Farmer’s Market Etiquette!

Farmer’s Markets are in full swing, and customers are flocking to booths and tables purchasing great produce and products labored with love.  In order to keep everyone happy, and make the visit enjoyable, there are some simple guidelines customers should follow on every visit. 

Build meaningful relationships with your farmers, get to know them, compliment them on their produce or product.

If samples are available, try them out, ask questions, let your salesperson know flavors you like, and they will definitely let you try before you buy.

Try not to rush through your market!  Take your time, stroll along, visit, have fun, explore! 

DO bring your own bags. Reusable (cloth) bags cut down on the cost of plastic on our environment as well as costs to farmers who make and purchase bags. If you need a plastic bag, reuse it for bagging your produce the following weeks or to line a waste bin at home.

Bring Small Bills. Especially if you come bright and early. People who work markets try to plan ahead and bring change but it’s easy to run out if everyone pays with big bills.

DO save change during the week and use your coins! Exact change makes the math easier and gets you out of the checkout line quicker.

Bring Your Curiosity. Don’t be afraid to try new things. The farmers’ market is a perfect place to find things you’ve never tried before.

Bring Your Brain. Don’t ask your farmer “Where are the strawberries?” in August. Likewise don’t ask for apples in May. Maybe you’re not from around these parts and don’t know about these things called “seasons” but it’s pretty easy to find out.

Get Out of the Way. This is a courtesy to your farmers (who are trying to please everyone and be efficient) AND your fellow shoppers. If you don’t know what you want, please make sure those who do can get by you. There’s nothing more frustrating than shoppers who plant themselves in front of your stall and won’t let anyone else in.

♦ Leave the haggling for the garage sale: In most cases the farmers are already giving you the best price they can while still making a profit margin.


Enjoy your market travels!  Until next time…

Crystal ~

It’s Not Just Lettuce Anymore …

Week six is bringing more produce variety, and adding more color to our gardens.  From our gardens to your plate and tabletops, CSA shareholders will begin to take home carrots, peas, potatoes, onions, beans, flowers, etc.  Lettuce will still be gracing your share bags, and can supplement any meal or stand alone.  

Tomatoes in the high tunnel! 

Beans, replanted from the flood zone in garden 3!

Carrots are looking good!


Our popcorn is almost 9 feet tall or more!  Wow!

Our flower section :)

Purple Beans!

An overview of garden #2!  Look at all the pretty veggies right in a row.  How are your gardens growing?  Till next time :)  Happy Harvest!

Crystal ~

North Dakota State Fair Time!

I had the opportunity to judge the FFA horticulture division on Thursday July 17, 2014.  It is amazing how many plants are brought in from FFA Chapters across the state.  Most of the plants were ornamentals. 

I really like the idea of container gardening.  It allows us to move plants around using each plant in a different setting.

You don’t need a plot of land to grow fresh vegetables or flowers. Many vegetables lend themselves well to container gardening.  With some thought to selecting bush or dwarf varieties, almost any vegetable can be adapted to growing in a pot.  Even if you want your favorite full-size variety, if you give it a large enough pot and plenty of soil and water, it will grow just fine and reward you with plenty.  Vegetables that take up little space, such as carrots, radishes and lettuce, or crops that bear fruits over a long period of time, such as tomatoes and peppers, are perfect for container vegetable gardens.

There seems to be fewer vegetables this year at the North Dakota State Fair.  Perhaps the late spring had a lot to do with it.  But the rhubarb is not affected very much by the cooler temperatures that we had this year.  

Red rhubarb and red fading to green seems to be dominant at the fair.  My opinion is that the color of the stalk has no bearing whatsoever on the level of sweetness. 

Being from northern North Dakota, I have a real difficult time believing that melons can be this far along.  Granted, we may be able to have earlier crops with high tunnels. Yet, still here they are on exhibit!

It is so much fun watching the excitement in the exhibitors from FFA, 4-H and open class as everyone takes a lot of pride in showing their best product.  When I am judging, I often wonder if the exhibitor will ask why I ranked their exhibit the way I did.  Well it finally happened!  The exhibitor asked me why I did not rank his higher.  I was judging jade plants and all looked very similar in size and condition.  Lifting up the pots, I noticed that one had not been watered in quite a while.  For me that was the determining factor.  Seems trivial but proper plant soil moisture is always important.

AND it is time to get ready to do some pickling! This time of the year cucumbers and dill are in abundance

They have yet to ask me to judge the baked goods.  I really think it would take me all day just to get through the “taste test” part!

If you are going to the State Fair in Minot, take time to  look at horticulture, livestock and all the other exhibits being shown by the proud individuals in FFA, 4-H and Open class.

Till next time …


Great Opportunities in Local Food

I’ve been on the run all week but I had a nice surprise in the mail when I got home.  The latest issue of Dakotfire Magazine.  This wonderful magazine is published 6 times a year and is specifically written for 3 counties in southeastern North Dakota and several counties in northeastern South Dakota.  This issue, ‘Going Local’ featured many of the great producers in the Dakotas - some as far away from these counties as Hensler, Adrian, and Mandan.  Almost the whole issue is devoted to the topic of local food and it contains not only wonderful photos but some great statistics as well.

