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SDSU assistant professor leads program to help fight food insecurity

Bastion with check
Bastian, center with hat, was presented with a check for the project from members of the South Dakota Community Foundation.

A new project from South Dakota State University's College of Education and Human Sciences and SDSU Extension will work in collaboration with local farmers to fight hunger in South Dakota.

In the United States, one in every five deaths can be attributed to diet-related chronic diseases, like heart disease, strokes, Type 2 diabetes and certain cancers. Most of these diet issues can be chalked up to a lack of fruits and vegetables.

One contributor to the poor nutrition crisis affecting over 34 million Americans is a lack of access to healthy foods. For those struggling with food insecurity, this problem is even more pronounced as healthy foods aren't always affordable and, as a result, many turn to cheaper, highly processed, unhealthy foods that contribute to diet-related chronic diseases.

In South Dakota, this is a major issue with almost 73,000 people (of the state's 895,376 residents) facing food insecurity, including 24,750 children — according to Feeding America.

A new program from South Dakota State University, led by Geb Bastian, assistant professor and SDSU Extension nutrition and health state specialist, will help South Dakotans struggling with food insecurity gain access to locally grown, organic produce.

The "produce prescription" program is a collaboration between health care and food systems. The project is being funded through a $48,940 grant from the South Dakota Community Foundation's Beyond Idea Grant.

"This grant will assist two small-scale produce farms in Spearfish — Budding Moon Farm and Cycle Farm — implement and expand a produce prescription program that will provide subsidized community-supported agriculture shares to community members facing food insecurity and diet-related chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes," Bastian said. "This program will simultaneously increase community members' access to nutritional, organic fruits and vegetables and support local farmers in the northern Black Hills."

To enroll in the program, potential patients will be screened by a participating health care provider for program eligibility. Eligible patients will then receive a "produce voucher" that they can use to enroll in a community-supported agriculture share at one of the participating farms. The patients will then receive weekly boxes of fresh, organic, local produce at no cost.

"We are incredibly happy to partner with SDSU Extension on the produce prescription program," said Ginger Niemann, South Dakota Community Foundation's senior program officer. "While fostering healthier eating habits through partnerships between community health clinics and farmers' markets, this will also provide economic incentives and nutritional education to encourage making heathier food choices."

The program will start in Spearfish, but according to Bastian, the goal is to expand the rest of the Black Hills and then eventually to the rest of the state.

"This program will increase communities’ diet quality, health and well-being while also bolstering local food systems by supporting organic produce farmers," Bastian noted.

The produce prescription program is primarily funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. According to Bastian, there are other programs in the state using the produce prescription model, however, these programs partner with larger grocery stores. This project will bolster local food economies by supporting local farmers and partnering with community-supported agriculture producers, like Budding Moon Farm.

"I see produce prescriptions as a revolution in health care," Bastian said. "Instead of a doctor prescribing medications and telling patients to just eat healthier, patients can receive a prescription for healthy food, in addition to or sometimes in lieu of medication. The fact that these prescriptions will also support local farmers, it’s a win-win."