Solution Overview

Solution Name:

Sicangu Online Marketplace

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One-line solution summary:

Supporting tribal food producers and increasing access and demand for locally produced food through a bilingual online sales platform

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Pitch your solution.

American Indian and Alaska Natives have the highest rate of poverty of any other racial group in the nation. In addition, American Indian communities have some of the highest unemployment rates in the U.S. High poverty levels, a large number of Natives experiencing food insecurity and many Natives living in food deserts, all contribute to poor health outcomes. Direct-to-consumer sales have proven to be the most successful path for local tribal producers, as opposed to selling direct to institutions.The demand for products from direct-marketed and value-added agricultural enterprises is increasing steadily. Nationally the number of farmers markets has grown to 8,712 (USDA 2018) from under 2,000 in 1994. The Sicangu Marketplace online farmer’s market ordering and POS system will benefit both farmer and consumer, helping to decrease the amount of in-person interaction and lessen the chances of spreading COVID-19 preventing loss of sales in upcoming seasons.

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What specific problem are you solving?

The Rosebud Indian Reservation is home to the Sicangu Lakota Oyate. The Reservation (population 16,862, according to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data) spans 1,970 square miles and is located in Todd County, South Dakota, the second poorest county in the United States. Poverty rates on the Reservation are reported at 54% overall and an even more startling 63% among single-parent mothers (2015 ACS); to date, this latter demographic has participated strongly in food sovereignty programming.

The Reservation is a designated food desert, as defined by First Nations Development Institute. Access to fresh and healthy food is extremely limited despite the fact that the reservation encompasses an area one and one-half times the size of Rhode Island. Coupled with a lack of transportation options and limited pedestrian infrastructure to encourage walking and exercise, the tribe faces high rates of obesity and preventable chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease. The Sicangu Food Sovereignty Initiative (SFSI), a program of Sicangu Community Development Corporation, a 501c3, strengthens the production, availability, and consumption of traditional and locally produced foods to stimulate economic development and address diet-related health concerns across the reservation.

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What is your solution?

Our solution is a bilingual (English and Lakota) online sales system used at Farmers’ Markets and other direct-to-consumer venues. Our solution leverages existing technology to boost overall sales and community visibility. The Sicangu Food Sovereignty initiative manages the Keya Wakpala Farmers Market in Mission, SD. This is the only farmers market available on the Reservation for approximately 50 miles in any direction. In 2019, the market during prime season had grown to the point where the Food Sovereignty Initiative parking lot, where the market currently takes place, reached full capacity with an average of eleven vendors per market. In addition to the mobile market, SFSI implements a mobile market that travels to the communities across Rosebud. The mobile market allows residents to purchase locally grown agriculture products instead of having to travel 30+ miles to access high quality, nutritionally dense foods. The establishment of the online farmer’s market ordering system will benefit both farmer and consumer in helping to decrease the amount of in-person interaction and lessen the chances of spreading COVID-19 preventing loss of sales in upcoming seasons. It will also allow individual producers to expand their reach while also alleviating congestion at farmer’s market thanks to pre-order pickups.

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Strong preference will be given to Native-led solutions that directly benefit and are located within the Indigenous communities. Which community(s) does your solution benefit?

The Sicangu Community Development Corporation and Food Sovereignty initiative are Native-led and work in and with the community located on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in south central South Dakota. Our solution benefits both low-income consumers and tribal food producers. 

Through community needs assessments conducted in 2014, we were able to learn that our people want to purchase produce locally, from their neighbors, and have a tremendous amount of pride in our community tradition of agriculture. Residents do not enjoy purchasing over-priced produce at large retail chains in faraway border towns. The Rosebud community has supported a Farmers Market for the past six years. With the launch of the Mobile Market in 2019, SFSI has been able to haul products and necessary supplies/equipment to remote communities that otherwise would have had to travel 30+ miles to reach a grocery store. The incorporation of a POS system that accepts both SNAP and debit/credit will allow for greater ease in purchasing fresh produce. As mentioned above, the online farmer’s market ordering system will benefit both producers and consumers in that it helps to deter the spread of COVID-19 by decreasing face time with other shoppers and producers. This new opportunity will allow young and developing producers to successfully and sustainably market their goods.

