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Tag Archives: Local Foods

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

How Eating Local Changed Thanksgiving

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How Eating Local Changed Thanksgiving

Seven years into defining my own Thanksgiving with my own family, and I think maybe, I am finally beginning to get it.

As a young kid, I understood that we should be thankful for our food and family. We would attend large gatherings, and I remember once we even hosted one. At least 15 people were on their way to our house. My mom had been preparing the turkey and the sides. I was six years old, and she asked me to help with the salad. I took the bottle of Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing out of the refrigerator, saw that it was in the “New & Improved” plastic bottle, remembered the television advertisement in which they claimed the new bottle was unbreakable, and proceeded to demonstrate to my mother by throwing the bottle on the floor, certain it would bounce back.

It didn’t. The plastic shattered. Ranch dressing was everywhere.

As a teenager and young adult, Thanksgiving traditions became more variable. One year we would have Thanksgiving with Dad. The next with Mom. The next with Dad again. We might go out to an uncle’s for dinner, watch the guys chop firewood, and listen to guitar playing late into the night.  Or we would visit Grandma and Grandpa’s and enjoy turkey and trimmings followed by scripture readings.  We might have Thanksgiving at home with just Mom and the kids. And then, there was the year that Dad took us to Seattle and we celebrated Thanksgiving dining on East Indian cuisine.

And as I grew into adulthood, Thanksgiving became more of a holiday to share with a special someone. The first Thanksgiving my husband and I were together, we celebrated the news that we would be expecting our first child. In time, we learned traveling with kids during the holidays usually ended up with someone getting sick in the end. We soon learned to recreate the holiday on our own. We tried to develop our own traditions. The one that seems to remain is the smoking of meats. Whether it be turkey, elk, antelope, or duck. Thanksgiving always seemed to lend the opportunity to share our knowledge and love for smoked meat.

Through graduate school, we opened our home to others who might not be able to be with family. We supplied the meat and guests brought the side dishes.

The unexpected outcome of this agreement was the variety of fantastic ethnic foods that showed up at the table. After all, the international students weren’t ones to travel home for an American holiday. Indonesian desserts such as buttered mochi and agar agar sat next to Estonian dishes such as pickled pumpkin and potatoes with meat gravy. Kimchi and sauerkraut might have easily found their way onto the same plate.  No one left hungry, especially after making the trek in the bitter Wyoming cold to our professor’s house for dessert.

In those years, I gained some of my first experiences with true friendship, as I shared my home, foods, and traditions with others. Many of the bonds I established in graduate school remain strong today.  For that, I am thankful.

After graduating and moving to North Dakota, we truly missed the way relationships had influenced our holiday. We enjoyed our Thanksgivings at home, trying different sides each year. Like squash risotto or sweet potato pie. We’d go around the table, sharing what we were thankful for. Just like we thought we should.

Last year, I felt barely able to think about cooking. I was preoccupied by the loss of my dad. I couldn’t prepare or eat food without thinking of him. At times it felt like his presence in the kitchen with me was overwhelming to say the least. I did the best I could in writing about him and sharing his story.  But the pain was still tremendous.

We managed to have smoked turkey with cheese, crackers, and homemade pickles. It was simple and it worked. We were grateful, but something was amiss.   DSCN7764

This year is better. I feel more grounded and able to let the feeling of gratitude surpass that of grief. I am so grateful for our health. I am grateful for going gluten free and being able to enjoy eating again. I am grateful for so many friendships and professional relationships that have cultivated in the past year. Again, because I have been brave enough to share myself with others. And not just the parts I think they want me to share, but my true self.

It was terrifying, because at a certain point, I realized I wasn’t independent. I couldn’t do it all on my own. My family wasn’t as independent as we thought. Even though we raised chickens and ducks this year and had an amazing garden… we continue to rely on others.

That doesn’t mean we are dependent either. We have not gone to the store today, yesterday, or even last week to buy our Thanksgiving meal. The choices we make as consumers has lead to abundance. We have everything we need. And with that, we feel a sense of thankfulness that extends into the paradigm of “know your farmer, know your food.”

Tonight we will enjoy smoked duck with a sauce made from buffalo berries. We raised the duck ourselves and harvested the berries at the beginning of October. The potatoes and onions we will roast have been in our root cellar since the last farmers market. As have the pumpkins and apples from which we will bake pie. We made the last harvest from our garden at the beginning of November when we picked the brussels sprouts and cabbages. We saved the brussels sprouts just for this occasion. Should the boys want a glass of milk or a dollop of whipped cream on their pie, we have that too, thanks to our cow-share.

We will spend the day as a family. But we won’t be alone. The gratitude in our hearts is because of the interdependence with others. Those who shaped Thanksgivings years ago and those who helped shape this one by producing the food on our table. Without a doubt, we are blessed.

Happy Thanksgiving from Pages of Paradigm.

Coming to Fruition

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The world is full of coulds, woulds, and shoulds. Some of which exist in truly meaningful ways.

But many of them:

Oh, I really should…

If I just could…

I really would…

They only seem to perpetuate invisible barriers.

Who says I should?

Who says I can’t?

Then why don’t I?

Who says I can't climb a tree?

Who says I can’t climb a tree?

We all have dreams, and there is no good reason these dreams cannot be part of our reality. No matter how big or small. No matter how silly or strange.

