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In Oklahoma Panhandle, 'food desert' feels more literal

Couple says “food desert” feels a little more literal in the Oklahoma Panhandle, which has been in a severe drought for more than three years.
by Jaclyn Cosgrove Published: June 8, 2014

Orden and Gayla Hartley’s friends couldn’t believe there was a place in Oklahoma that was more than 80 miles from a Walmart.

Welcome to Felt, population less than 100.

The Hartleys moved to Felt after the Rev. Orden Hartley took a job as pastor of the town’s First Baptist Church.

“We’ve been blessed to be here for eight years,” Gayla Hartley said. “We’re still considered new as far as the people who have lived here for three or four generations go.”

It was an adjustment, moving from Oklahoma City to a rural town that measures about four blocks by four blocks and has only a school, a small coffee shop, a post office and a volunteer fire department.

Felt sits in the southwestern corner of the Oklahoma Panhandle in the midst of a food desert, defined as a rural town without ready access to fresh, healthy and affordable food, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

For groceries, the Hartleys usually drive about 20 miles northeast to Boise City or 24 miles southwest to Clayton, N.M., where there isn’t sales tax on food.

“When we first moved here, we learned from people that when you go into Boise City, you do it on a day when you have three or four things to do — you consolidate what you need to do, you don’t go back and forth every day,” Gayla Hartley said.

If they want to take a “big shopping” trip to buy household or other non-grocery items, they’ll head to Guymon, which is a little more than 80 miles away, or to the Walmart in Dumas, Texas, which is close to a 100-mile trip one way.

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by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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