Press - Sunday, March 1, 2015

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) - Eating fresh and local is all the rage these days and nothing is more local than your own back - or front - yard. Sounds fun, but inexperienced gardeners or those who’ve recently transitioned to a more urban landscape may find the challenge of growing a portion of their food supply daunting.

Help is on the way. Volunteers at a local nonprofit are doing garden consultations for free, The Norman Transcript (https://bit.ly/1FzImGm ) reports.

“We want more people growing food,” said Andrew Sartain, president and founder of Earth Rebirth, a local nonprofit known for its work with school gardens.

The backyard consultations are free, and gardeners can put that advice to use.

Earth Rebirth also offers paid services based on the consultations, selling everything from soil testing to raised bed construction and rain barrels at reasonable prices.

Those paid services support Earth Rebirth’s school garden programs.

“We have the education and technology to teach people to grow on their balconies and in their yards,” said Cory Thacker, Earth Rebirth operations director.

Earth Rebirth has several arms of service, including:

. Garden Your Own Growth, a program that partners with schools and organizations to teach children hands-on gardening. The Earth Rebirth team partners with schools to assist in creating greenhouses, vegetable boxes, aquaponics, vertical gardens and green roofs.

. Homemade Sustainability partners with businesses to consult on recycling and energy efficiency, and with families to help them cut energy bills and retrofit homes with sustainable products and technologies. Additionally, the program works with homeowners to help recycle old appliances, TVs and furniture.

. Taking H2Ownership is a program that organizes cleanups to maintain the upkeep of community water sources and provide research and education on water pollution and problem solving. This program also connects people with an online database to report pollution and provides education on rain barrels and other conservation methods.

Sartain and Thacker said 100 percent of the money earned through Earth Rebirth’s garden services goes to support the community and school garden programs.

Currently, Earth Rebirth is working with Kennedy, Lincoln and Reagan elementary schools and Norman High School, as well as with the Loveworks after school program.

Loveworks was Earth Rebirth’s first garden partnership.

“I wanted to own a zoo when I was younger, and that’s what I came to OU for,” Sartain said.

Eventually that interest shifted and Sartain realized he wanted to teach people the value of incorporating nature into their daily lives.

Thacker’s background includes a stint with Green Peace and an internship with Sierra Club. He said volunteering for Earth Rebirth is addicting.

“Environmentalism isn’t new,” Thacker said. “What’s new is how much our generation knows.”

That’s the inspiration behind their motto to “Dream Big, Act Bigger.”

Thacker has had an environmental focus since about age 5, but he was tired of organizations that focus on the problems.

“It turns you off,” he said. “‘I’m so tired of hearing the problems.”

Earth Rebirth takes the approach of focusing on solutions.

Linda Terrell serves on the advisory board for Earth Rebirth. She became involved when she had Sartain in one of her classes at OU.

“It is an innovative and exciting organization,” Terrell said. “I believe this organization will put Norman on the map.”

Terrell believes connecting people to the earth and getting them to eat healthier is important for the community.

“Programs like this offer a solid foundation to develop a healthy community,” she said. “They help raise awareness about all the creative ways you can do this. Earth Rebirth is an organization that will take our community to the next level around environmental issues.”

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