Beware of Local Food Pirates, Arrrrrrrrr!

Things that make you go….HMMM?

Take a look at this Butter Kernel corn ad, and see if you agree that…. (I tried to attach an image…but couldn’t….)

…local foods are such a growing phenomenon that the corn is running scared. Or,…the marketers of the corn. Trusted quality? Perhaps. Locally grown? Not likely.

Ads such as these are sort of a mix of good news, and bad news.

The good news – consumers are increasingly asking for local. They are vocal about local.

The bad news – big companies can dupe unsuspecting consumers into thinking they’re supporting local by supporting one of the biggest veggie canners in the U.S.

Pirating the local food movement – what do you think? Have you encountered similar advertising in your community, or in your newspaper’s coupon section?

*Thanks to Annie Carlson who mentioned this new ad as part of her presentation in the Dakota Grown Local Foods Conference.

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.

The Local Foods Puzzle –

…Where do you fit?

That was a question I was asking myself over the two days that I attended the Dakota Grown Local Foods conference in Fargo, ND. That was also the question F/M area organic farmer Noreen Thomas asked us as we ate lunch together on Saturday, February 4th. Do we grow things? Do we consume local foods? Do we share information with others? Do we present unique opportunities to get people from diverse walks of life interested in where their food is coming from?

Over the course of the two days, I met small family farmers, like the hopeful, joyful, informative presention of  Brian and Angie McGuinness, of Riverbound Farm , in Mandan ND.

What sticks out in my mind is that these two young adult farmers absolutely know the odds they are facing – some would call them insurmountable odds, and truly, that could be said –  and yet their vision of creating and providing not only healthy, organic food – but community for their members, was very inspiring.  “We want this to be ‘our’ farm – we want people to come and hang out, and be part of the farm.” From creating a unique itemized CSA to providing a children’s play area at their CSA barn and awesome farm events like the “Take Back the Value Meal” event, the McGuinnesses are really thinking outside of the box, while they’re putting good stuff IN the box – the boxes for their 150 CSA members.This will be their third year offering their CSA.

Also inspiring was talking with my tablemates at dinner – Stephanie Sinner, who works with the USDA export program and frequently travels overseas. Recent trips include to Vietnam, China, and Cuba. A couple involved for many years farming near Minot, marketing to farmer’s markets and restaurants as well as feeding themselves, talked about the  flooding devastation for many, their own farm untouched. Kathy, a former journalist, and current staff member of the USDA, who was taking in the conference as well as helping to educate others about the services, opportunities, and new grant programs that the USDA could provide to small farmers.

After making a round around the outside of the room picking up pamphlets (I love pamphlets! I’ve been known to look at them once, and file them for years, “just in case”) I decided to just plop myself down at a table with other young-adult-type-looking people, and I’m glad I did. A young couple with dreams of farming right outside of the area and starting a new CSA in future years shared their own vision. Clint and Victoria Russell and I traded stories about our families and our poultry – ducks and chickens for them, three backyard chickens for me – and the surprise of loving farming and gardening after never having grown up with it being a huge part of our lives. They have recently purchased an existing farm and name, and plan to continue to expand, and serve the area with fresh vegetables, and make a life for their family.

On Saturday, I talked with a woman who grows heirloom tomatoes and sells them to a local upscale cafe, but lives in town, just like me.

We all fit different pieces of the puzzle. I have to admit, there were times at the conference when I thought, Why am I here? I think I know, now.  I’m here to tell the stories of those that are farming big-time and small-time, and anything in between. There’s all some way we can be involved in local foods. We just have to figure out where we fit.

Where do you fit into the puzzle of local foods? Consumer? Advocate? Backyard gardener, like me? Small or large scale organic or conventional farm?

Dragonfly Garden: “See it, laugh at it….or do it.”

Tom Kalb, you are one funny guy. Especially for a horticulturist.

Well, perhaps ALL horticulturists are funny, I don’t know, because I think he’s the first one I ever met, but man, he was funny!

As I looked back over my notes of this session, actually the first one I attended on Friday, Feb 3rd at the Dakota Grown Local Foods Conference in Fargo, I had all these funny random quotes from him. Such as his comparison with some cuddly garden pests, such as the “rabbits the size of baby kangaroos”, and, his noting that research has found dwarf fruit trees that are hardy in Siberia. “If they can survive in Siberia, they can…probably…survive here in North Dakota.”

