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Where the Story Left Off

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Here I am warm and safe at home after a long weekend networking and strategizing with many other local food growers and advocates from around North Dakota and beyond. The Dakota Grown Local Foods Conference is always a such a delight. I have been attending for the past 4 years, each time in a different role. Each time with a new understanding of the challenges facing the development of a locally-based food economy within the state.

But that’s not why I came to my computer to write tonight. I came to follow up on an area that I just keep thinking about. Yesterday, for the first time, I presented to a full audience about telling our story. I used by story as a springboard to discuss content marketing, especially in the local foods.

This audience you see, they have a vision. They follow their hearts and their dreams. They follow their passions and are only sometimes slowed by the voice of reason. But yet, they are small business owners, mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, sons, and daughters trying to make a living in a way that brings them happiness.

We discussed ways they can better convey the stories of their business by uncovering the story and finding a voice. We explored what success means and how our vision and actions may or may not reflect our values. Screen Shot 2014-02-16 at 11.08.04 PM

I shared the values I identified as I uncovered my story. I encouraged the audience to pair up with someone and complete these three sentences:

My passion is to:

My purpose is to:

Someday I would really like to:

The room filled with dynamic chatter. Dreams were being shared. Connections ignited. It was a wonderful sound. But some how, in the excitement, I remained silent. I didn’t share that part of my story. I talked about how I got to where I am, through mishaps and intense life changes. I claimed responsibility for most of my husband’s white hair, mostly because I wanted to quit my job to “be happy.”

But I realize now, I didn’t share my dreams with my audience. I let my dreams be muted. I didn’t breathe life into my next steps by saying them out loud! And I apologize! I suppose, as a creative person, my initial phase of creation is through writing. For me, writing brings ideas to reality.

So here is my chance! To share these ideas that are just coming together. Here is your chance, to witness my dreams take a closer step to finding a place in reality. Here I go, telling my story, just like I encouraged others to do this weekend!

My passion is to grow. I nurture ideas. I cultivate relationships. I have the courage to try new things. 

Who says I can't climb a tree?

My purpose is to share my experiences with others, to build connections and be grounded in the present. I raise my children to be curious and aware and I raise myself to embrace creativity, openness, simplicity, and peacefulness. 

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Someday I would really like to have a farmstead with several animals, a great garden, and several greenhouses. We’d run a bed and breakfast, providing guests with learning opportunities and amazing meals with real, fresh foods. I’d have a comfortable rhythm in life and enjoy fresh air everyday. Someday. 

For now, I raise chickens for eggs and ducks for butcher. I tend a garden. I make and sell jams and jellies. I am learning to make cheese. 

DSCN7158Just last week, I completed the Farm Beginnings course through FARRMS. It’s hard to believe I have a plan in place! It doesn’t seem real yet. But you’ve got to start somewhere, right? Why not start here? 

For the past year and a half, my venture into the business world has become deeply intwined in my endeavors of personal growth and health. I have learned to respect my skills and talents. I have redefined my perspective on work, play, creativity, and success in ways that promise to help me maintain balance and honor my strengths. My business plan relied on seasonal variation and various incomes in hopes to have a way of life that benefits my relationships with my family, community, culture, and nature. 

But now there is a farm plan in place! And its not just mine! It emerged through discussions between me, my husband, and sons. 

As a family, we want to develop our small venture in backyard gardening and poultry livestock to respond to opportunities in our local community. Our passion is to grow fresh food, while balancing quality and diversity. Our purpose is to share not only quality product, but also our experiences. 

Family Photo 2012

Family Photo 2012

We want to begin raising poultry for egg and meat production and grow vegetables for direct sale and use in value-added products. In the next month, we’ll be building local relationships, making our orders, and enhancing our technology and tools. We’ll then be busy through November raising chicken, duck, goose, turkey, lettuce, spinach, kale, and chard for direct sale. We’ll be building a greenhouse and designing cold frames.

Winter Density Lettuce

Winter Density Lettuce

We’ll be growing beans, beets, carrots, cauliflower, cabbage, onions, and tomatoes for salsas and pickles. And for the preserves, we’ll be picking wild and cultivated varieties of currants, chokecherries,  juneberries, apples, and grapes. We’ll be continuing our sales at farmers markets and consider opportunities to grow through partnerships in our community. 