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Which dimension of the Fellowship does your solution most closely address?

Provide healthy and sovereign food, sustainable energy, and safe water

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Explain how the problem, your solution, and your solution’s target population relate to the Fellowship and your selected dimension.

The Sicangu Online Marketplace will increase the viability of direct-to-consumer markets on the Rosebud Reservation to support local tribal producers by increasing access and demand for locally produced foods by tribal consumers. The Reservation is a designated food desert. The project will enhance local access to local foods through the creation of an online sales system that will be utilized at the existing Farmers’ Market and Mobile Market. The outlines problem and solutions fit in alignment with the Fellowship specifically in the area of providing healthy and sovereign food.

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In what city, town, or region is your solution team headquartered?

Mission, SD, USA
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What is your solution’s stage of development?

Growth: An organization with an established product, service, or business model rolled out in one or, ideally, several communities, which is poised for further growth

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Who is the primary delegate for your solution?

Matthew Wilson

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Please indicate the tribal affiliation of your primary delegate.

Sicangu Lakota Oyate (Rosebud Sioux Tribe)

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Is your primary delegate a member of the community in which your project is based?

Yes

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More About Your Solution

Which of the following categories best describes your solution?

A new application of an existing technology

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Describe what makes your solution innovative.

The Sicangu Online Marketplace will be the only POS- online sales platform that incorporates both English and Lakota languages, geared specifically towards indigenous farmers’s market vendors and direct-to-consumer entrepreneurs. Similar POS systems out on the market also targeted for direct-to-consumer sales. However, many of these systems are one-size fits all. Platforms such as Local Food Marketplace are able to accept snap/ebt, debit, and credit but aren’t able to customize languages that include indigenous languages such as Lakota. Language is an essential part of who we are as a people, therefore we believe that Lakota language needs to be incorporated in an online sales system where the targeted audience are Lakota speakers.

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Describe the core technology that powers your solution.

The core technology consists of a culturally relevant online sales platform. Our solution will be a new application of an existing technology. This technology will allow for increasing the viability of direct-to-consumer markets on the Rosebud Reservation. Tribal consumers will be able to access the platform via smartphone to order and pay for their produce and food products for the week. This allows tribal producers and vendors to be more efficient in growing and distributing their products. As COVID-19 is continually changing the way we interact with each other as well as showing the weaknesses in our current food system. The online sales platform will also help to decrease the amount of in-person interaction and lessen the chances of spreading COVID-19 preventing loss of sales. Now is the time to support local foods. The online sales component will increase sales at the Farmers’ Market and Mobile Market that is currently in existence. This technology will allow for increased access and demand for locally produced foods by tribal consumers.

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Provide evidence that this technology works.

Our Solution uses a widely accepted technology in farmers markets in urban centers across the United States. Platforms such as the popular Square, or Local Foods Marketplace (https://home.localfoodmarketplace) currently use this technology. However, this technology is not readily utilized in rural areas nor in many tribal communities. Many native communities lack the technology infrastructure for POS systems let alone an online sales component. Many vendors opt for cash only transactions, leaving out SNAP/EBT participants. However, more and more people are switching to smartphones. Some online sales platforms are able to incorporate widely spoken languages such as Spanish. However, we have yet to see a platform that incorporates indigenous languages.

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Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:

  • Software and Mobile Applications
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Select the key characteristics of your target population.

  • Women & Girls
  • Elderly
  • Rural
  • Low-Income
  • Minorities & Previously Excluded Populations
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Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your solution address?

  • 3. Good Health and Well-Being
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In which state(s) do you currently operate?

  • South Dakota
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In which state(s) will you be operating within the next year?

  • South Dakota
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About Your Team

What type of organization is your solution team?

Nonprofit

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How many people work on your solution team?

Two full-time staff:

Matthew Wilson (Food Sovereignty Initiative Director - Sicangu Community Development Corporation) 

Michelle Haukaas (Market Garden Manager - Sicangu Community Development Corporation)

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How many years have you worked on your solution?

