Staff spotlight: a love of travel, food, and people brought Vanesa to the Center

“Good things don't come to you easily; if you want to achieve your goals in life, you better fight for them, and be prepared to compromise things you love.”

Vanesa Salgado-Perez says her parents’ words of wisdom get her through the days when she’s missing them the most.

Though her family lives in Spain, Vanesa makes her home in Vermillion, South Dakota. One of the newest members of the Center for Rural Affairs team, she serves as a community organizing associate.

A recent graduate of the University of South Dakota (USD) in Vermillion, Vanesa received her master’s degree in communication studies. Being a graduate assistant prepared her for her new role.

“I learned a lot about building relationships and communicating with a very diverse group of people,” she said.

Vanesa also had a childhood rich with food experiences. Both parents are chefs, and taught her that fresh foods and cooking were important. In addition, they grew their own vegetables.

“I come from a rural area, and my family has always been involved in farming,” she said. “I strongly believe the values that my parents taught me, such as the importance of hard work and family and the value of basic things and how happy they can make you, were shaped by their farming background.”

Besides being a food connoisseur, Vanesa enjoys getting to know different cultures, and languages. She was raised bilingual in Spanish and Galician, learned English and French in school and college, and studied Czech for a year while studying abroad in the Czech Republic. She has also started learning Italian and Portuguese and hopes to continue learning those languages when she has time.

Most of her family emigrated to Switzerland in the 1980s, and struggled in communities where they didn't speak the language. They learned how to survive in order to provide a future for their family.

“The importance of welcoming and diverse communities that help and respect newcomers is very important to me, and I want to help people achieve that,” she said.

Through her work at the Center for Rural Affairs, Vanesa hopes to be the force behind those open and welcoming communities. She’s focusing on designing, developing, and implementing a new food inclusion project called FoodSion. The goal of this project is to use food to bring people together and help communities be more diverse and inclusive.

Other responsibilities in her role include facilitating community engagement, collaborating with other organizations and small local businesses, and coordinating programmatic activities and events within FoodSion.

“With this job, I get to enjoy two of my passions: food and socializing,” said Vanesa. “I want to help people learn more about healthy and fresh foods, cooking skills, and spread the values my parents taught me. I am very happy to be able to share my culture with others and learn about theirs at the same time.”

Vanesa hopes to grow not only as an individual, but also as a professional.

“I believe that coming from a rural background makes you stronger and teaches you how to fight for your dreams no matter how hard that is,” she said. “I'm very grateful for having that opportunity, and I’m more than proud of my rural background. Thanks to that, I’m the woman I am today. Everyone should embrace rural!”

The Center is pioneering the FoodSion project in the Norfolk, Nebraska, area, and Vanesa works out of the Hartington, Nebraska, office. She can be reached at or 402.254.6893 or 605.675.9128.