Addressing food security in rural Oklahoma

(Journal stock photo.)

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service describes food security as “all people at all times having enough food for an active, healthy life.”

In our rural state of Oklahoma, we are ranked 10th in the nation for the most food insecure population. Oklahoma has just over 500,000 people who are experiencing food insecurity—200,000 of them are children.

Rural communities in America face a lot of challenges including being the most food insecure. Communities, like mine, in rural northwest Oklahoma, have long been considered a food desert. It consists of one small grocery store, three restaurants and two convenience stores.

Food availability in our area is very limited even though our largest industry is agriculture, and the agriculture industry is the primary source of food in America. It is an unfortunate reality.

Trey Malone, an assistant professor and agricultural economist in the Department of Agricultural Economics at the University of Arkansas, provided me with an interesting study into food availability by describing the rural food landscape, how it differs from urban areas, and how it has changed over time. Food access affects our wellbeing by what is available, convenient and nutritional.

When considering where food is consumed—at home or away from home—our rural areas face greater food access challenges due to limited food establishments as well as access to fresh produce and other healthy foods. COVID impacted this on an even greater level. As we know, convenient foods are not aways the most nutritious.

As a possible solution to overcome these challenges, my family created a food cooperative called Collective Roots. This cooperative includes a storefront on Main Street as well as a licensed, commercial incubator kitchen.

Utilizing USDA grant dollars and an initial food security grant during the COVID pandemic, we have been able to create a unique business committed to addressing the limited food options and providing local food entrepreneurs a small business opportunity.

Collective Roots products are made locally and across Oklahoma. Since opening in 2021, Collective Roots has had 30 local vendors and over 70 from across Oklahoma. Collective Roots also manages the local farmer’s market, sells produce during the growing season, and has two Fork Farm hydroponic towers that grow over 40 pounds of lettuce every 28 days.

Being a volunteer and employee throughout the last three years has shown me the importance of local. Shopping locally allows for businesses like my family’s to stay open, gives support to farms and ranches in our area, and provides a fresh food source for the community that has long been without it.

The next time you go to the store to buy whatever it is you find yourself in need of remember to think local. Local is fresh. Local is best. Choose local.

Kensli Shaffer is an FFA member in Laverne, Oklahoma.