The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

July 10, 2012

Tulsa Zoo using vacant exhibit space for garden

TULSA, Okla. — Jim Misel works in the garden harvesting tomatoes and peppers. And while he works he can occasionally hear the flamingoes squawk and sea lions bark.

As a horticulturist at the Tulsa Zoo, one of Misel’s projects is the commissary garden where the horticultural department grows vegetables and fruits for the zoo’s animals.

The mesh-covered area, which once housed a seasonal butterfly exhibit and later a bird exhibit, is now home to tomatoes, peppers, greens, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and kale.

Misel said he tries to harvest every few days.

The zookeepers like having the fresh produce grown on the grounds to help supplement the food that is brought in for the animals.

“I hear it constantly,” said Misel, who gives the food to keepers in the primate, bird, reptile and mammal departments.

“That curly kale - (primates) love it. I’ve gone through two plantings already,” he said.

This is the third year the zoo has used the former exhibit space as a vegetable garden, and although it doesn’t save the zoo a lot on food costs, it does help a little, said Angela Evans, the zoo’s director of marketing and public relations.

“It can’t hurt,” Evans said. “We’re using the space, which wasn’t being used.”

In addition to the commissary garden, the horticultural department is also responsible for the plant and tree maintenance on the zoo’s 84 acres.

The job is especially tough in the summer when temperatures reach 100-plus degrees.

“It’s a struggle,” Misel said. “That’s almost all we do, this time of year, is water.”

The department is made up of five full-time staff members, plus part-time and seasonal staff.

“We have people here at 6 a.m., and we have people here ‘til 5 p.m. just trying to keep things watered,” he said.

During the fall and winter months, plants and foliage are grown from seeds in the zoo’s greenhouses and then from April until late spring the horticulture staff plants those seedlings and plants on the grounds.

“After that, we’re busy weeding and watering, and in the fall we start taking it out,” he said.

The staff also works with the zoo’s other departments to coordinate the plants in and around exhibits to highlight the animals’ native region.

“Is this plant toxic, is this something they’ll want to eat?” Misel said. “Like with the lemurs, all the plant material around that exhibit comes from Madagascar. It’s unique to have a material that most people in Tulsa have never seen.”

That’s what makes his job so fun, he said.

“I’ve worked in horticulture for 30 years, and I work with things at the zoo I’ve never seen before,” Misel said.


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