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Dakota Fresh Food Hub Connecting Farmers and Consumers
South Dakota Ag Connection - 08/03/2020

Interest in local foods -- from produce to meat -- continues to soar among consumers nationwide. Here in South Dakota, the Dakota Fresh Food Hub in the southeastern corner of the state is helping meet that local demand providing an array of local foods to wholesale and retail customers.

Established in 2016, the mission of Dakota Fresh was to assist local farmers in finding a local market for the products they raised. Working with SDSU Extension and visiting with other food hubs from around the country helped put the wheels in motion for Dakota Fresh to become a reality.

Five years later, the food hub is still helping put local foods on menus and on consumers' tables. Kristianna Siddens is a founding member and current manager for Dakota Fresh. She explains that their food hub is comprised of 15 members all of whom are farmers within 100 miles of Sioux Falls. They produce everything from vegetables and herbs to eggs, beef, and lamb as well as honey and some fruits.

Initially, Dakota Fresh offered their products wholesale, but as the food hub has grown, in May 2019 they began offering retail sales in Sioux Falls via both Stensland Farm locations, and they have since expanded to offering retail and wholesale delivery to Brookings, as well as retail delivery at Farmers Markets in Vermillion and Yankton.

Siddens says people have remained interested in local foods and shares, "The pandemic created a lot more demand on the retail side, especially for meat. As well on the wholesale side, people were having a hard time with supply so they wanted to source more from us."

As the first food hub in South Dakota, Siddens says it has been a continual learning process to establish, develop and deliver their local goods. She credits SDSU Extension for helping facilitate those steps. "SDSU Extension Community Vitality Field Specialist Kari O'Neill has been a great resource for us. She's served as a mentor and advisor, connects us with resources, and especially on the business-end of operating the food hub she has a wealth of experience," shares Siddens.

"We've also learned that once we reach out and people learn how to use local foods, they are really excited," said Siddens.

Dakota Fresh has also worked with the South Dakota Specialty Producers Association and Dakota Rural Action.

Siddens says key to the success of Dakota Fresh has been continual communication and education efforts with the public. A current Specialty Crop Block Grant through the South Dakota Department of Agriculture has Dakota Fresh collaborating with SDSU Extension to provide greater awareness and access to local foods in South Dakota. Education and outreach efforts have included hosting a local foods fair in Sioux Falls the past two years with chef demonstrations. They plan to do more of these events as well as video demonstrations for online viewing.

Siddens says helping consumers understand how to utilize local food items increases support for them. To that end, Dakota Fresh shares information via social media, their website and via a weekly newsletter to highlight farmer members, available products, and recipes.

Of the "lessons learned" from their food hub venture the past five years, Siddens says communication among farmer members and to consumers is paramount. "We've learned it is important to let wholesale customers know the products coming, so they can plan menus. And if the weather shifts production amounts, customers have more understanding if you have a good relationship with them."

"We've also learned that once we reach out and people learn how to use local foods, they are really excited," she concludes.


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