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The Friday Profile: Brandon Rhodes, Lents’ new bike-powered grocer

Posted by on February 7th, 2014 at 11:33 am

Brandon Rhodes’ new business will deliver $20 in organic produce to Lents homes once a week.
(Photos by M.Andersen/BikePortland)

By 2020, Brandon Rhodes predicts and hopes, Lents will finally have a grocery store.

For now, it’s got him and his bike trailer.

Thirty years old, with six of them spent in the Lents intentional community he helped organize in 2008, this cussing Christian with a Ph.D in ministry is launching his first business: Rolling Oasis, a weekly produce delivery service that’s “ending the Lents food desert one bike ride at a time.”

So far, Rhodes has more than 20 households signed up for home deliveries of fresh organic produce, $20 a week. His service in the Southeast Portland neighborhood near the intersection of Southeast Foster and Interstate 205 starts March 1 and will continue year-round.

“If you have a tight time budget and you don’t have a car in Lents, it’s a real chore to get your groceries,” he said in an interview Wednesday at the Eagle Eye tavern. “I have to either bicycle down 82nd to Clackamas to the Fred Meyer there, and then equidistant north would be 82nd and Foster.”

“If you have a tight time budget and you don’t have a car in Lents, it’s a real chore to get your groceries. It’s really tempting to just get a block of cheese and some tortillas.”
— Brandon Rhodes, Rolling Oasis founder

Last Sunday, Rhodes said, he and his wife walked to the grocery store for a change. It took 40 minutes.

About 21 percent of people who rent homes in Lents live there without a car, the Census estimates, a rate that has doubled in the last three years.

“It’s really tempting to just get a block of cheese and some tortillas,” Rhodes said. “And just, ‘I’m having quesadillas all week, because this stuff doesn’t spoil.’”

Rolling Oasis will be a antidote to that, Rhodes says.

“You’re going to get apples, oranges or satsumas, you’re going to get onions, now and then some garlic, some sort of greens … kale or collards, broccoli, potatoes, sweet potatoes,” he said. “There will be recipe cards periodically, probably every week. There’ll be fruits like bananas and berries, lemons and limes here and there.”

“About three-quarters of your box will be the same week to week, and the other one-quarter will vary,” he says.


The produce comes from Organically Grown Company, a Eugene-based supplier to New Seasons and other local grocers. Once a week, a 55-foot truck will drop off the produce behind the Eagle Eye tavern. Rhodes will sort it into bins and deliver them on the business’s cargo bike, three to five loads in a day.

According to OGC’s website, 25 percent of its produce is harvested in Oregon, Washington or southern British Columbia.

“This should be as easy as getting Netflix: something you sign up for once and then you don’t have to worry about resubscribing, you know?” Rhodes says. “But people can opt out whenever they want.”

After many requests, he’s considering selling half-shares that would be delivered on alternate weeks, and possibly a discount for long-term subscribers. He also plans to begin accepting WIC and food stamps soon, though he hasn’t done the paperwork yet.

“St. Ignatius said the glory of humanity is to be fully alive, and I really like that. Enabling others to be fully alive is part of that.”
— Brandon Rhodes

Rhodes, who some BikePortland readers may know as the former co-host of the Sprocket Podcast, said the concept for the business came from his friend Scott Davison, owner of the Arbor Lodge coffee shop in North Portland.

As for Rhodes’ own motivation, it’s tied to both his religious faith and his love of the community of “Lentils,” as Lents residents sometimes call themselves — two forces that Rhodes is happy to intertwine.

“It’s reconnecting people to the land in some small way,” said Rhodes, a former “hardcore religious Republican” whose doctoral thesis for George Fox University focused on the impact of the automobile on Christian churches. “The whole vision of the good life according to Jesus is that it’s shared. … St. Ignatius said the glory of humanity is to be fully alive, and I really like that. Enabling others to be fully alive is part of that.”

— Like our Friday Profile series? Read more of them here. Correction 1 pm: An earlier version misstated Scott Davison’s name.

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  • 9watts February 7, 2014 at 12:54 pm

    “whose doctoral thesis focused on the impact of the automobile on Christian churches”

    I’d like to read that!

    And best of luck to Brandon and his venture. By 2020 lots of us may have caught up with his approach.

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    • 9watts February 8, 2014 at 7:00 pm

      I’ve not managed to find any links to his dissertation. Any way those of us curious can get hold of a pdf?

      Thanks.