But, behind the rapid-fire one-liners (most of which you probably had to be in the room with me to actually “get”, so…make plans to attend next year is all I can say. We’ll carpool.), was a heart dedicated to teaching, educating, and expanding the development of growing things in North Dakota.

Tom told us about an awesome garden he’s developed at the United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck, ND. The creation of the Dragonfly Garden, to research and test plants for their suitability to our climate, and sustainability.  With a unique medicine-wheel design, this garden helps North Dakotans to expand their list of plants to grow in their own gardens, and to consider the opportunities of developing products for market.

One such product that is not grown much in ND – yet – is cut flowers. Tom and his team are experimenting with all kinds of hardy roses (these aren’t the long-stemmed variety, but with shorter stems, much like you would make a small table or restaurant arrangement), and other perennials and annuals. Two that looked great to me for my backyard garden were:

Irish Spring Rudbeckia. The unique eye of the flower is green, rather than brown.

Cappuccino Rudbeckia, developed in Italy. Anything that refers to coffee belongs in MY garden!

Those of you reading along who have been to other farmer’s markets, such as markets in St. Paul, MN, or the regional village markets near Milwaukee, WI,  you’ll often notice beautiful flower bouquets for sale. This is a real growth potential area for expansion in ND. But how do you know what to grow? Enter the Dragonfly Garden. Tom encourages visitors to come to the garden, and see what’s growing – and what’s not. “Some of the things are like, oh man, that’s miserable –” come and learn from the garden’s mistakes, he said.

But, the garden has other goals as well. “We want to bring technologies, science-based technologies, to the community. We want to get the community involved in gardening. We want to get these kids [as he referred to a slide with area children helping in the garden] away from their video games. There’s more to life than killing a Pokemon – we got to get them outside.” Amen, Tom.

Check out all the amazing resources on gardening, from the comfort of your home, “At 2 am, in your pajamas”, Tom said, on , the Dakota Public Access website. Once you’re there, click to search Channel 12, and in the first box of the search, type “Dakota Growing”. You’ll find a large list of education videos to encourage and inspire you!

Tom Kalb invites all to visit the garden and get ideas. There are three ways you can proceed, once you see all the variety of plants growing in the Dragonfly Garden. “See it, laugh at it….or do it.”

More on Tom and the opportunities he presented to market growers and backyard growers in Friday’s post!

Question: What unique plant (flower, herb, vegetable, or fruit) would you like to try to grow?

North Dakota wine can be made of…

a) rhubarb

b) raspberries

c) strawberries

d) all of the above

If you guessed D, you are absolutely right! After arriving at the end of our luncheon time, my first conversation was with Merleen Gussiaas, of Carrington, ND. Marleen and her husband, Bruce, have a delicious dilemma –

They planted 3,000 – yes, you read that right, that is Three Thousand – rhubarb plants in 2007. Bruce laid down the mulch and cut X’s in it, and dug the holes; Merleen planted about “99.5% of those plants.” When she was done, she was a bit sore.

But not sore are the people who taste their rhubarb wine – which comes in a few varieties, including, of course, the pairing with strawberry. Chocolate-cherry is another flavor I’d love to try. Offering tours of Merleen’s extensive flower gardens, hosting wine tastings in their commercial kitchen made especially for the wine-making aspect of their operation, and marketing their wine regionally keep the couple busy. They have enlisted the help of family, including some of their older grandchildren, in harvesting the many, many, many (can you imagine? 3000 plants, ya’ll!) rhubarb stalks.

So, here’s the dilemma – how to get this luscious, uniformly chopped (by local employees), freezer-packaged yumminess into the hands of those who would use it to make a 9 X 13 cake (each package has 5 cups, just the perfect size!) –

Merleen told me that part of the reason why they’re attending is to find out more about how to get connected with Farmer’s Markets in a profitable way. Round-trip gas cost from Carrington, costs associated with the processing of the rhubarb — how can they sell their wares and make it all work out – and make a living?