Dakotafire is beginning a Local Food Challenge.  It is a way for people in the Dakotas to get better connected to the land and the people who produce our food by eating food produced locally for two weeks in September.  Participants will briefly chart their local foodiness each day on a calendar, (downloadable) and then either e-mail or mail that calendar back to Dakotafire the week following the challenge.  Every who completes a calendar will get a fun “I Went Local” T-shirt, and their names will also be put in a drawing to win other prizes.  There are two levels of participation so you can tailor your challenge to your eating habits.  You can find more information on this challenge at

Even if we don’t all live in this part of the state, let’s all try to follow along with this great idea - go local for two weeks in September - the 6th through the 19th!

Until then, let’s get out there and support our local farmers markets and growers.  Everything is in season!


Calling all North Dakota Producers!!!

If you are just starting out, or have been doing this for some years, we have put together a plethora of information into a packet to help you get your business off the ground or revamp to a new level.  You will find the new ND Local Food Directory, a Farm to Market Guide, production and harvesting guidelines, marketing tips, food safety practices, farm to school resources, and liability requirements, etc.  There are also brochures regarding the benefits of our Entrepreneurial Center for Horticulture program, and a management program we currently have on campus with instructor, Keith Knudson. 

We have already sent 25 packets to producers in the CONAC and Southwest REAP (Rural Economic Assistance Program) Zones.  Current counties sent to are:  Bottineau, McHenry, Rolette, Towner, Pierce, Benson, Dunn, Billings, Golden Valley, Stark, Slope, Hettinger, Bowman, and Adams.

If are interested in receiving one of these packets, please contact me at and I will mail one out today!

Thanks!  Happy and Safe 4th of July to you all…

Understanding Local Foods Marketing

In the last 5 years the term “local foods” has become popular when we think of food for our community.  There is a steady increase of federal and state initiatives to promote growth of production, distribution, and consumption of locally grown foods.

The term “local” tends to relate to a geographical area.  Defining the geographical area continues to be a topic of discussion. Producers and local processors selling directly to consumers at farmers’ markets, CSA (community supported agriculture) and schools seems to be a good fit for the definition of “Local”. Most consumers in the Dakotas would agree that food grown in the state or within 100 miles of the state borders is considered locally grown.

Consumers are finding importance in being able to know where their food is grown and the methods used to grow and process food.  Foods grown locally give consumers a closer link to the producer and it seems that there is more customer satisfaction in knowing the producer first hand.

USDA’s Farm to School Grant program continues to grow and the 2014 Farm Bill gives even stronger support to this program.   USDA grants are available to local school districts to assist the implementation of a farm to school program improving access to local foods.

Producers are finding a number of different ways to market on a local basis. Here are three of the more common markets in the Dakotas and factors that affect the producer’s decisions on how to market.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) finds the producer providing a variety of items usually delivered on a weekly basis.  The consumer subscribes to the CSA paying an annual fee at the beginning of the growing season.  However, there may be variations to the fee schedule depending on the CSA’s policy. The producer sets the price based a history of expenses or based on other local CSAs and is able to use the customer’s payment to cover expenses incurred during the growing season. Items included in the weekly delivery are produce, eggs, baked goods and processed foods with a variety of 25 or more items during the season.  A producer will have activities on the farm during the growing season to acquaint the consumer with the practices used on the farm.

Another popular market is Farmers Markets.  This marketing strategy is a direct producer to consumer relationship.  The consumer has a choice of producers and products to pick from and will often have a favorite producer when attending the farmers market.  There can be quite a variety of items at farmers market.  Presentation and salesmanship is an important factor for producers and it is more time consuming than other market activities.   Income is weekly at the farmers market, however, there may be unexpected loss due to low consumer turnout or high quantities of similar items made available by other producers at the same farmers market. There is usually a fee for setting up at a farmers market.

Farm to School is probably one of the more exciting markets with high growth potential.  It provides students with locally grown foods that are fresh. There are a few challenges for the producer as most produce is grown during the summer months when students are away from school.  The school lunch programs have gone away from raw or unprocessed foods in the past few decades.  Lunchroom labor has been reduced due to the use of processed foods.  The producer may need to assist in processing their products and that may raise the cost of production. Appearance of food at the school lunch program is also an important factor.  Students are comfortable eating foods that are consistent in appearance so adding variation such as different colors or varieties, for example, in salads need to be blended. Scheduling and volume of deliveries is also important for the school lunch program.

Developing a marketing strategy that will increase profits and customer satisfaction is an important part of producer’s financial plan. Often a combination of market types will improve profitability.

