Staff spotlight: Lizzie cares for, protects, and nurtures our food systems

Small Towns

In the summer of 2017, Lizzie Swalley joined the Center for Rural Affairs for the season to work in our garden program. Little did she know that her summer job would lead to a full-time passion and career with the Center.

Lizzie joined the Center team full-time in December 2018 as a community food associate, serving the Santee Tribe and community in northeast Nebraska.

“I am a local food systems advocate,” said Lizzie. “A big part of my job is to encourage community members to grow their own food and to see the importance of what it means to have food sovereignty.”

In her role, Lizzie collaborates with Tribal programs like the Santee Health and Wellness Center’s diabetes program. She also meets with Tribal leaders for discussions on food sovereignty approaches in the Santee community.

“I work directly with community members to organize food demonstrations and recipes, and to teach small business strategies to encourage beginning entrepreneurs,” she said. “My other focus is to advise gardeners on growing better gardens, and I help some community members sell their produce at farmers markets.”

During their monthly food demonstrations, Lizzie and other Center staff often take a vegetable that community members are not accustomed to eating, such as zucchini, and provide a recipe and demonstration of a prepared dish, along with a public tasting.

“Our hope is that community members will be encouraged to eat and grow more varieties of fresh vegetables and fruits,” Lizzie said.

Lizzie says she enjoys bringing food to rural community members and helping teach them what to do with those fresh foods.

“Rural America is important to me because it is me,” she said. “It’s where I grew up—it’s where my family is and where my life is. We are just as much a part of the state as urban areas.”

Ultimately, Lizzie would like her community have stable food systems, and be self-sustaining and self-sufficient. She shared a native Cree proverb to show how that idea correlates to their food systems:

When the last tree dies, last water poisoned, and last fish caught, only then will we realize we cannot eat money.

“We all have a responsibility to care for, protect, and nurture our future food systems,” Lizzie said.

And, through her work with the Center, that is what she strives for with each new day.

Lizzie can be reached at her home office, located on the Isanti Dakota Reservation in Santee, Nebraska, at 402.870.2710 or