Tulsan Wants To Bring Fresh Produce To Oklahoma Tables

By Chris Day Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise, Okla.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Thirty two of Oklahoma's 77 counties are classified as food deserts. They don't have a real grocery store in the entire county. Katie Plohocky is trying to change that. She is one the founders of the Healthy Community Store Initiative which addresses barriers along the food supply chain.

Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise, Okla.

Katie Plohocky is changing the food landscape of Tulsa, and, perhaps, all of Northeast Oklahoma.

Plohocky isn't in the restaurant business although she does some catering. She doesn't own neighborhood grocery stores although she does sell locally sourced fresh fruits and vegetables.

In Tulsa, she's the face of food accessibility and healthy eating. Plohocky spoke to Bartlesville's Noon Rotary Club Monday. She discussed her mission to eradicate food deserts, promote healthy eating, bring healthy, locally produced fruit and vegetables to Tulsa's dinner tables and improve wellness overall.

She was one of three people to form the Healthy Community Store Initiative, Inc., which addresses barriers along the food supply chain and provides solutions from the farm, to distribution, to retail access and food reclamation.

Thirty two of Oklahoma's 77 counties are classified as food deserts. They don't have a real grocery store in the entire county, she said.

The Food Safety Modernization Act makes it difficult for small, local farmers to be certified to sell raw fruits and vegetables to grocery stories. Most of those fruits and vegetables are sent out of state to be made into processed foods, she said. Reporting requirements require a lot of paperwork.

"These are some of the reasons we don't see a lot of our farmers food in our grocery stores because you have to be certified for the grocery store to purchase from you," she said.

The certification process revolves around food safety, but it is expensive. Until last year, Oklahoma didn't have any third-party auditors in state. Farmers had to call in experts from another state to audit their farms.

Wholesale food distribution also is a problem. Farmers don't have time to take produce to the grocery stores, and the stores don't have time to pick up produce at the farms, she said.

The Healthy Community Store Initiative, Inc., has small, mobile grocery store that takes fresh fruits and vegetables around North Tulsa. It also is working with convenience stores to provide fresh produce for sale in those stores. It also wants to work with local entrepreneurs to place neighborhood grocery stores in underserved communities.

"Our next opportunity with that is to actually create a regional food hub system. As we get people to open stores in their community and we solve the food desert issue. They are going to need someone to distribute to those stores. As we increase our economic buying power with the density of these stores, we will be able to grow from the ground up a food hub that could distribute to all of northeastern Oklahoma," she said.

It's an economic-development engine that will revitalize urban and rural communities, she said.

A food-access study for all of Oklahoma has just been completed. Recommendations and a plan was provided to state lawmakers, she said.

"We are hoping we will find a state House representative and a Senate representative to author this bill called the "Fresh, Healthy Food Financing Act." It provides funding mechanisms and some training for people in all communities to be able to help start groceries stores and create new businesses in our communities," Plohocky said.

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