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Pockets of Oklahoma City metro area are food deserts, leaving residents without grocery stores

by Brianna Bailey Published: June 8, 2014

The nearest place to buy food in Valley Brook is the DT Food Mart, a convenience store near S Eastern and SE 59.

There’s a faded poster of a blonde woman wearing a bikini on the back wall of the store, and a single roll of generic toilet paper costs $1.29.

This gray stretch of SE 59 that makes up the main drag in Valley Brook is dotted with bars and strip clubs — but no grocery store.

Valley Brook Mayor Donna Davis, who has lived in the area for the past 30 years, said there’s no place in the town that would make an attractive location for a new grocery store.

Helping to lure a grocery store is not a priority for town officials — Valley Brook gets most of its tax revenues from the adult clubs in the area, as well as traffic tickets, Davis said.

“We just don’t have a lot of commercial areas here, and I think it’s very hard to make it with a mom-and-pop grocery store,” Davis said. “We get most of our taxes from the stripp-y bars and police fines.”

Valley Brook is what is known as a food desert, an area defined by the U.S. Agriculture Department with a high poverty rate where a large portion of the population lives one mile or farther from the nearest grocery store or supermarket.

Several parts of the Oklahoma City metro area fit the federal definition of a food desert, including parts of northeast Oklahoma City and much of the southeastern side of the metro area.

For many Valley Brook residents, DT is the only place within walking distance to buy a loaf of bread or gallon of milk, albeit at higher prices than most grocery stores.

The convenience store also accepts food stamps.

Along with a cooler case filled with soda and beer, there are a few aisles of grocery items, including white bread, cans of soup and chili.

A lone block of cheddar cheese, a couple of packages of hot dogs and bologna stock the dairy case, along with a few jugs of milk.

The only produce in the store are half a dozen yellow onions that are stored in a Mounds candy bar box.

Owner Tommy Le has run the convenience store for seven years, and he says that he knows that his store is the only place a lot of his customers can purchase food, but it’s just not economical for him to carry such items such as fresh fruits and vegetables.

“You have to have a cooler, and you have to sell a lot,” he said.

The problem of food deserts makes it even more of a challenge for low-income people in the metro area to gain access to healthy, affordable food, said Rodney Bivens, executive director for the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma.

“It makes it that much more difficult for people to have an adequate diet, and it’s even more pronounced in Oklahoma City where I would say has less-than adequate public transportation,” Bivens said.

“If you cannot afford the food, just trying to carry it home would be really difficult.”

In Valley Brook, the nearest grocery store is Warehouse Market, two miles west on SE 59 on the other side of Interstate 35.

It’s a long trek for many Valley Brook residents who don’t have cars, said resident Serenity Domenico, who has lived in Valley Brook for about a year.

Domenico, who works at Joe’s Addiction coffee shop in Valley Brook, said she frequently gives rides to people in her neighborhood to the grocery store.

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by Brianna Bailey
Business Writer
Brianna Bailey has lived in Idaho, Germany and Southern California, but Oklahoma is her adopted home. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Oklahoma and has worked at several newspapers in Oklahoma and Southern...
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