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Monthly Archives: January 2014

Can we really Grow local food in North Dakota?

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I have been working with Local Foods for over three years now. I take every chance I can to engage consumers, support producers, and collaborate with leaders to build a local foods economy in North Dakota. It is something I believe in. By growing local food, we build community. We develop relationships. We teach our children. We appreciate the moment. We look toward the future.

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I cherish the opportunity to grow my own vegetables.

I love being able to sell jams and jellies.

I am proud to raise chickens and ducks in my backyard.

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My food choices don’t stop there.

I know I cannot do it all on my own.  I purchase produce at the farmers market. I get milk through a cow share and then I buy extra cream at the store.

I regularly shop at the grocery store. And at least once a month I go to a large supermarket… I might even go to Wal-Mart.

I dine-out on occasion.

As independent as I try to be, I know I am connected to many kinds of agriculture.

I nurture that connection each time I eat.

My food choices create a demand for locally produced food. It would be great to see more Farmers Markets. I want to see more of it on the grocery store shelf. I would love to know more of it reaches the plates of children in schools or patients in hospitals.

I know I am not alone. The demand for REAL food is growing.

And so is the supply. Local food producers are busy right now, working on their small business plans for 2014.

They consider installing another greenhouse for season extension. They research seed varieties. They explore market opportunities. They might consider selling shares through community support agriculture (CSA). They might be thinking about ways to connect with nearby schools or institutions. Local food producers are trying to meet demand.

But, there is a gap. Why is it so difficult for consumers to access local food?

This isn’t necessarily a problem of supply and demand. It is an issue of logistics.

These logistics include how products are prepared, packaged, and distributed to the consumers.

This short video does a great job of explaining how we can overcome barriers in logistics.

But how could a food hub like Red Tomato work in North Dakota? How could producers benefit from aggregating their products and to be distributed on a larger scale? Could we really get our locally produced foods into schools, restaurants, and grocery stores?

Well, there are some who are giving thought to this dilemma.

FARRMS and Common Enterprise Development Corporation (CEDC) are working together on a producer/farmer survey exploring the feasibility of light processing, food hubs, farmer alliances or similar tools to increase the amount of fresh produce grown and eaten locally.

The executive director of FARRMS released this press release last week requesting input from small farmers and producers in North Dakota.

North Dakota farmers and growers sought for FARRMS Survey

Feasibility study being conducted to determine next steps in scaling up local in North Dakota

By Sue B. Balcom, FARRMS

If you are a farmer or are considering diversifying your farm or may be launching a new farm business, we can help you grow. FARRMS and Common Enterprise Development Corporation (CEDC) are working together on a producer/farmer survey exploring the feasibility of light processing, food hubs, farmer alliances or similar tools to increase the amount of fresh produce grown and eaten locally. Planning includes an economic development summit in early 2015 to discuss potential projects with economic developers.

We are seeking people who would like to become a vegetable farmer, increase farm enterprises or diversify their farm to include new and innovative businesses to complete the short survey. This data will reveal the potential economic impact of enhanced light processing, aggregation and distribution of local food in North Dakota. It will help define current opportunities, challenges and barriers in local food production and distribution, as well as determine producer interest in scaling up business strategies to meet the demand for local foods. Business planning will be made available to any farmer interested in the project after the survey closes.

An invitation has been sent to existing farmers in the state, however all farmers are encouraged to complete the survey at www.farrms.org even if they did not receive a personal invitation. This information is vital to scaling up local economies in our rural communities, in particular the western and northern areas of the state. The Summit on Local Economies (SOLE) is being planned for early 2015 and will reveal plans for next steps in scaling up local in North Dakota. Many other opportunities become available to farm enterprises through FARRMS and its partners ongoing work building local food systems.

Please help your farmers grow with FARRMS and its partners. If you have any questions, or would like more information please contact Sue B. Balcom at 701-527-5169 or 486-3569 or email sbalcom@farrms.org.

Together we can grow farmers. FARRMS is a nonprofit working with farmers located in Medina, ND.

So what do you think? Can we grow local food in North Dakota?

If you are a farmer or producer, please take just a few minutes to take the survey. Let FARRMS know your needs. Share your challenges and successes and help determine how we can best scale up local foods.

Take the Survey Now

https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/RBOGproducersurvey

Lettuce, Think About It

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Lettuce, Think About It

Last night I sat down to write a blog post. I started with lettuce in mind and instead ended up writing about how much I love North Dakota winters. I’m not crazy, really. I’ve just been working with a lot of really great people lately. You see, I’ve been working with the local foods people.

When I work with folks who grow vegetables or raise pastured livestock, I find myself empowered. There is just something that is catching.

Albeit, my passions include food and nature, but there is more to it than that. These small producers are like poetry in motion. They are the change they want to see in the world.

Food people are good people. And the more I experience their unwavering optimism and unrivaled tenacity, the more I am in awe.

I secretly (or maybe openly) want to be like them. In ways, maybe I already am. Maybe that is why I feel their optimism the way I do.

So maybe it makes sense that I sit down to write about growing food and end up writing about what a wonderful place I have come to call home, even if it is crazy cold.

Here in North Dakota we just broke through a viscous cold snap, delivered straight from the arctic tundra.