2

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Why are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?

Understanding tribal sovereignty is impossible without a tribally controlled food system. The Sicangu Food Sovereignty Initiative was created in 2014 under the Rosebud Economic Development Corporation to begin the process of building food independence. Over the last six years, the SFSI has made great strides to grow food sovereignty on Rosebud through educational programming and innovative projects, through which they strive to: educate about the principles of food sovereignty; create new market opportunities for food entrepreneurs; increase access to healthy, local foods; grow healthy, fresh vegetables using regenerative practices; foster community collaboration around food and traditional Lakota food knowledge; and support the development of local food leaders.

Matthew Wilson, Food Sovereignty Director - holds experience in food systems work and small scale agriculture. He began working for SFSI in 2018 as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer researching food prescription programs and assisting with the creation of the Sicangu Community Development Corporation. Matthew transitioned to his current position as Director in August of 2019. Matthew has been leading ongoing development of SFSI programs and projects. 

Michelle Haukaas, Market Garden Manager - holds years of experience working in the food-service industry. Michelle has interned with the SFSI for the last 3 years and is well suited for tribal market development. Michelle is in charge of planning and implementing our direct-to-consumer markets: Community Supported Agriculture and Mobile Markets. She also manages the Keya Wakpala Farmers’ Market and is responsible for building customer and vendor relationships.

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What organizations do you currently partner with, if any? How are you working with them?

Dakota Rural Action (DRA) - Dakota Rural Action is structured and operates as a grassroots, membership organization of family farmers, ranchers, workers, educators, citizens and small business people who are dedicated to social and economic justice for South Dakota people. DRA currently partners with FSI on a project, Beginning Farmer Rancher Development Program. DRA is assisting SFSI in creating a culturally relevant beginning farmer and rancher curriculum for a year-long fellowship program. 

Rosebud Economic Development Corporation (REDCO) - Designed as the economic arm of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, REDCO’s purpose is to generate revenue and create economic opportunity for the Sicangu Lakota Oyate and surrounding communities. REDCO has been our partner from the very beginning. The Sicangu Food Sovereignty Initiative was originally housed under REDCO before transitioning to the Sicangu Community Development Corporation (SCDC) in 2019. REDCO continues to support SCDC through serving as a fiscal sponsor for funding opportunities, and continues to partner with us on creating opportunities to create a better world for future generations.

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Your Business Model & Partnerships

What is your path to financial sustainability?

SCDC-SFSI and its partners are fully committed to sustaining this initiative for the long-term, well beyond the grant-funded project. The funding provided by Fellowship would be used for seed capital necessary to launch the Sicangu Online Marketplace. Specifically, the funding will ensure local producers are able to give feedback during the design process in order to best meet consumer demands through the Keya Wakpala Farmers’ Market, Mobile Market, and CSA activities. SFSI and its partners will continue to provide their full support (via staffing, funding, access to resources) to move the initiative forward beyond the grant-funded project period and ensure that our existing market continues to flourish. We also plan to continue to be sustainable through a combination of grants and selling our own products.

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What are your estimated expenses for 2020?

$10,000

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Do you primarily provide products or services directly to individuals, or to other organizations?

Individual consumers or stakeholders (B2C)

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Why are you applying to Solve?

We are applying to solve because MIT Solve is a leading institution in field of technology. Coming from a rural indigenous community, we are well behind the technology curve. Many tribal food producers have expressed their anxiety and uncertainty with how they are going to market their products due to COVID-19. Technology is great resource that many indigenous an rural communities arent able to utilize. Participating in this process of being an applicant has been refreshing and empowering. It has also been great to be able to see all the other indigenous applicants. Indian Country is small and it is amazing to be able to know some past awarded applicants. 

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In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?

  • Business model
  • Solution technology
  • Marketing, media, and exposure
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What organizations would you like to partner with, and how would you like to partner with them?

Square - Square seems to be a popular business tool that many small business utilize. As we are looking to create the online sales platform, it would be valuable to work with a leading organization in area.

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Solution Team

  • Matthew Wilson Food Sovereignty Director, Sicangu Community Development Corporation
 
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