You want to do something?

Then why don’t you?

I know it is not that easy. In fact, just a month ago I felt trapped by my own invisible barriers.

Terribly trapped in a silly conundrum.

I wanted to pick fruit, but yet everything seemed to stop me.

Chokecherries grow on small to medium sized trees, often found on the edges of wooded areas or standing alone in the open. Their tart fruits have a single small pit and make you pucker at the first taste.

Chokecherries (Prunus virginiana) grow on small to medium sized trees, often found on the edges of wooded areas or standing alone in the open.

The fruit beckons from a far.

It is wild.

Yet that is not what stops me.

I know it well. Its name: common, genus, and species.

Leaf patterns and ecology.

Even uses and recipes.

What stops me is fear.

Fear that regulations might state that I cannot pick there.

Fear that those trees might belong to someone else.

Fear that I might be confronted with threatening words and gestures.

Fear that someone might come with questions,

Whatcha gonna do with them?”

“Um, eat them kind sir….” (please don’t eat me!!)

“Howsya know them berries ain’t gonna kill ya?”

“Er, I study these plants, you see, ma’am. I’ve even taught about them.  Plus I always double check my identifications.”

“Why go to all that trouble, when you can just buy some fruit at the store?”

“Well you see, I can’t buy these in the store. And I really like them.  I think they might be better than anything you can buy in the store.”

“Why don’t you just give me MY berries, and we won’t have us any trouble…”

“Am I getting mugged? For wild fruits?”

“Why don’t you just get the hell out of here…”

“Is that a shotgun? Oh shit…”

These delusions seem to quickly escalate out of control. They became paralyzing. Keeping me from doing what I wanted.

But because it was something I wanted to do, somehow in my mind, it must be wrong.

I created a barrier, to keep me from doing what I really, truly wanted.

That barrier was fear.

The day I overcame that fear, I was with my husband, out alone for a North Dakota drive. We were stopping along little lakes, thinking about future places for family camping and seeking out a nice little fishing hole for the afternoon.

First, I saw a chokecherry tree, then about three more.

Beautiful and bountiful.

I discretely picked some and put them in an empty water bottle.

Then I saw some rosehips, and always having wanted to make rosehip jelly, I collected another pint or so of them.

I felt so sneaky and cautious. I was on high alert.

Certainly, I was doing something wrong.

All the while, Hubby was getting out his rod and tackle box and began searching the shoreline for a good place to test the waters.

“Rachel, you had better come see this!” He hollered.

I was convinced he had found a sign that stated the area was a protected nature preserve, and that anyone found disturbing any animals, plants, or rocks would be fined $10,000 and spend up to a year in jail.

My heart sank.

Walking toward him, holding my breath, I failed to see what he wanted me to see.

Black Currants.

All along the shoreline.

Bushes loaded with the earthy, rich sweetness of black currants.

I must have been dumbstruck, because he had to urge me on,

“We have some plastic bags in the car. You should go get some.”

Excuses ran through my head.

Someone must have planted these here.

No, someone’s grandpa planted them here 120 years ago.

I’m sure of it.

Heck, the lake is probably even named after him.

BUT WAIT- BLACK CURRANTS.

I looked again, thick along the shoreline, into the trees.

And on and on.

I looked for evidence to show they had been picked before (and by extension, it would be okay for me to pick some too.)

Indeed. Some branches and clusters showed signs of picking.

And since I didn’t think there were many bears around that had been gorging themselves on currants, I took a gamble that humans had indeed been picking these currants.

I would not be thrown in jail if I picked these fruits.

On I went down the shore. Bag in hand. Ready to work.

Picking currants is not easy work. The fruits are barely noticeable from overhead, as they cluster beneath the leaves.

Black Currants

Black Currants (Ribes americanum) thrive along
stream banks, in moist ravines, wet meadows, floodplains, and woodland edges.

Two hours of bending, sitting, kneeling, and gently pulling the leaves back yielded just over a quart of berries and a criticism came to mind,

“That’s an awful lot of work for just a couple berries.” 

I silenced the critic within by popping a few more fruits into my mouth.

I was overcoming that barrier.

Even the point that a truck came down the dirt road, I resisted the urge to jump into the bushes to hide.

I acted as though I paid no mind.

But I was focused on my breathing, so to not have a full blown anxiety attack.

I destroyed the barrier.

I no longer had to dance around with the shoulds, coulds, and woulds.

“I would love to collect wild fruit to make jelly, someday.”

“I know I could identify them, afterall, I taught ethnobotany for two years.”

“I should just get enough courage to go do it.”

“Or maybe I shouldn’t bother.”

No more.

I tapped into my strengths and knowledge.

I found a resource and harvested it.

I overcame the barrier. And opened a door.

I found a truer, happier version of myself.

I ventured into new possibilities.

Soon I saw opportunities all around.

In campgrounds, parks, fairgrounds, vacant properties, and along the roadside.

Suddenly the world offered a bounty of crabapples, chokecherries, Chokecherries

rosehips, currants, wild plums, buffalo berries, American cranberries,High Bush Cranberries and wild grapes.

Wild Grapes

Even cultivars of raspberries, apples, grapes, and plums came our way.

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The world is full of possibilities. What a valuable lesson and sweet reminder. A bounty that will last far into the future.

“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

– Paulo Coelho