Doland FFA fights food desert with farmers market

Farm Forum

Each semester, thanks to the local FFA chapter, elementary students in the Doland School District get to take home fresh produce for free.

“Just the idea of being able to get fresh and healthy food in the hands of every elementary student at no cost to them” is the reason to host a farmers market, said Sarah Lambert, agriculture teacher in Doland.

For all intents and purposes, Doland is a food desert. A rural food desert is defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a place where there isn’t a grocery store within 10 miles.

There isn’t a store in town that sells fresh fruits and vegetables on a regular basis, Lambert said.

There are smaller grocery stores in Redfield and Clark, both about 20 miles away, and if residents want to visit a larger store, they have to travel to Huron, Watertown or Aberdeen, which are all about an hour away.

Enter the FFA Farmers Market.

Each student gets to pick $20 of produce, Lambert said. They are sent home with an order sheet that includes fruits and vegetables curated by the agriculture students and work with their parents to select what they want.

“They have to stay within their budget,” Lambert said.

Once all the sheets are turned in, the FFA students work to compile the orders to figure out just what they’ll need, she said.

The produce is ordered through the same company as school lunch ingredients, so it comes right to the school, Lambert said.

“It saves the step of having to make a trip to go get it,” she said.

The farmers market was during the second-to-last week of school.

The program is funded through grants and fundraisers that the FFA chapter does, including flea markets. There was one last summer and another is planned for this summer. Grants have come from Monsanto, Riverview Farms and the South Dakota FFA Foundation.

There are about 100 students in grades kindergarten through sixth, which means the school is buying roughly $2,000 worth of produce.

Once the food is at the school, FFA students work to bunch or de-bunch the produce, depending on the condition in which it arrives, Lambert said.

The selection varies each semester, Lambert said. The group sticks to tried-and-true fruits and veggies like apples, oranges, potatoes and the like, but also adds a few items that many might find new — like kiwi or avocados.

“We try to pick something that some of these students may never have the opportunity to try or may have never tried before,” Lambert said.

The elementary students take their lists to the farmers market, and the FFA students help fulfill the order, she said. The orders are then bagged and set aside in the lunchroom so students can grab them as the leave for the day.

“We’ve gotten lots of good feedback about it,” Lambert said. “By doing this, we don’t solve any major problems … but we can still provide this service to the kids twice a year.”

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Lending a hand

Here’s how to help raise money for the Doland FFA Farmers Market:

• The Doland FFA will host a flea market on June 10-11.

• The market will be in the Doland School, 405 N. Humphrey Drive, in the cafeteria.

• Donations can be made June 10 from 8 a.m. to noon The sales starts that day at 1 p.m. and goes until 4 p.m. It picks back up at 8 a.m. on June 11 and runs until 3 p.m.

• Any questions can be directed to Sarah Lambert at 605-321-7374.