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Going Local in North Dakota

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Going Local in North Dakota

I am honored to have the opportunity to attend the 2013 Dakota Grown Local Foods Conference as an on-site blogger. It is Friday, April 12 in Bismarck, North Dakota. This will be my third year attending the conference. In the past, I have attended on behalf of an organization that was looking to develop its role in community agriculture. This year, I just get to be me, a thirty something entrepreneur with a deep appreciation for food and nature. How great this is gonna be, just to be me!

Me and my boys with our new baby ducklings.

Me and my boys with our new baby ducklings.

My blog site, Pages of Paradigm, will become home to the narratives I produce at the conference. I will document and relay the topics of the conference and provide supplementary information and resources all through the lens of my own knowledge, experiences, and interests in the local foods movement.


Me and my bouquet of homegrown lettuce.


This conference is made for people like me. People who are active in their community and value locally produced food. People who are non-conventional or small scale producers. People who run a raspberry farm or juneberry orchard, or  who raise pastured pork, grass-fed beef, or free-range chickens. People who are helping their community start or continue a farmers’ market, or who work in the field of sustainable agriculture, local foods marketing, or horticultural production. The conference covers topics such as climatology, high tunnel production, and variety trails for vegetable crops. Also the North Dakota Hunger Garden Project and increasing access to locally grown foods by integrating SNAP/EBT benefits as an acceptable form of payment for farmers’ market food products.

Over lunch, the North Dakota Farmers Market & Growers Association will hold its annual meeting, followed by break out sessions in the topic areas of production, marketing, and food safety. Discussions in production will be led on ways that producers can get their specialty crops to market as well as some information on what specialty crops are. In my mind, specialty crops are the really good stuff: the greens, herbs, tomatoes, squash, cut flowers, root vegetables, fruits, and so on, basically anything that is not a conventional agricultural crop (wheat, soybeans, feed corn, etc). Marketing topics include building customer relationships and will include discussions by, among others, two fellow North Dakota Bloggers of Rhubarb & Venison and Pickle Me Too. Also, there will be a session on agri-tourism which is of particular interest to folks who are interested allowing public tours of their farms. As for food safety, this should be an interesting and informing session on rules & regulations on the sale of meat, dairy, and eggs.

Then, the day will wrap up with a presentation on “Why Local Foods” and a social. The agenda and speakers are subject to change, but really I am so excited about attending this conference and sharing its wealth of information in such an important area of our lives.  Wendell Berry said it so well with the simple statement, “Eating is an agricultural act.”


Welcome, Acceptance

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A menagerie is growing. It is peeping and squeaking and soon to be quacking.


Seven little ducklings have taken up residence in our basement.

DSCF3061 And on occasion, the bathtub.


Watching these creatures stirred something deep within myself.



and a little giggle

of a five-year-old girl.

The same five year old girl that used to chase sparrows around the McDonald’s playground in hopes of catching one,

just to feel what feathers were like.

The same five year old girl that would take her grandpa’s hand and say, “Let’s go look at the garden!”

The same five year old girl that dug up the roots of an apple tree, certain that she had found a dinosaur bone.

That little girl, is me. She arrived yesterday.

A day after the ducklings.


She wanted to call her daddy to tell him about the excitement of holding these little fluff-balls.

I had to be gentle with her, “Your daddy died last year, sweetheart.”

“Oh, that’s right. I’m sad about that…

But, we know what feathers feel like now, right?”

“Yes, we do. We get to hold birds everyday, if we want.”


“And we have a garden now, right?”

“Yes, but it’s too cold to work in it. But someday soon the green onions and garlic will start sprouting.”

“And we have apple trees too, right?”

“Yes, we do. Dad helped the boys plant them two years ago.”

“Oh good. So we’re happy and life is good, right?”

“Yes, my girl. You are right. As difficult as things feel sometimes, we are happy. And life is good.”



What an amazing sense of arrival, to know what is truly important to the core of my being.

And to know that through all the struggles,

through all the discontented and quieted bits of my inner self,

that the young child,

the one with the quietest voice,

is the most accepting,

the most appreciative,

and remains close to the ones gone from this world.


