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Rajni Lerman '82 - Founder of Hot Springs Farmers Market

Local foods production gains ground with consumers since pandemic

Hot Springs Farmers Market

The Hot Springs (South Dakota) Farmers Market is growing in popularity with both vendors and consumers. Photo contributed by Rajni Lerman, Hot Springs Farmers Market manager.

It was the lack of a farmers market that prompted New York native Rajni Lerman to start one in Hot Springs, South Dakota. Lerman grew up going to the farmers market in Syracuse with her mother, and continued frequenting them when she later lived in Colorado. But, when she moved to rural, western South Dakota, there was no farmers market nearby.

Instead, growers were individually selling their produce at roadside stands, Lerman said. She gathered the growers together, and in 2017, founded the Hot Springs Farmers Market. Lerman manages the market, which runs from July through the first week of October.

“I’ve always been an advocate for local food because I think it’s the healthiest way to feed a community because of the biodiversity,” Lerman said, noting that small farmers typically grow a variety of crops in rotation.

The Hot Spring Farmers Market has encouraged the start-up of produce and baking businesses and has fostered community spirit, Lerman said. Besides selling fresh produce, canned goods and artwork, the farmers market also has activities for children and hosts educational programs.

“It’s just a really beautiful event,” she said

The farmers market attracts both local shoppers and Black Hills tourists and the number of vendors, which includes a couple of young people, is growing, she said.

Research has shown that Millennials are interested in not only growing, but also eating healthy food and feel a sense of responsibility to buy locally because it stimulates their communities’ economies, Myrdal said.

Generation Z, the next youngest generation, meanwhile, has taken that to another level and often posts on social media about their preference for knowing where the food they’re eating originates.

“It’s just this whole shift in people wanting to have a closer relationship with growers. I think it’s human nature,” Myrdal said.

Like Myrdal, Lerman also believes that consumers and farmers benefit from the connections they make through local foods sales.

“When you meet with the farmers who are growing the food and you can ask them questions, it just creates a healthier system for humans and for the system that we’re part of,” Lerman said.

One of the challenges that local foods producers in South Dakota face is that growers who want to preserve their products by canning it have difficulties because of the state’s cottage food industry laws, she said.

Lerman, who also is a member of Dakota Rural Action, said the organization is working to make it a simpler, yet still safe, process for growers to make and sell their products.

Across the northern border of South Dakota, growers in North Dakota face the challenge of a short, sometimes harsh growing season, which makes it difficult to sustain a business for more than a few months, Merrick said.

Growers, such as the Wedels, are working to overcome that challenge by growing hydroponically in greenhouses. Others grow their produce in high tunnels.

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