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?