Signs of Spring II

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Signs of Spring II

The signs of spring have been sparse here in North Dakota. It’s April. There is still snow on the ground. The daytime temperatures have just creeped above freezing, only to fall back below zero during the night. Each morning the walk to school is different with street glaciers changing their size and position and ice puddles glistening in the light, refusing to reveal their fragility by mere sight. But this morning was different. Not only has the crunch of the snow gotten louder, but the sound of the skies have changed– there are birds!
American robins are fluffed up big, but still present. DSCN9116Singing their delightful song that is easy to take for granted. They were moving slow through the trees, but nonetheless, they were here!


As were the Dark-Eyed Juncos- little grey birds with light bellies. Their little chipping call was a delight, sometimes interrupted by distant Canada Geese. The wind was cold without a doubt and the sun hid behind the clouds. But even now, as the temperatures warm and the sun shows its face, the bird songs continue to brighten my day and the day of others! My son is certainly enthused. He just took his toy truck outside, while chanting, “It’s Melting! It’s Melting!!”

Signs of Spring

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Signs of Spring

While waiting for spring, it does little good to keep an eye on the ground, waiting for the snow to melt. Keep an eye on the sky, and wait for the birds to come. The arrival or increase of activity of the smallest birds can tell us wonderful things about the world at large.

One reason I found North Dakota to be a potential homesite for raising a family was its great abundance of birds. On my first visit, I had never seen so many kinds of birds flying along the roadways.

For a long time I could only knew a few birds. I could tell a robin from a sparrow. And growing up near St. Louis, I certainly knew a cardinal when I saw one. But for nearly twenty years, I thought the sound of a mourning dove calling in my grandparents yard was an owl. It has taken me some time to get to know my feathered friends. But what a rewarding task it has been!

I took an ornithology class at the University of Wyoming in 2008. We had quizes on bird songs, and for our midterms and finals we had to identify the genus and species of a great number of specimens. If I was going to learn these creatures, I had to get out and see them. So I made an effort, and I got to know Meadowlarks, Northern Flickers, Swainson’s Hawks, Shrikes, Phalaropes, Avocets, and so on and so on.

Then, years down the road, I found myself the teacher, encouraging students to get familiar with a variety of birds. Waterfowl, songbirds, raptors, and the like.

Now, not having to learn about birds and not having to teach about birds, I have the opportunity to experience them on my own accord. And share a little of that celebration of seeing the signs of spring.

This morning on the way to taking my son to school, I hear Pine-siskins fleeting in the spruce trees nearby.

Pine Sisken. © Dave Wendelken, Lakewood, Virginia, December 2010 For more information visit

It was good to hear their activity. But this is their winter range.

Black-Capped Chickadee. © Bill Corwin, WA, January 2009. For more information, visit

As with the black-capped chickadees and the white-breasted nuthatches.


White-breasted Nuthatch. © Matt MacGillivray, Brighton, Ontario, Canada, April 2008. For more information visit

But true signs of spring came when I returned to the yard and heard a flittering of wings cascade through the beloved crabapple tree. Waxwings. DSCN8956Many, many waxwings, treating themselves to the dried crabapples still hanging from the fall. So obviously, it was time to get out the camera!

DSCN8947There are two different kinds of waxwings that come through our area. At first, I thought these must be Bohemian Waxwings. Named for their nomadic behavior and non-territorial behaviors. They winter in this area, and travel further north into Canada and into Alaska to spend their summers.

A sting of disappointment came. So they aren’t really migrating yet, but they are getting into large flocks…

After some time, the light brightened outside. The birds became more active. I took out the camera again, standing very still in the doorway of the sliding glass door.







These weren’t Bohemian Waxwings. Their underside was white! They were Cedar Waxwings.

Cedar Waxwing. Often found in flocks near fruiting trees in winter. © Byard Miller, NH, Marlborough, February 2008. For more information, visit

They spend their winters further south. If they are in North Dakota, that means they are migrating! They are some of the first migratory birds to pass through this area each spring. Their arrival says, “Spring is happening other places. We have a long way to go for the summer. We spend our summers throughout Canada, eating bugs and fruits. But we like to get a head start, before those American Robins, who like to eat the same fruit as we do. These crabapples were just the thing we needed for breakfast.”

Keep your eye out for these sleek and sassy birds. They’ll be likely to pass through quickly, on to the next fruit tree.