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

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

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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