Village Earth

Village Earth Partners in Food Hub Feasibility Study for Thunder Valley CDC

During the spring and summer of 2018 Village Earth partnered with Fort Collins, Colorado based Sweetgrass Consulting on a feasibility study for developing a Food Hub on the Pine Ridge Reservation. The study was developed for Thunder Valley CDC, a grassroots organization on the Pine Ridge Reservation, for their food sovereignty program. According to Thunder Valley:
The goal of the study is to better understand the wants and needs of our communities on the Pine Ridge Reservation related to food access, food production, and buying and selling local. Thunder Valley wanted to understand if it is feasible to have a new grocery store and food hub to serve our communities, if Thunder Valley is well positioned to take responsibility for making these available to our communities, and if so, evidence-based recommendations as to how to make them happen in a good way. The extensive report includes many recommendations related to creating a food hub and grocery store with healthy, affordable, and accessible foods. The recommendations were made with a spirit toward greater political sovereignty and cultural self-determination. “This feasibility report and the data aggregated will be our pathway towards rebuilding a local, regenerative, community driven food system for the Oglala Lakota Oyate,” said Nick Hernandez, director of food sovereignty initiative at Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation. “This report in detail is our story of what the unhealthy modern day food system looks like for the Oglala Lakota Oyate and the possibilities and opportunities we have ahead in creating our own modern day sovereign healthy food system.”

Sweet Grass developed and directed the study, Village Earth provided GIS services and data mapping related to land and agriculture — together with Erica Weston and Garvene Good Plume of Thunder Valley, they conducted 25 interviews with key opinion leaders, surveyed 27 schools, Head Starts and childcare facilities, surveyed 70 community members via Facebook, and conducted 18 nutrition assessments at local retailers and schools. In addition, 8 farmers/ranchers and 20 gardeners were interviewed and 15, one-hour traffic counts and customer counts were conducted at Common Cents store located at Sharps Corner, SD. Best practices and lessons learned were examined from over 100 agricultural reports, food hub reports, government reports, and former studies of our communities.

“What has stood out most about this study is the immense amounts of information we were able to gather from knowledgeable, willing community members. They provided so much information regarding food procurement, stories from the past, business operations, and even daily budgetary and financial documents. Also, working with Erica from Social Enterprise from the beginning was helpful because her foresight was critical for taking this feasibility study above and beyond the norm. Collaboration made the process, and the information collected much more enriching, efficient, and effective for the next steps in the process — creating viable strategic plans and writing fundable business plans. The steps from feasibility study to strategic and business planning should be seamless,” said Michael Brydge, director of development and community engagement, Sweet Grass Consulting, LLC.

“We started this study at the end of the spring this year. Initially, it started with the feasibility study for a grocery store, but it was a good opportunity to include the food hub. Most of the information I needed for the business planning was the industry and marketing analysis for both the grocery store and food hub, so we had the leverage to gather the information straight from the area we are servicing. We were able to educate the communities and systems on the reservation of the advantages of having our own food hub. Being hands on with this study was an amazing experience because this study provides the reservation with information on the current food system. Also, during this time I found out that we had something like this before, example: food caches with our season camps, root cellars post-reservation day and now a food hub, which shows the modernity of where we were and where we are going as Lakota Peoples,” added Erica Weston, social enterprise program coordinator at Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation.

The study was made possible by support from Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, First Nations Development Institute, Notah Begay III Foundation, and USDA Local Food Promotion Program.

To read the comprehensive food hub and grocery store feasibility study CLICK HERE​.

Some of the data products/analysis Village Earth produced for the study include:
  • Analysis of the USDA’s cropland data layer which provides acreage totals for specific crops at a National level. Village Earth isolated the Pine Ridge Reservation from the national data and provide acreage totals for each crop harvested on the Reservation (see image below).
  • Analysis of the NRCS GSSURGO 10m resolution soil data which classifies the qualify of agriculture land. The data is made available at the State level. Village Earth isolated data for Pine Ridge and then provided summaries of acreage for each category.
  • Village Earth analyzed Food Service Market Opportunity using ESRI’s business analyst. The map uses the Leakage/Surplus Factor, an indexed value that represents opportunity (leakage), saturation (surplus), or balance within a market. This map focuses on the opportunity for food services.
  • Mapping 100% of domestic (household) gardens on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Village Earth mapped the boundaries of each garden using satellite imagery making it possible for us to calculate the total acreage of domestic gardens.
Additionally, Village Earth provided the following services.
  • Mapping 100% of harvested cropland on the reservation.
  • Analysis of leasing and land use equity
  • Analysis of Census of Agriculture Data
  • Drive-time (isochrone) analysis
  • Survey of gardeners
  • Survey of farmers and ranchers
  • Etc.
We are proud to be part of this important initiative of Thunder Valley CDC and to have contributed to the final product developed by Sweetgrass Consulting.

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