- Associated Press - Monday, March 20, 2017

MANDAN, N.D. (AP) - A little over a year ago, the McGinness family loaded a 20-foot shipping container for a new life of farming on the island of Maui in Hawaii.

“We thought we were leaving to go on and do a new thing,” Angie McGinness said of working for a season on a corporate-owned, 3,600-head cattle ranch and 20-acre organic vegetable farm in the tropical state.

Their experiment in corporate farming reminded them how much they loved being family farmers, she said.

Now they are back at Riverbound Farm, their small vegetable farm south of Mandan, waiting for the ground to thaw so they can start their next CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) season - and, along with other small local food growers, seeing increased opportunity to expand their operations.

The Bismarck Tribune (https://bit.ly/2lorL8G ) reports that as demand increases for locally grown products, the McGinnesses are working on ways to extend their growing season with a second greenhouse, Brian McGinness said.

Part of their five-year plan is a “pick your own” vegetable garden and orchard, as well a kids’ play area, so they can up their ante as a community farm.

Angie McGinness said she also would like to add a commercial kitchen for processing foods. There, they could make “ugly carrot soup” with produce that is still good, but many people won’t buy based on looks. The result would be zero waste.

Angie McGinness got the idea from working as a farm manager in Maui, where she got wholesaling experience and spent time working with a nearby farm-to-table restaurant, which she said customers strongly supported.

“I got out of the field a little more, into the processing end,” she said.

Now the family foresees bringing that focus to their land for a value-added future and a more robust business.

“The wholesale market is the next big step for local foods,” said Sue Balcom, former executive director of the Foundation for Agricultural and Rural Resource Management and Sustainability. The group was founded in 2000 to address organic production and processing education and to promote sustainable rural development.

“Marketing is the hard part of doing this,” said Balcom, adding that going through a wholesaler helps.

Balcom also said wholesaling helps farmers reach a different group of people: those who haven’t been to farmers markets.

Making a uniform, statewide code for local produce sales to restaurants, instead of having different codes in each community, is another next step for the local foods movement, according to Balcom.

The number of local farmers increased last growing season while the McGinnesses were gone, with several new farmers coming on board and trying their hand at growing food, said Troy Ricciardi, assistant general manager of the BisMan Community Food Co-op.

“With Brian and Angie coming back, that’s a major increase,” said Ricciardi, indicating that the McGinnesses expressed interest in increasing production to match what the co-op needs.

“I think the food co-op is a game-changer,” Angie McGinness said. “Now people have a shelf available to them.”

Another pair of local growers - Hannah and Jonathon Moser, of Forager Farm, near Streeter - sees similar opportunity.

This will be the couple’s fourth season. They got started after spending time in Australia on an organic vegetable farm and decided to try to repeat their success at home in North Dakota.

They started as mostly a CSA (community-supported agriculture) farm. By their second season, they were supplying restaurants; last season, they started selling to the food co-op.

“It seemed like a natural fit to sell in different avenues,” Jonathon Moser said.

“I would say the local food movement is really growing in the area,” said Hannah Moser, who said more people are becoming interested in knowing where their food is coming from.

And they believe that focus is still trending.

In terms of acreage, the Mosers are growing more on less space, becoming more efficient with their 2.5 acres. They’ve also diversified their operations by adding goats and baking bread.

As of now, they’re producing more food than they can sell. Like the McGinnesses, they could see themselves moving into more processing, possibly building a micro goat dairy or baking out of a commercial kitchen.

They, too, aim to extend their season, capturing more of the fringe period when people don’t have certain things. They believe that’s where the local foods movement is going to have to go in North Dakota to be successful.

“You won’t get tomatoes in January, but kale can grow in a semi-heated environment for a larger portion of the year,” said Jonathon Moser, adding it will take the right type of infrastructure and smart investment to make it happen.

The McGinnesses and others like them are driven by having a connection with the community.

“With a family farm, don’t get me wrong, the bottom line is important,” said Brian McGinness, but he pointed out that running their own place allows them to make decisions based on their relationship to the community and to the land. “You can’t place a value on those.”


Information from: Bismarck Tribune, https://www.bismarcktribune.com

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