When is the last time you went to a pie social? That’s a question Kari Fruechte likes to ask the audiences she visits with. Fruechte is a community innovation and leadership specialist with the South Dakota Extension Service, of which her duties include the Horizons Program.

She explains that Horizons is a community leadership program aimed to help reinvigorate economic and social development in rural towns with populations of fewer than 5,000. Communities around the country have been tapped for the special program to help bring viability back to rural regions.

So, what does Fruechte’s job have to do with pie? Fruechte points out that pie socials are not totally a thing of the past, but we tend to get together with relatives, friends and neighbors for social time much less often now than we did in previous generations.

Instead, that face to face social time has been replaced with technology – cell phones, e-mail and palm pilots.

Fruechte says that while technology has many benefits, it can also be a detriment to our social networks within communities – and this in turn can impact the vibrancy and well-being of community spirit.

Fruechte says research has shown that fostering social capital – that spirit of cooperation – within communities is an essential building block to rural economic development. She says, “You need to build social capital first, and then jobs, community improvements, and economic prosperity come after that.”

How do you build social capital? Fruechte suggests it can be as easy as frequenting local businesses and events to show community support, hosting a neighborhood barbecue, having a church or school potluck, or having a community clean-up day.

The whole goal is to bring people together to foster positive connections. Once people have a sense of belonging and high morale for their community along with trust in each other, the ideas for enhancing the community tend to flow, suggests Fruechte.

So, you just might consider hosting a pie social and see what the possibilities are for your community.

The Horizon’s Program is sponsored through funding from the Northwest Area Foundation and has programs in several states, for more information visit and click on programs.