Fighting food insecurity in one Payne County community

Story by Melinda Caldwell, TSET Healthy Living Program Coordinator

When many individuals think of Payne County, they may think of OSU’s beautiful campus, the atmosphere on football game days, or maybe even reminisce about spending a weekend shopping and dining in downtown Stillwater. Payne County has a vast array of beautiful and fun attractions, but what seems to go unnoticed are the hidden inadequacies that plague many Payne County community members. In Payne County, 1 in 5 residents are food insecure. This means that just over 16,300 community members are lacking reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. While all 6 communities in Payne County do have some form of access to food, the key term used to define “food insecurity” is access to nutritious food. Although most residents have access to food, it is to food that is high in sodium, fat, and sugar. Some Payne county residents may have to drive over 15 miles just to purchase fresh produce. This was the case in Yale, until one resident and business owner decided to do something about it.

Previously in Yale, there were very few options for purchasing healthy food. Yale does not have a grocery store or market, but they do have a small Dollar General and two gas stations where residents can purchase food items. However, none of these options carried fresh produce. “We don’t really have many options for healthy food in Yale. There is a lady who sets up a produce stand in the summer months from her garden but that is about it,” said Yale resident Nancy Griffin. Frustrated with a lack of healthy options for her community, Nancy voiced this concern at a Payne County Live Well Coalition Meeting. It was then that she was able to form a partnership with the TSET Healthy Living Program on an initiative to increase access to healthy foods in Yale.

TSET Healthy Living Program listened to Nancy’s concerns and sought out a venue that would be willing to test out selling produce to Yale community members, and potentially make it a permanent staple to their inventory if sales were consistent. The Maveric Mini Mart in Yale became the perfect partner. It had a passionate manager, and already sold a small variety of healthy staple food items. When the Healthy Living Program approached the store manager about this opportunity she was very excited about the possibility of carrying fresh produce. Yale Maveric Mini Mart and the Yale Library then partnered to do a community survey to gauge what the most appropriate produce items would be to bring to Yale based off of shelf life and community preference. After two months of surveying and over 200 responses, Yale Maveric Mini Mart went with popular opinion and began selling bananas, oranges, apples and onions in January 2019. Since the convenience store has begun selling produce they have received a great response from the community. Nancy states, “I have kids walking from the library over to the store and come back with fresh fruit. It has been a great thing for the Yale community.”  The hope among many health conscious advocates in Yale is that this effort may spur additional healthy living practices in the community, such as cleaning up a walking trail or updating smoking ordinances. Whichever project Yale decides to tackle next; they are gradually working their way towards becoming a healthier, more sustainable community.