FELT — 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.
“A lot of times, it depends on if you have enough money worked out to go do the big shopping,” Gayla Hartley said.
Gayla Hartley helps care for older residents in the community who aren’t able to drive to grocery stores.
Several people in the region have cattle, and some grow gardens and can save their food for later, although gardening has proved more difficult.
“Food desert” feels a little more literal in the Oklahoma Panhandle, which has been in a severe drought for more than three years.
Overall, the Hartleys have adjusted to not having some of the conveniences of Oklahoma City, although they wish someone would build a Sonic Drive-In close by.
But they love the people of Felt and the beauty of an Oklahoma Panhandle sunset.
On Sunday, they usually have a congregation of about 50 people.
“When we came up here and met the people, we just really felt it was where God was calling us,” Gayla Hartley said. “It was beautiful, and we just kind of fit in, and we felt like we were meant to serve here.”
Correction: The population for the town of Felt is less than 100. The original story on June 8 listed the population as 300.