South Dakota Local Foods Coalition continues 20-year effort to provide ‘good food for all’

SDSU Extension

There can be a lot of different ways to look at “local foods.” From Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program participants to high-end restaurants and stores, local foods encompasses the people who produce the food to the people who eat it. 

“The overall goal of everyone, I think, is more good food for all,” said Rhoda Burrows, SDSU Extension Horticulture Specialist. 

Kristine Lang, Assistant Professor and SDSU Extension Consumer Horticulture Specialist, speaks during the 2022 Southeast Research Farm Field Day. Lang is the outgoing co-leader of the South Dakota Local Foods Coalition.

Burrows and Kari O’Neill, SDSU Extension Community Vitality Program Manager, have been part of SDSU Extension’s work with a growing local foods movement in South Dakota for its entire 20-year history. In about 2002, Burrows, O’Neill and others noticed that many people and organizations were already working on local foods efforts, from non-governmental organizations to tribal offices to state and federal agencies to colleges and universities. 

“All these different groups were doing things, but almost nobody knew what others were doing,” Burrows said. “One impetus was just to start finding out who was doing what, then see if we could find some synergies.”

In 2002, SDSU Extension and horticulture faculty sponsored a farmers market/specialty crops workshop. The South Dakota Specialty Producers Association formed soon after and became a partner with SDSU Extension in educational programming, including annual specialty crops conferences. That led to wider collaboration among the South Dakota Specialty Producers Association, Dakota Rural Action, SDSU Extension, and multiple other partners to create what is now the annual Local Foods Conference.

In 2010, after spending years gathering input from communities across South Dakota, SDSU Extension again heard people express high interest in learning about local foods, and from producers want to increase their market shares. A local foods collaborative effort continued bringing groups together, and launched programs like the Dakota Fresh Food Hub, to help farmers find a local market for their products. Farm to School, programming that helps South Dakota school districts source their food locally, is another result of the collaborative. Over the years, the group has also worked to promote farmer’s markets, food safety and restaurants that source their ingredients locally.  

Rhoda Burrows, Professor and SDSU Extension Horticulture Specialist, examines specimens with an attendee at the 2022 Southeast Field Day. Burrows has been part of SDSU Extension’s efforts to promote the local foods movement in South Dakota since its start.

Now, that informal collaborative has become an official coalition. The South Dakota Local Foods Coalition consists of SDSU Extension and other agency partners, along with producers, culinary professionals, retailers, supporters and, according to the group’s materials, “organizations that want to strengthen local food systems in South Dakota.” 

The coalition has also formalized some things, like its leadership structure and an added social media presence (find them on Facebook @SouthDakotaLocalFoods). They hold regular meetings, which people can sign up to attend via Zoom, while various sub-committees dial into specific projects or needs. 

What hasn’t changed is the coalition’s desire to include everyone in the conversation. Outgoing coalition co-leader Kristine Lang, SDSU Extension Consumer Horticulture Specialist, described SDSU Extension as “but one piece of the puzzle” in making sure everyone has access to good, local food. 

“Building trust is step one,” Lang said. “What are those priorities we all have in common?”

Group leaders will work to keep strengthening ties with tribal partners and championing indigenous practices, food sovereignty, food security, and state and federal funding agencies. And anyone who wants to be involved is welcome at the table.

“Everybody eats, so everybody should be involved in a local food coalition,” said Geb Bastian, SDSU Extension Nutrition and Health Specialist and communications manager for the Local Foods Coalition. “I think one of our big goals going forward is tapping into who hasn’t been heard yet.”