A visit to Bismarck (North Dakota, that is)

Wherever did I find this travel agent?  I never get booked for Hawaii in January.  It’s always somewhere in the north-lands.  And my timing was impeccable.  When I arrived on Monday the temperature was heading down towards zero, and when I left on Wednesday, it was minus 4 degrees.  However, I did manage to leave before the temperature fell to minus 40 degrees (Farenheit, not Centigrade).

But it was a great visit.  I was one of two keynote speakers for North Dakota’s first-ever Local Food Summit, sponsored by the ND Department of Agriculture.  Despite the frigid and snowy weather, a good group of people turned out.  Other speakers included Pat Garrity, an apple orchadist from Yankton, SD, who is also affiliated with the Leopold Center of Iowa State, and Carol Ford and Chuck Waibel, who operate the Garden Goddess Greenhouse and WINTER CSA in Milan, Minnesota!  They operate a passive solar greenhouse that only requires about $70 in supplemental propane to grow fresh greens in the midst of the Minnesota winter. 

Representatives of the local food bank system gave an interesting presentation regarding the extent of hunger in North Dakota, and how local foods can help bridge the gap.

The meeting was characterized by a strong spirit of optimism about the possibilities for recreating a local food system in the North Dakota area.  

Pat, Chuck, Carol and I also had a great time sitting in the hallway and talking for about an hour and a half. We compared notes, exchanged horror stories and successes, wondered about the future, recharged batteries.

Besides North Dakota, one of the meeting attendees gave me a flyer for “Farm to Table“, an organization with a Glendive, Montana that is working to develop a local food coop in Eastern Montana and Western North Dakota.

I always think it is interesting that my speaking presentations are never in “world cities”.  I get invited to the backways and byways of America.  Archbold, Ohio.  Saginaw, Michigan. Hohenwald, Tennessee.  Atwood, Kansas.  Denton, Texas. These are places where people are vitally concerned about their local economies, and are interested in jumping outside of the box to do something new, that is actually something very old — buying food from their neighbors.

I came back home Wednesday morning, and jumped immediately into the January 2009 delivery day of the Oklahoma Food Cooperative on Thursday.  Fifty-something volunteers showed up to our barely-heated warehouse on a morning when it was 16 degrees F here in Oklahoma City.  It’s not quite the minus-4 degrees of Bismarck, but for Oklahoma City that is really cold.  Our only heat was a kerosene heater in the front part of the operations center, but 50 people running checking and sorting and bagging and toting kept us warm.  That and some great foods brought by our producers, including the best posole I have ever had brought by Leah and Bobby Aufill of Cocina San Pasqual in Perkins, a crock-pot of green beans and meat made by Paulette Rink of Rowdy Stickhorse in Douglas, carrot-pineapple cake from Granny in Chandler, and hot coffee (fair trade and organic and locally roasted and blended) brought by Gary from PrimaCafe.  (Plus a lot of other foods too numerous to mention, good food makes the work go easier and the fellowship more sweet.)  January is always our lightest month for sales, but even so my preliminary evaluation is that our sales increased about 25% over January 2008. 

Who knows where all of this is headed, but its nice to be involved with something that shows clear and steady progress, and that involves so many diverse people.  And where the food is so tasty.

If you are interested in a passive solar greenhouse like the Garden Goddess, Carol and Chuck are self-publishing “The Garden Goddess Passive Solar Greenhouse Manual”, tentatively scheduled for release on Earth Day this year.  You can email them at carolford@fedteldirect.net or newworld@fedteldirect.net , or phone them at 320-734-4669.  Contact them to reserve a copy. They are also presenting at the upcoming 20th Annual Organic Farming Conference of the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service in Lacross, WIsconsin February 27-28, and the Manitoba Food Security Conference in Winnipeg, Canada Feb 20-21.

If you are interested in starting a local food coop, here are the instructions.  And here is a list of other local food coops and organizing campaigns.

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2 Responses to A visit to Bismarck (North Dakota, that is)

  1. cjford says:

    Hello, Bob! Carol Ford here.

    I’d say you left the northland just in the nick o’ time. Chuck and I landed back in Milan Wednesday night to the news that it would dip down to -35 without windchill. I put an extra space heater in the greenhouse, turned the propane furnace up just a notch and hoped for the best. Everything was fine in the morning even though we had an hour’s worth of power outage in the night. The propane heater continues to work without electricity but the fan moter doesn’t. Still, everything survived and I was relieved to see again that our greenhouse design can withstand the worst winter can dish out. I was cutting salad greens and pac choi that night.

    Hard part was that even with every available space heater at work, we could only get the packing shed up to 20 degrees. Man, did we work fast that night! Chuck got root veggies into the boxes while I was harvesting in the greenhouse and then we quickly bagged and packed the fresh stuff in, then whisked the boxes into the warmer climes of the greenhouse. Whew!

    We’ve had some very mild winters up to this point and I’m glad for that experience now as we move through this challenging one. So far so good. This weekend’s “thaw” in the 20s was great coupled with sunshine yesterday morning. It was 80 in the greenhouse with the door open to the packing shed, where it warmed to 50. Did a lot of catch-up and clean up.

    The amusing thing is that we discovered that a local community group we’ve been involved with has organized a mini-conference of speakers to talk about “green enterprises” for the region and it never occurred to anyone to tell us about it, much less noting that we are the only “green” business going right now in the area. It’s more than a little disconcerting to realize that what we’re doing is sparking great interest far and wide in the upper midwest, but our own neighbors see nothing in it of real value. I’m not sure what to make of that just now. I think I’ll just head out to the greenhouse and plant some baby chinese cabbage and pea shoots. Those kinds of simple, satisfying tasks are meditative and grounding, always.

    Looking forward to seeing you in La Crosse next month. It was a pleasure to spend some time and smart talk with you in Bismarck. In spirit,

    Carol Ford

  2. mathteacher says:

    Quickhelp for us Europeans – minus 40 C is exactly equal to minus 40 F – COLD!!

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