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Reservations and other rural places can expand possibilities with food production.

Local food can provide opportunities for rural.

Elsie Meeks. Contributed photo

Elsie Meeks. Contributed photo

Elsie Meeks, past S.D. director for USDA Rural Development and longtime champion for economic development on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, believes agriculture is part of a new recipe for success—one that can be enjoyed by communities not only in Indian country, but all across the state.

“Local gardening and growing of specialty crops are really the next areas for economic growth,” Meeks said. “I think micro-agriculture is going to be a lot more prominent, especially for Indian reservations where there is a lot of land, but not a lot of people are involved in agriculture.”

Fresh food is a need on the reservation. Pine Ridge is considered a “food desert,” defined by the USDA as a low-income community without ready access to healthy and affordable food. Meeks believes gardening—whether by community gardens or by people having their own gardens—is a way to fulfill the fresh-food need, but also to grow the local economy through sales of the produce.

“This is something we really need to push going forward,” Meeks said. “It can be an economic driver on reservations.”

Locally grown food is also a perfect tie-in to the current nationwide trend.

“People are wanting more to know where their food is grown,” she said. “We’re really going back to that.”

The fresh-and-local approach can also be a way to supplement traditional agriculture that is so susceptible to movements in the commodity markets.

“This would be a way to diversify,” Meeks said.

She encourages people to look at growing specialty crops to buoy income when commodity crop prices are down, or to supplement another job or business venture.

Success in this type of agriculture is all about connecting with your market, but Meeks doesn’t believe it is limited to only those who live immediately near a city.

“With transportation these days, your location is not that much of an issue,” she said.

In rural areas, there’s only so much room for small business growth, but I think if people want to live rural, they’re really going to look at those opportunities.”

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