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      • Brock Dittus February 10, 2014 at 2:19 pm

        I believe his manuscript is currently being prepared for print as a book. Though he may be willing to get interested readers in before that happens! Worth asking him about…

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      • Cora Potter February 10, 2014 at 2:22 pm

        Keep an eye out for it here (he’s still completing the manuscript) – or contact Brandon to see if he’s willing to share a draft.

        http://bdrhodes.com/#3

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      • Brandon Rhodes February 10, 2014 at 3:24 pm

        Dissertation available here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/m9jm35hwaq40if8/Rhodes_Brandon_dmin_spr2013.pdf

        I’ve signed with Wipf & Stock Publishers in Eugene for an expanded/modified version of it. Tentative title is “Blip: Faithful Presence Amid the Making and Un-Making of the Petrol-Driven Church.”

        Thanks for the interest! :)

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        • Aaron February 13, 2014 at 10:24 am

          Hi Brandon;
          I couldn’t find contact info on your site. But I’m near lents and have ideas about collaboration. Let’s talk when you have time

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  • Joseph E February 7, 2014 at 1:31 pm

    Fact check: Lents does have grocery stories. It doesn’t have a Fred Meyer or Walmart hyper-super-market, but on 82nd you’ve got:
    Oriental Food Value: http://www.yelp.com/biz/oriental-food-value-portland
    Good Neighbor http://www.yelp.com/biz/good-neighbor-portland
    And a couple of blocks west of 82nd on Foster (no longer in Lents, but close) is Portland Fruit and Produce: http://www.yelp.com/biz/portland-fruit-and-produce-portland

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    • davemess February 10, 2014 at 11:17 am

      The Foster/82nd Fred Meyer while technically not in Lents neighborhood,still serves a sizable portion of the neighborhood which is within 1 mile of the store.

      It’s not the best/nicest Fred Meyer in the world, but we find it to be okay/sufficient to shop at, even if the produce is a little weak (but there is the great produce stand right across the street as already mentioned).

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  • Cora Potter February 7, 2014 at 1:55 pm

    Joseph – OFV is an Asian corner store* with a few housewares and a small amount of meat and produce.
    Good Neighbor is an Eastern European corner store* with a deli counter and a teeny tiny amount of produce. It’s also technically not in Lents, it’s in Foster Powell.
    Portland Fruit and Produce is a produce stand with a very limited amount of local deli items and hot sauces. It’s in Mt Scott Arleta.

    There is a horrible Fred Meyer that some residents refer to as Meth Meyer (which Brandon mentions in his interview) at 82nd and Foster (really 80th if you take the huge parking lot into account) that’s right across Foster from Portland Fruit. There’s also a Walmart with a fullish (no real butcher) grocery section at 84th and Holgate. I live within walking distance of the Walmart, and can attest that the produce section often looks like it’s been looted, especially on the weekends.

    Even with these stores, there isn’t enough stock or food choices to meet the needs of an area that includes over 10,000 households and over 22,000 residents. Lents is the size of 7 inner Portland neighborhoods combined. Only having meager choices that are on the very outskirts of the neighborhood and not walkable for the majority of residents woudln’t be tolerated west of 82nd. Why should it be okay for Lents?

    *Corner store in the sense that it’s slightly better than a convenience store, but still has pretty limited stock and isn’t meant to be one’s primary source for food

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    • Mossby Pomegranate February 7, 2014 at 5:26 pm

      Lents…Portland leadership has abandoned you. VOTE THESE PEOPLE OUT!

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      • davemess February 7, 2014 at 5:59 pm

        Which is right across the street from Fred Meyers.
        Wasn’t there just a kind of big issue recently in Portland where the locals said that the city shouldn’t force a grocery store on them?

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        • davemess February 7, 2014 at 6:00 pm

          Sorry, two comments got merged into one, just ignore the first line.

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    • Oregon Mamacita February 8, 2014 at 11:20 am

      Cora, what are your ideas for what the city can do to make an
      area attractive to a store? I have a bias against the gov’t subsidizing or competing with for-profit businesses, but I respect your opinion.

      BTW, Kudos to WinCo for their new store on SE 82nd & Powell. WinCo has a surprisingly high wage/benefit package when you consider that some non-management employees have six-figure employee stock ownership accounts. I will shop there because they ask for my grocery dollars, not my tax dollars. You see, WinCo pays the taxes and I buy the food.
      That, my friends, is a healthy relationship.

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      • Cora Potter February 10, 2014 at 10:07 am

        Right now, to make Lents Town Center attractive to a store, there needs to be a significant amount (200-400 units) of high-quality, market-rate housing concentrated in the R1 and EX zoned areas, about 20k additional square feet of office space and 92nd avenue needs to have 1000 linear feet or more of active, ground floor retail use. PDC currently holds the key to all of that in that they own the majority of the develop-able land and also have the capital to provide storefront grants, SDC waivers and commercial loans.

