“I’ve always felt very passionate about making your own corner of the world better. Even though we are Global Scholars with a global emphasis, there are a lot of problems right here in Tulsa we can fix,” says Darcy Elmore, one of the founders of Desert Foods.
Global Scholars is an interdisciplinary program at the University of Tulsa that aims to raise awareness about the 7 Global Challenges, equipping students with the knowledge and experience to answer some of the questions that arise in a globalized society.
Each year, the Global Scholars program hosts an annual fall retreat. In the fall of 2017, this retreat focused on food security. There, the students learned about food deserts, or areas in which access to healthy foods is extremely limited due to the absence of grocery stores. North Tulsa is an example of one such food desert.
After learning about this shocking reality, students were tasked with creating a project that addressed the issue of food deserts. Groups grappled with multiple alleyways for providing healthy food to food deserts in a cheap, reliable way. After examining many possible business models, Desert Foods was created.
Desert Foods is a company that will provide healthy, high-quality, affordable dehydrated fruit and vegetable snack food alternatives to all communities in Tulsa. Dehydrated foods contain nutrients and stay fresh for longer, providing a healthy and accessible snack to low-income neighborhoods. Desert Foods seeks to create equality through distribution–ensuring that products remain affordable and geographically attainable for all Tulsans.
Desert Foods is concerned with other aspects of food security, as well. It also seeks to reduce food waste in the community.
Most produce will be sourced from local farms through the process of gleaning, or recovering foods that would otherwise be disposed of due to “ugliness,” or the farmer’s inability to harvest. Desert Foods, in cooperation with Shanks Farms, will be gleaning produce for a free or reduced cost.
Desert Foods will be working closely with Katie Plohocky and the Healthy Community Store Initiative of Tulsa, using their commercial kitchen and selling through their mobile grocery store, R&G Family Grocers. These organizations directly serve the communities Desert Foods is hoping to impact.
After forming this business model, Desert Foods competed in three rounds of the Tulsa Startup Series and was named a finalist each time. Austin Boyington, another founder of Desert Food reflected on their participation, stating that “we learned a lot about presenting a business idea, networking, and the art of failing.” In the future, Desert Foods plans to keep exploring community partnerships, funding sources, and ways to get more students from the TU community involved.
Global Scholars are addressing food insecurity in other ways, as well. Through their new club at TU, Students Against Food Insecurity (SAFI), they are raising awareness on food insecurity across campus. Club members are called upon to attend local events and serve as activists in solving food inequality issues right here in Tulsa.
The Global Scholars program created a platform for students to actively engage with their community. Through the support of Global Scholars faculty, the partnership of a diverse group of students, and the network this program provides, Desert Foods will continue to work for sustainable solutions to community problems in order to create palpable change.