I encouraged Merleen to think about being first to market in the spring. We’re sick of the long, drab brown/white winter, and hungry for fruit! Hungry for color! Hungry for a first taste of what’s to come…

Here’s my question, for Fargo area residents: Would you buy a 5-cup package of rhubarb from Merleen? Let her know she’s got options in Fargo! You can type in a comment, or send her an email through the beautiful websites that showcase their wares:  Dakota Sun Gardens ( and

I’m looking forward to discovering more stories of farmers and hobbyists doing creative things to help us all get connected with great, healthy food!

Ending Hunger in ND – one garden at a time…

Picture the tightest budget month in your own particular household. Is it December, when you’re buying gifts? Is it the month when it seems like every member of your family has a birthday? Is it spring, when you’re maybe attending weddings, or visiting relatives now that the roads aren’t don’t as closely resemble skating rinks?

Well, picture that tight month stretching out over months and months – or, indeed, years. When the budget is tight, things start to get cut out. Often fresh fruits and veggies are the first to go for a family in need of food, period. 9 out of 10 of us don’t get enough fresh produce anyway – multiply that problem for a household facing a tough time.

Enter the Hunger Free ND Garden program. This program, as presented by the ND Dept of Agriculture and one of their partners, Lutheran Social Services program the Great Plains Food bank today, February 3rd, at the Dakota Grown Local Foods Conference, aims to connect local farmers, large and small, with area food pantries, with a very impressive goal – to get 500,000 lbs of fresh fruits and vegetables into the hands of those who need them, and helping to eradicate area hunger.

1 in 11 people don’t get enough to eat in our great state, and 40% of those are children.  This program seeks to involve people on all levels – from the backyard hobbyist like myself, to a CSA farm, to a large scale operation.

During this session, I was impressed with the sharing the group did at the end of our time together. One man from the Wahpeton/Breckenridge area noted that their farmer’s market has started a program, Pounds for the Pantry. At the end of the market day, extra or unwanted produce is collected and then brought by a network of volunteers to the area food pantry. We broke into small groups to brainstorm problems and solutions – how can we get food to people? Could we each plant an extra row, or, in a small situation, one extra plant, that we can share?

My husband and I have often marveled at the output of a single plant. Plants – and here I’m going to reference the abundant zucchini, which, at high season, you can’t hardly GIVE away! – are meant to be shared. They are meant to feed people. This program seeks to connect that abundance to the people who need it most and can afford it least.

Consider making this program visible, through your network of friends, your church, your workplace, your extended family. The program has had success in its first two years, giving about 350,000 lbs to those in need, and has some heartwarming stories of how the abundance is collected. Take retired pastor Dave Faust, for instance. He planted 2 acres of squash, yielding over 60 thousand pounds. At age 76, harvesting it all himself was not an option. Help was enlisted in the local college population, who had the squash harvested in about 2 hours (and were entreated to go back out into the field and pull the weeds, too).

Check out more information about the Hunger Free North Dakota garden project, and share the abundance. Here is a brochure:


Arrival: Dakota Grown Local Foods Conference, 2012

I have this little voice in my head, a frog-voice, to be specific. “Hi-ho, Kermit *thee* Frog here, reporting live from the Dakota Grown Local Foods Conference in Fargo, ND.” Okay, so I’m not a frog, and I’m not wearing an adorable trench-coat – but I will have to say, “Being Green” is looking good.

Green, as in – growing things. Fruits, veggies, flowers. Green as in – the buzzword on urban and rural lips alike, telling us how we can grow smarter, share more, benefit people and the planet. Green, as in – a movement toward a sustainable, local foods future!

*I have arrived at the conference, and am indebted to all those who helped me get here today – from my kids who put up with my last minute packing frenzy, to my husband who took a half-day, to my family who’s helping with childcare — and, of course, to the USDA program that is putting all this on, and Katie Pinke, USDA staff member,  who invited me to share my thoughts from the perspective of a hobby gardener who loves to buy local, and a wife and mom who wants to do what’s best for her family.

Stay tuned for multiple posts over the next exciting 24 hours! I’ll provide some basic notes and thoughts, pictures, and then over the next weeks, will unpack this experience, interspersing my own thoughts and projects – and I look forward to your feedback, those of you playing along at home –

Green is good. It is great to be here.

* the above should be intoned, if at all possible, with either a Southern, think Scarlett O’Hara accent, or, alternately, a British queenly statement. The choice is yours. Choose well. What voice is in your head today?