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        • Oregon Mamacita February 10, 2014 at 3:36 pm

          Is it good that the PDC owns the land? What are the chances of 200 market rate units there? I want Lents to work out, but gosh it looks like an uphill battle.

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          • Cora Potter February 11, 2014 at 11:01 am

            It’s only good that PDC owns the property in as much as they’re willing to work to fulfill the main goal of the URA, which is to develop Lents Town Center.

            Since PDC changed course to be an “economic development” agency, they haven’t been willing to to that. Hopefully, that will change soon.

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  • Cora Potter February 7, 2014 at 10:32 pm

    Really Dave? That’s what you took away from that?

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    • davemess February 8, 2014 at 8:17 am

      I took away that all neighborhood issues are complicated. And Mosby seemed to imply that Portland’s leadership should be responsible for providing grocery stores for Lents. I can see some validity in that, but I know there are a lot of people out there who don’t support the idea that government’s roles include bankrolling or subsidizing certain private businesses.

      I’d love to hear your take.

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      • Mossby Pomegranate February 9, 2014 at 10:53 am

        davemess…no not my meaning at all. But in general our city government turns a blind eye to vast sections of this city. I feel for you folks in Lents but things are much better in Parkrose in terms of support from the city.

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        • Mossby Pomegranate February 9, 2014 at 10:54 am

          I mean things AREN’T much better in Parkrose.

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        • davemess February 9, 2014 at 7:35 pm

          And they’re worse in Brentwood-Darlington.

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      • Cora Potter February 10, 2014 at 10:01 am

        At this point, yes they should be because they are controlling quite a bit of capital generated by TIF in the area, as well as 40% of the commercial property in Lents Town Center. They should be responsible in that they are landlords and property developers by means of ownership and capital resources. In essence, they’re currently the worst (okay at least they maintain the 2 empty buildings they haven’t torn down) absentee landlords in our main commercial district.

        What happened with the Trader Joe’s issue in NE was that PDC had a remnant property from a decade ago and they devoted considerable staff time and resources to developing that property (with a project type that was very much driven by private market needs and values). Ten years ago, this would have been a good use of staff and TIF resources. However, the private market was actually filling this need organically in the surrounding area and staff time should have been redirected to areas where organic, virtuous cycles of investment aren’t happening – like Lents and Parkrose and Gateway and Midway. The lot at MLK and Alberta should have been put on the market and sold at market rate or sold with a subsidy to a public benefit entity like a CDC.

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  • BIKELEPTIC February 7, 2014 at 11:29 pm

    I really admired this guy. As someone that lives in another food desert of Portland in South Madison where the nearest Freddies to me is 2 miles away on 102nd or a little over 2 miles on 62nd. (Or the Safeway in Roseway on 72nd 1.5 miles away.) However all of these options aren’t easily bus accessible and require at least 1 bus transfer if not more. It’s statistically shown that people won’t travel by bike more than a quarter mile to go to the grocery store etc. (I mean if you have no option, you have no option.) But in lesser income neighborhoods, it’s a real shame that they are forgetting that people need to eat, too. I find it hilarious that they’re building yet another New Seasons over on 12th and Belmont when they’re building one on 30th and Broadway when there’s a Freddies on 28th, a QVC on 33rd, a Whole Foods on 28th and Burnside, a Trader Joes on 42nd. To me that’s complete BS. Let’s just forget about the people that live out on/past 82nd. They’ll fend for themselves with processed food from the asian marketplace. They can get creative. (I actually get a weekly CSA because it’s so bad out here shopping-wise to transport and get to places to actually look for groceries.)

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    • davemess February 8, 2014 at 8:19 am

      Do you have a link to the study about biking for groceries you’re talking about?

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  • Oregon Mamacita February 8, 2014 at 8:23 am

    Dave, let us be honest about the Trader Joe’s on MLK. The issue was
    Patrick Quinton at El Gaucho steakhouse cutting deals with a California developer to give away public land for a song. The issue was a complete failure on the part of the mayor and the PDC to discuss the issue with the group for whom that land was originally purchased.

    Had the TJ been on private land and developed with private capital and not my money- there would have been no issue.

    An African-American business organization is now offering to buy the land for 500,000. Give them a crack at it. Heck, let me buy 2.5 million of land for 500,000.00.

    As for affordability- TJ is for the middle class. A single parent with two kids who makes 40,000.00 a year has to shop at Winco.

