For the past three years, Tulsa Economic Development Corp. CEO Rose Washington and District 1 City Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper worked together on what they agreed was a top concern for the north Tulsa community: food access.
“We often describe our communities and our city using data. Data points, both positive and negative. In District 1, 93% of the population has limited access to fresh, affordable and quality food, compared to 19% of other Tulsans,” Washington said.
And as Hall-Harper put it Friday morning, the move toward a “proliferation of dollar stores” across north Tulsa has only exacerbated the gap between the community there and other parts of the city.
But the women said the new Oasis Fresh Market in the 1700 block of North Peoria Avenue, which is set to open next spring, is the first step toward defeating the “formidable opponent” that is a food desert.
“You have been through a lot these past few months, given COVID issues (and) with the bias in policing and many other injustices that we face as a country,” Hall-Harper said at the groundbreaking ceremony for the market.
“It’s been a lot, but today just for one moment, let’s take joy in the fact that we are finally able to do our grocery shopping right here in the community that we live in.”
A few minutes later, Rep. Regina Goodwin, D-Tulsa, told Mayor G.T. Bynum: “We wanna see you shopping at this store. We want you to come across town and shop, especially at this store.”
Bynum earlier addressed the audience, applauding Washington’s and Hall-Harper’s work to make the store a reality and saying, “This is about so much more than a grocery store” for north Tulsans.
“This is just one of those times where you see our city pull together as a community to do better by our neighbors, and it is a beautiful thing to see when it happens,” he said.
Costs for the $3.9 million, 16,425-square-foot facility are being covered by the Tulsa Development Authority, the city of Tulsa through U.S. Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant program; The George Kaiser Family Foundation; the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation; and the Zarrow Family Foundation.
Nabholz is building the facility designed by local firm KKT Architects, with planning and schematics from EWC1 Architects.
Hall-Harper said the process of getting the store in her district was often “plain old tough,” noting the heavy criticism she’s seen and heard leveled against her and her constituents simply for asking for a quality grocery store near them.
Bynum, in his remarks, thanked Hall-Harper, Washington, the Tulsa Development Authority and others for continuing to work hard on the project for years “even when we had detours and obstacles.”
“I think there’s been an acknowledgement for a while now in Tulsa that throughout this whole city, we want this to be a city where every kid has an equal shot at a great life,” he said. “And the harsh reality of that is there are too many kids growing up in our city who live in food deserts. And there’s been a lot of talk for a long time about the need for fresh groceries and produce in this particular spot.”
Aaron “AJ” Johnson, the executive director of the Tulsa Dream Center and a part of EcoAlliance Group, LLC, said he was honored that Eco will be an owner-operator of the store when it opens.
In addition to being a grocery store, which will include a walk-in beer and wine section, the market will have a demonstration kitchen to help instruct customers on preparing affordable and healthy meals.
“Just imagine a desert. In a desert it’s hot. In a desert there’s a lack of water. In a desert there’s a lack of opportunity. And that’s what this community once was,” Johnson said. “Today we are going to break ground to break that cycle of generational poverty and to break that cycle of food deserts.”
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