Oklahoma Stories

Oklahoma food bank farm to table

By Courtney Leeper Girgis May 2023

Farmers gain market opportunities and fight food insecurity with the Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma.

FIsher family | Courtesy Photo

Luke and Chantée Fisher were working on an agriculture development project in Sudan when a coup overthrew the country’s president in 2019.

In the ensuing political turmoil, the Fishers returned to Bristow, Oklahoma, in short order. With no place to live, they pitched a canvas hunting tent in the back pasture of land that has been in Luke’s family since 1904 and started homesteading. The parents of five have since built a house and re-established Fisher’s Produce, which Luke, also a registered nurse, started 14 years ago between overseas missions. They offer certified organic  fruits and vegetables through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) box subscriptions.

While the Central Rural Electric Cooperative members continue to aid African communities, they have felt a growing burden to serve closer to home—especially low-income communities facing health challenges, in part, because of diet. So, it was “a dream come true,” Chantée says, when they learned about the opportunity to sell vegetables to the Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma as part of the Oklahoma Farm to Table Program.

The program, which launched in July 2022, aims to provide Oklahoma families with fresh, nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables while supporting local farmers. Since last summer, the program has purchased nearly 80,000 pounds of produce from more than 20 Oklahoma farmers, contributing an estimated $200,000 impact on the state’s agricultural economy. And Amber Norrid, Oklahoma Farm to Table Program manager and a Lake Region Electric Cooperative member, says this is just the beginning. She, along with Calvin Moore, Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma CEO, envision a multi-million-dollar investment in the state’s farmers that will transform the way we fight food insecurity.

FIsher children helping plant seeds for next season’s crops | Courtesy Photo

A Farmer-Focused Solution

When food donations declined during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma needed to find new sources for the food it delivers to more than 400 partner sites, including emergency food pantries and soup kitchens. While canned food drives and surplus offerings were down, monetary donations were up. So, the Food Bank started buying food in bulk from out-of-state suppliers. The food came at a discount, but national supply chain issues created new challenges. And, by the time fruits and vegetables arrived in Oklahoma, they were no longer fresh.

So, it decided to start reinvesting donor dollars back into Oklahoma—into the local food system.

“We believe we can have a better impact on long-term strategies for fighting food insecurity by investing in the people around us who are already doing this amazing, incredible work [of farming],” Norrid says.

How It Works

Courtesy Photo

The Oklahoma Farm to Table Program started by purchasing leftover produce directly from Tulsa Farmers Market vendors. This partnership will continue throughout 2023, as will collaboration with the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, which serves central and western counties, and the Oklahoma City Food Hub, enabling farmers from across the state to participate. The goal is to develop a transportation route that will connect Oklahoma City and Tulsa with stops along the way where farmers could meet a truck to transport produce. Norrid hopes to eventually expand to purchasing other products from Oklahoma farmers and ranchers including meat, dairy and eggs.

A Win-Win

The Food Bank has been an ideal customer, Luke says. He is happy to grow slightly higher volumes of crops like okra, eggplants, peppers and squash, and the Food Bank takes whatever extra he produces. Other wholesalers prefer buying different fruits and vegetables each week to offer their customers variety. The Food Bank is not picky.

“It just goes so quickly,” Norrid says. “The demand for fresh produce in the populations we serve is really high, and the volume we’re able to get does not meet the demand.”

Last year, the arrangement helped pay for Luke’s twin sisters’ college tuition. He outsourced squash and cucumber growing to them, and he has invited his other siblings to sell directly to the program.

“The Food Bank is doing great work and the fact now that they’re linking with local farmers and we’re able to have this be part of our business model, it’s a win-win,” Chantée says.  

Category: Oklahoma Stories

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