Variety of veggies from the garden, ready for pickling.

Variety of veggies from the garden, ready for pickling.

It’s going to be fun! It’s going to be a learning process. It’s going to be hard work. But best of all, it’s going to be ours. Our story. Our farm.  

And perhaps you wonder what we’ll be calling our business? Well, for now, the poultry operation falls under the name of Four Feather Farms. And our garden and greenhouse? It will be known as Green Leaf Gardens. 

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Will it all come together just as we imagine? Mmmm, probably not quite. Will we encounter challenges and get discouraged? You better believe it. Will we see this as a great opportunity to grow? I am sure. It is our story after all.

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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!

Learning to Let Go: Excitment and Motivation

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I’ve been taking sometime to look back at how far I’ve come in a year as an entrepreneur.

I left my full-time academic job in July of 2012, but it wasn’t until November of that year that I began marketing myself and my talents. I didn’t have a network or a whole lot of support. I knew very few people in my town. Most of the folks I knew within the state of North Dakota, I knew because of my career, in some way. It was scary and I was lonely.

But things have changed.

Today, my young philosopher overheard me calling a friend. “Mom, you know I can’t even keep up with all the people you know!”

I thought to myself, Wow. I really do know a lot of people! Things have changed in a year’s passing.

I was quiet pleased with myself. I took time to give myself the praise, “You have done well finding good people to connect with. It certainly does make life quite a bit richer.”

But that’s only the beginning.

After today’s Farm Beginnings Session, I was extremely motivated.

We talked about mission statements and marketing. I didn’t realize I love this kind of stuff so much, but I do!

I left energized, wanting to share EVERYTHING I learned with my husband, who had to work today.

I left wanting to revisit my visual business plan.

I wanted to get home and beg my chickens to PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE start laying eggs again.

I was ready to dive into next my proposal.

I wanted to go set up for the art class I teach on Monday.

I couldn’t wait to start thinking,

and reading,

and researching.

I wanted to start compiling information for my presentation at Farm Beginnings in December, in which I will be talking about how to tell YOUR story.

So much excitement!

But this was familiar…

My mind was reeling with ideas, but I was tired.

I had a quick thought to leave myself a voice message, telling myself about ALL this excitement.

Wait, I’ve done that before. And it wasn’t good.

(Remember, I struggle with issues such as overworking and undervaluing myself.)

It is easy for me to believe that I need to prove my worth through what I do.

In my final 3 months as Vice President of Land Grant programs, I would call my office phone on my drive home. I would leave myself messages about all the things I needed to do the next day.

This my friends, is not a good habit.

I thought it was brilliant at first, but it certainly led to some earlier morning cursing when I checked my voicemail each day.

*Light-bulb moment* Maybe that has something to do with my own disdain for to-do lists. To-do lists are made with our own self-talk imbedded in them. They can be painful if that self-talk used in writing them is overly critical, judgmental, or down right mean.

Hmmm….

The point is I had been down this road before. So I backed up.

I did a U-turn before I got to the point of giving myself a to-do list on a Saturday night.

I retraced my steps.

I slowed down and took a look around when I got back to the excitement.

Was it impractical to think I could manage to do all the things that I wanted to do tonight? Or even this weekend?

Absolutely!

I suddenly remembered that I had been here too, and that there was a bit more worth exploring.

I remembered the first time I shared my business plan with the folks at the New Rockford Area Betterment Corporation.

I remember the amazing amount of things I wanted to do when I came home.

And I remember not doing anything!

Instead, I was still.

I enjoyed the moment. I felt the excitement.

I didn’t force it into a product or accomplishment.

I let it be part of me.

And I wrote about it! It was my second blog post ever!

I was on the road I wanted to be on. And, I even took it on a little further.

I mentally broke these tasks up by priority and complexity and I scheduled them into my calendar when I got home!

This is truly a first.

I came home, motivated and yet tired, and said to my husband, “Michael, next weekend, I would like to schedule a time to sit down to go over my business plan with you.”

And then, I let everything else “to-do” settle in my calendar and in my brain.

I let the excitement reside in my body as joy.

And then, I played the piano that magically found its way into our house this afternoon.

Thank you so much, Michael. Thank you!