Rolling Oasis Grocers Connects Neighbors, Cares for the Earth, and Models Shalom
by Sierra Neiman
Portlander Brandon Rhodes delivers organic vegetables by bicycle. His venture “has the fixings of some stereotype of Portland,” Rhodes admits with a laugh, yet Rolling Oasis Grocers is not a mere Portlandia-esque hipster gig. Rhodes, who holds a DMin from Portland Seminary, found the inspiration for Rolling Oasis when he clarified his vision as putting down deeper roots in his own Lents neighborhood by connecting his neighbors with nourishing food.
Now, two years after its start, Rolling Oasis has delivered more than 2,500 grocery orders to Portland homes. From the beginning, Rhodes knew he would not be the first company to offer doorstep delivery of groceries. Yet his sense of conviction about the need to create positive environmental, economic, and social impact sets Rolling Oasis apart. Not only does Rolling Oasis save subscribers a trip to the grocery store, the service also saves ecological depletion by providing a carbon-neutral or better means of delivery. Rhodes also aims to deliver a good deal. Because he’s conscientious about keeping overhead low and not inflating prices, a weekly payment of $20 provides a customer with produce worth that full $20. A standard delivery includes two to three kinds of fruit; leafy greens; a couple of “roastable” items such as onions, garlic, or cauliflower; and snacks like baby carrots. Each bag of fresh goods comes with a recipe for how to use the produce, which Rhodes sees as not only a convenience but an educational tool that combats “food insecurity.”
Many Rolling Oasis subscribers are families with children. Some families even have a tradition of leaving their weekly produce bag untouched until school is done, and then the kids dig enthusiastically through the bag to see what arrived. Rhodes remembers growing up with the impression that he should be wary of vegetables, and notes that even the recent Pixar release Inside Outside expresses children’s disdain for broccoli. So Rhodes, who neighbor kids call the “produce guy” or “green bag guy,” is thrilled to help “hack this bad messaging and get us closer to God’s care.”
Indeed, Rhodes sees Rolling Oasis as a means of God’s care—for the earth, for neighbors, and for people who will partner in this venture by owning their own Rolling Oasis franchise. Currently, Rhodes is the sole owner of Rolling Oasis, but for $3,000 others who share his vision can start a Rolling Oasis route in their own neighborhoods. Rhodes is committed to seeing franchise owners earn a living wage through part-time work, releasing them to have time and energy to invest in other pursuits. Rolling Oasis, Rhodes says, “Is an expression of following Jesus I certainly wasn’t expecting in my life. But it feels right.”
In the book of Jeremiah, Yahweh commands putting down roots and seeking shalom and the flourishing of your city. Rhodes sees this as the process of learning to be a good neighbor, which, in turn, is being a good Christian. He sums it up: “Put down roots, grow some vegetables, share them, and you will find peace. We need to be damn good neighbors for God’s sake.”