It’s the first week in January. And what is my Facebook feed buzzing about? Discussions of seeds, garden planning, greenhouses, and new opportunities.

It makes me know that life is good. Truly.

It lets me know that all things are possible.

It gives me courage. When I purchase lettuce from the store that is less than mediocre, I know there is something I can do.

I can grow!

I can grow lettuce!

You see, this is really the point that I come full circle.

I grew up watching my grandparents garden, but did not have much practical know-how when I began gardening. I had a bit of a rocky start.

I planted my first garden in the summer of 2008, but I was no longer living in the Midwest. I was on the high plains of Wyoming, at an altitude of 7,165 feet. The summer was short. The air was dry. The nights were chilly.

I started out by planting snow peas, radishes, tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, spinach, kohlrabi, and lettuce.

The dog ate 75% of the peas. The radishes were woody. Early in September the frost came and we enjoyed a harvest dinner of fried green tomatoes and sauteed baby squash. The eggplants were infested with aphids (I shudder, just thinking about that experience). The spinach went to seed by early July.  And it turned out that I really don’t care from kohlrabi.

That pretty much leaves the lettuce. Oh, my sweet precious lettuce!

I planted at least twelve different varieties in a partially shady area next to the neighbor’s garage. I grew green leaf, red leaf, some varieties were pale green and others were purple. Some had leaves shaped like oaks. They were anything but plain old lettuce. They were beautiful.

We harvested frequently and planted new seeds often. I’d go out at dusk to water and sing to them. (Okay, I didn’t quite have the courage to sing… I hummed to them.) I cried the night we got hit with a hailstorm. And I had a full blown anxiety attack when a crew repaired the neighbor’s garage roof. I picked shingles and roofing nails out of my lettuce garden for months to come.

While I melted down, the lettuce rebounded.

They certainly provided us with a summer of delicious salads. But there was something more to it.

They gave me hope. They assured me that I could grow something. They brought me joy. Pure and simple. I loved seeing them.

And somehow I forgot that?

I did not grow lettuce last year. I don’t know why.

I made room for spinach and kale and chard, but I neglected my wonderful old standby.

Then one chilly North Dakota evening, I curled up on the couch with a blanket and some of my favorite light reading material: the seed catalogs.

My absolute favorite to look at is the Seed Savers Exchange. Catalog_FREE_2014_1This catalog offers heirloom varieties of seeds. As they were passed down from generation to generation, the seeds became attached to family stories. There are unique varieties of tomatoes, squash, peppers, onions, potatoes, and even lettuce.

So I was browsing through the catalog, trying to be quite sensible about what the garden might look like this year. Then, I came to lettuce.

Aunt Mae's Bibb Lettuce

Aunt Mae’s Bibb Lettuce

I was physically stunned. I ooh-ed and aah-ed over the variety.

Rossa di Trento

Rossa di Trento

I adored the colors and imagined the textures.

Pablo, oh, Pablo

Pablo, oh, Pablo

I tried to regain my composure.

Yugoslavian Red

Yugoslavian Red

How could we ever eat all the lettuce I wanted to grow?

Forellenschluss

Forellenschluss

Maybe I need a support group or something…

Baquieu

Baquieu

Obsessed Gardeners Anonymous?

Wait, maybe I do have a support group…

Something clicked. In October I began taking a class called Farm Beginning through FARRMS. A non-profit within the state that “Grows Farmers,” so to speak. 

In the class, we learn about holistic management, food safety, and business planning. We learn how to pull our crazy ideas together and get moving on our dreams.

So maybe I don’t need professional help regarding my obsession with lettuce.

Winter Density Lettuce

Winter Density Lettuce

What I need is a business plan and a greenhouse!

I’m going to grow lettuce! We don’t have to eat it all ourselves!

I could sell it at the farmers market. I could supply a local restaurant.

Maybe I could even sell it to the grocery store and solve the problem of less than mediocre lettuce in the winter once and for all!

Anything but Bitter, In the Bitter Cold

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Anything but Bitter, In the Bitter Cold

I’ve noticed a bit of a change in North Dakota the past couple days.

We are through the holidays and on to the new year. We have taken the time to celebrate and rejoice. We took down our holiday decorations and braced ourselves for bone chilling cold of deep winter.

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We watched the temperatures drop. Not just to 0 or even -11. But to -27.

When the wind blew it felt like -55 in our backyard.

Yes, that is cold. Bitter cold. But are North Dakotan’s bitter? Not at all. If anything, I get a sense of optimism as I connect with people.

They know there is peace and they know there is hope. I am beginning to think this has something to do about how we manage to survive such harsh winters.

It gets cold. We wear layers. We invest in good socks.

We find ways to enjoy the winter. We bird watch. We ice fish. We take photographs. Ready to fish

We build our networks. We strengthen our relationships. We spend time with the ones we love.chilly kisses

We find excuses to stay inside. We find good reasons to turn on the oven.

We cook. We create. We read. We plan.

I am really beginning to enjoy the peaceful renewal winter brings.

We embrace it because we know it won’t last forever.

We let ourselves soften.

We look to our dreams.

We appreciate the moments we have.

We look toward the light of warmer days.

One day, spring will bloom again. We will plant the garden again. And it will grow.