Possible and Impossible Thoughts?: wrapping up the Dakota Grown Local Foods Conference

Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said, “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
~Alice in Wonderland

I heard some amazing stories – like how Riverbound CSA was almost completely flooded during its second season, and the McGuinnesses had to cram veggies for 50 shares onto a realllllly small acreage, and hand-work the whole thing. How when the Lee Thomas Organic Farm was ringed with water, and they were literally marooned on the farm, her son slapped on waterskis and was pulled behind the truck in the ditch – all captured on a Youtube video that went viral. How some plants survived in the Dragonfly Garden project of Tom Kalb, and some “you just throw some manure on them and hope for the best.”

Farming is hard. But it is so worth it. And that is coming from me, a backyard gardener, local foods fan, and healthy-eating-type person. Thank you, farmers.

I really enjoyed my time spent as a blogger with the Dakota Grown Local Foods Conference, and will refer back to this experience, I’m sure, for a long time to come. I also look forward to sharing some of my own personal stories, projects, and ideas over the coming weeks, months…years? We’ll see!

I found very interesting John Hendrickson’s presentation on the profitability of a small farm. John, farmer of Stone Circle farm, and a university professor and researcher at UW Madison, did a small study analyzing profitability of 19 organic farms in Wisconsinh. The results of his study were extensive, and some was good, some head-scratching, and some just plain bad. What I found as an interesting take-away: Based on his research, the best chance for a small farm to be profitable is to be between 6 – 12 acres, diversified (growing several or many types of things) and the least risk involved was in operating as a CSA.

That information was echoed by Annie Carlson, executive director of Farrms, and farmer herself, with her husband, John, at Morning Joy Farm. “At Farrms, we grow farmers.” Neat. You can contact Annie to learn about the educational programs, and even micro-lending programs, for small family farms just starting out. Annie went from being a conventional farmer as a kid growing up in her family, to now an organic vegetable, poultry/egg farmer, with a CSA. She spoke about the many, many ways farms can market their goods, and there are quite a few! “The fallacy that organic food is just for rich people? Not true. But its all in how you market it.” She remarked that she is struggling to keep up with demand for her products, and looks forward to expanding their farm to keep up with the interest. Annie combined humor with information – a real winner for me!

Katie Pinke, marketing director for the North Dakota Department of Agriculture, gave a morning keynote on Social Media and Farms – also hit on these points. She had those of us gathered in the room raise our hands to see if we fit into the following categories. Play along: are you among the 48% of 18-34 year-olds who check Facebook right away when you wake up? Are you, further, part of the 28% who check Facebook with your smartphone before you even get out of bed?

There are new technologies present on the farm than there ever were before – including email, blogs, websites, Facebook, Twitter – all to help people connect easily with local foods.

There are also new programs springing up in North Dakota that can help people expand their own offerings, or give them what they need to get started. Tom Kalb mentioned a few of these, including a Home Gardener Trial Program. Participants in the trial  can be farmers, or home gardeners. You go online to select seed (after Feb 20 all links will be active) and pair a tried-and-true variety with a new variety. The feedback each grower provides will help determine plant lists that are given to gardeners and farmers looking for the best varieties for our climate. I’m super-psyched for this, and I’m hoping to get involved.

The USDA is offering a Specialty Crops Grant for those growers interested in growing a unique crop. You can learn more here.  Also being accepted are applications for starting a community orchard, through the NDSU Extension Service – and this is the one that makes me look out of my bedroom window, onto a small parking lot that, in the future, might be empty. I can see tearing up the asphalt and electrical lines, and making a green space with great fruit – both the kind you can eat, and the kind that can’t really be measured, the fruit of community – some would say this is an impossible thought. But, there’s one, …and I still have time for a few more before breakfast.

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