Staff Spotlight: Community and family are top priorities for Lizzie

Native communities, such as Santee, Nebraska, the principal village of the Santee Sioux Reservation in Knox County, often lack access to the fresh fruits and vegetables necessary for healthy living. Because of their size and rural location, these communities can also get left out when considering funding opportunities for these essential foods and other development projects.

Lizzie Swalley hopes to change that.

“As Native communities, we are very much rural and are, for most of the time, left out of planning or any type of inclusion,” Swalley said. “Competition for grants and funding to develop areas are targeted for larger areas with larger numbers, and that leaves out small communities like ours, which need improvements and assistance in many areas.”

Recently hired at the Center for Rural Affairs as a community foods specialist for the Santee Sioux Tribe, Swalley joins Farm and Community program staff in their efforts to aid in rural community development.

“I’ll be organizing and presenting educational workshops for community members to learn and develop small business and marketing through food production or arts production,” said Swalley. “I’m looking forward to getting started on projects, and to have them running well enough to see positive outcomes.”

Swalley is familiar with the work on food access, led by the Center, Nebraska Indian Community College, and community members. Previously, she was a contractor with the Center for the Santee Community Foods Project. Our contractors and community food specialists work alongside members of the tribe to improve access to fresh, nutritious food grown in their own communities, often in their own backyards.

In Santee, Center staff have provided demonstrations with garden tilling, seeds and starter plants and have supported a new farmers market. They regularly make garden visits throughout the growing season, and host various workshops, focusing on nutrition, food preservation, and small business skills.

Lizzie’s previous experience and her new position have helped her gain momentum in helping to expand access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

“I want to achieve awareness for the fresh produce our community members need in their diets, and to become self-sufficient by learning to grow fresh fruits and vegetables,” said Swalley. “I also want to increase participation in the food projects to grow the number of small businesses in the Santee community, whether that be through sales at a farmers market or personal catering within the community.”

When she’s not advocating for her community, Swalley spends time with her husband and their three children.

“Our life revolves around basketball – I can’t begin to tell you the amount of miles we have traveled to watch my husband or one of our kids play in a basketball game,” said Swalley. “As a family, we love to be outdoors, stay active, and have ‘family fun,’ like playing card games or eating together as a huge family with my brothers, sisters, mother, nieces, nephews, great-nieces and nephews, and cousins.”

Swalley works out of her home office in Santee, and can be reached at 605.857.1063 or