|Nov 15, 2012 --
Eggs, honey, fruits and vegetables, baked goods and meats are commonly sold at area farmers’ markets, but getting these fresh products to restaurants, schools and grocery stores can be difficult. South Dakota State University Extension Field Specialists Kari O’Neill and Chris Zdorovtsov will tackle this problem using a Rural Business Opportunity Grant to provide local food producers the support they need to grow their businesses.
The two educators will use a portion of the one–year, $50,000 grant to hire a part-time project coordinator to bring together the resources to help producers expand their markets. Zdorovtsov, who helps with community food projects statewide through the Sioux Falls office, will supervise the coordinator. O’Neill works at the Martin Extension office, near the Rosebud and Pine Ridge Reservations, where local food production is also expanding.
Local producers are defined as those who sell agricultural goods anywhere except on the commodity market, O’Neill said. According to data from a S.D. Department of Agriculture census, the state has at least 140 produce growers. “Helping to further develop the local food markets in the state will not only provide opportunities for increased entrepreneurship in rural areas, but it also has potential to increase the total amount of dollars circulating locally, create secondary business and improve access to foods in communities,” Zdorovtsov said.
To reach this audience, the program coordinator will establish a Web-based local foods center, through the SDSU Extension’s iGrow.org site, O’Neill said. Using this virtual center, producers will be able to obtain information on packaging and processing regulations, marketing, food safety, and other topics through fact sheets, webinars, podcasts and even online learning modules.
To access large markets such as grocery stores and restaurants, O’Neill said, “local food producers will need to learn how they can work together to grow the amount of food needed to meet customer needs. Producers can take an aggressive approach to aggregating and marketing foods together,” O’Neill said. The end result will be more markets for these agricultural products and greater opportunities for local producers.