    Really what we need in Lents is to close the heroin market at the convenience store on SE 82nd in Lents, and stop using the Springwater Corridor as a place to dump the homeless that the Pearl District developers don’t want to look at. But, Patrick Quinton is too busy stuffing his face with fois gras paid for by construction companies to think rationally about Lents.

    Remember our discussion about visioning as fake public input? Well, the TJ fiasco was about ignoring the opinion of a stakeholder group that has access to a national platform. Now, one neighborhood will get listened to.
    Lents lacks a national group to back them, and lacks the resources to lawyer up and defend itself against the city.

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    • davemess February 8, 2014 at 12:34 pm

      Could you give me the title to that article about visioning. The link was broken.

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      • Alan 1.0 February 8, 2014 at 11:27 pm
        • 9watts February 10, 2014 at 8:24 am

          That was a really interesting article. Thanks for the link, Alan 1.0. I’m reminded a bit of what happens here in the bikeportland comments.

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        • davemess February 10, 2014 at 11:09 am

          Thanks, that’s what I was looking for. As a scientist though, I really question some of the sections that seem to be derogatory about what they’re calling “group work” publications. In biology fields (esp. medical sciences) the days of single author papers are virtually gone. I don’t think this has hindered the science (as clearly we’ve been progressing, in both our understanding and the therapies we are developing), and it has become necessary to have more authors these days because publications are required to have a lot more data and information that they were just a decade ago.

          I think it’s important to get outside opinions and not stuck in only a singular way of thinking, but it seemed like some authors were questioning the value of collaboration.

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          • davemess February 10, 2014 at 2:00 pm

            Sorry, I skimmed the article at first, and after reading it realized they agree with what I said. My fault.

            And Mamacita, getting back to our other conversation. I think we were talking about different things. I was saying that I thought neighborhood visioning was decent way to identify some of the problems or concerns in a neighborhood. i think you were focusing more on the “solutions” part of the visioning, which I wasn’t really focusing on.

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            • Oregon Mamacita February 10, 2014 at 3:48 pm

              As a scientist, why would you champion visioning? I thought SE Uplift made a fool of itself and my neighbors with the visioning session, that just produced a list of conflicting goals and no priorities. Why can’t you admit that good non-compound questions and vigorous debate produces usable data and that feel-good nonsense like visioning produces nothing of value.

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              • davemess February 11, 2014 at 6:25 pm

                I’m not championing anything. I don’t think visioning is the best way to precisely get things done in our neighborhoods. I do think for my neighborhood it was a useful exercise for 50-60 (the biggest neighborhood meeting we’ve had in over 5 years) neighbors to sit in a room, break into small groups and realize that a lot of us had the same issues with the neighborhood (unpaved streets, no sidewalks, junk in people’s yards, etc.). It was helpful for many of us to see that we were mostly in agreement over the major problems the neighborhood had. Sure some of the pie in the sky suggests for how to work on these problems were fanciful and not realistic, but we had a few decent ones, and one or two that were good enough to follow up on down the road. I don’t think “vigorous debate” is a great way to try to convince people to come back to an already very sparsely attended neighborhood association (and in my case the visioning (which was my first meeting) was a positive enough experience that I’m now on the board). For most of us it was more about a bonding experience with your neighbors than a definitive problem solving session. I’m sorry it wasn’t as productive (or valuable to you) in your neighborhood.

                Are there better ways that we could have gotten more productive, better thought out solutions to all the problems? Probably. I don’t think the visioning really harmed the neighborhood in any way though, and it got more people to our neighborhood meeting, which a survey probably would not have.

                This whole debate started because another fellow and myself said that Bikeways/sidewalks and road issues came up consistently at our separate visioning sessions. Just because they happened to come from visioning sessions (again these were just problem issues and not solutions (which that article almost entirely focuses on)) doesn’t mean that there aren’t people concerned with these issues. Yes, it would be great to have a statistic of “85% of neighborhood residents want more sidewalks”. I’ll agree with that for sure.

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  • Brock Dittus February 10, 2014 at 2:26 pm

    To add my recommendation, this is a stand-up gentleman who will do this well. I miss having him as the cohost of our podcast, but I know he has a bunch of moxie that is all directed at making life better through loving his neighbors. Godspeed, Brandon! (if you’ll pardon the pun)

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  • Kristian Hochreiter February 12, 2014 at 10:09 pm

    I think Brandon’s concept, plan, and momentum should be applauded. And I’m hoping he inspires others to innovate locally.

    My wife and I have signed-up as members of his service here in SW Lents, and we’re excited for Rolling Oasis to start rolling our way! The exciting thing about Lents is that there are a lot of opportunities and community support for entrepreneurs like Brandon, people who move beyond ideas and discussions to actually taking action and innovating.

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