Knudson is a North Dakota Farm Business Management and Sustainable Vegetable Production Instructor, Dakota College at Bottineau. Contact him at 701-228-2160 or


Farmers Markets as Economic Development

I’ve mentioned on several occasions, in this blog and other newsletters, how I believe that farmers markets are good economic development.  Apparently I am not alone.  In a press release last week US Department of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced the Local Food, Local Places federal initiative that will provide direct technical support to rural communities to help them build strong local food systems as part of their community’s economic action plans. “Buying locally is one of the best things a community can do to grow it’s economy”, Vilsack stated.


Past surveys conducted by the ECH and the North Dakota Farmers Market and Growers Association show that the majority of shoppers come to town specifically for farmers market days.  They also show that shoppers at the market are very likely to shop at other stores in town while they are there. 


Farmers markets offer producer and vendors of new products a low risk step toward growing their business.  Without the overhead of a storefront, but with a “built in collection of shoppers” willing to spend money on their product, farmers markets provide the necessary market for small businesses.

This week the North Dakota Farmers Market and Growers Association, NDFMGA, will be hosting an evening reception for the Economic Development Association of North Dakota in Rugby.   As the Executive Directors for the NDFMGA, we at the ECH have been working hard to arrange for marketing materials, educational materials, AND some great local produce that will be made into appetizers for the event. 

We’ve got some great markets all across the state, 46 to be exact, and great producers who have already grown and will supply us with lettuce, spinach, peppers, basil, cilantro, Kale, Dill, and more.  We’re excited to have the ears of the economic developers in the state as they can be a great asset to their markets. 

Here are some ways in which economic development agencies can help with small farmers, producers and farmers markets in their communities:

Financial Help

· Begin a  micro loan or grant program for beginning small farmers.

· Sponsor or support with letters or match dollars for  federal and state grants for which local and small farmers apply.

· Purchase a local store front or equipment that can be used by local producers as a food hub, distribution center, winter farmers market or by schools for processing and storage of local foods.

· Pay for liability insurance, advertising or space rental for your local farmers market.

· Pay for or provide food safety, Good Agricultural Practices or other training for area producers.

Personnel or Time Help

Sponsor your local farmers market by keeping their books and financial records, assist with mailing lists, customer and vendor mailings, and marketing assistance, help with grant writing or weekly operational tasks such as collecting vendor and market information.   The more a market knows about itself, the better it becomes at sustaining itself.  Help your local market with a customer and vendor assessment to determine needs, buying habits, customer demographics, season and prices. 

A new Coop in MN … the Sandbox! Holly, our director, shares her experience.

When you love your work, it’s not really work.  I guess by contrast that means when I vacation and I do ‘work related’ things that it’s not really working then either.

Recently my husband and I took a trip to Wisconsin and stayed for a bit with my sister in Ham Lake Minnesota on our journey.  My brother-in-law is a Kiwanis’s and had seen a presentation by an interesting young man that he then took us to meet.

Interesting is one word I would use to describe Eric Sannerud, enthusiastic, intelligent, caring, and fun are a few more.  Eric is Co-founder of the Sandbox Cooperative, a Community Consultancy in Ham Lake Minnesota for young food entrepreneurs.  Sandbox Cooperative empowers young food entrepreneurs to find success in our changing world and work towards a healthier food system for all. As their Facebox page puts it; “The name? A sandbox is a place to create, a place to play. And an ode to our sandy sandy MN soils.”

Eric very graciously took time from his busy schedule to meet with us and tour us around ‘the Sandbox’.  This cooperative has an interesting concept and has realistic ideals of what it hopes to accomplish.  I especially like the premise that you can assist, mentor, aid, and support beginning farmers but they ultimately are the masters of their own success.  This was pointed out by Eric as we toured and he mentioned that one of the cooperative members was planning to be out planting that day but they had not yet shown up.  Eric didn’t seem to bothered by it.  His philosophy is that the members each individually own their own business.  How they run their business and whether or not it is a success is up to them.  He does not and will not step in to finish projects, take care of plants or animals or do unfinished tasks – that is the responsibility of the business owner.

The cooperative gives food entrepreneurs a physical place to begin their business.  They sign on for two years in the Sandbox.  They pay a membership fee.  For this fee they receive the space, consulting on business plans and financial matters, and maybe most importantly an environment surrounded by like-minded souls upon which to lean when their knees and backs are aching and they are standing in their field wondering why.  Eric says that by having a two year term, it gives both Sandbox Cooperative and the business owner a ‘decision time’.  A time to look at the venture and decide if it is still what the owner wants to do and if it still looks like the venture will succeed. 

So far the members of the cooperative include Racing Heart Farm, a winter CSA, Cherry Tree House Mushrooms, a mushroom business, South Paw Pickers, a CSA, Born and Dyed in MN, a natural dye and specialty herbs farm, Beautiful Beard Barley and Buckwheat, barley and buckwheat production, and Chubby Bunny, a meat rabbit operation.  We got to pet some of the Rabbits – how cool!

I was particularly intrigued by the diversity of the businesses.  How often do we think of rabbits for meat?  And I know there are a few but not many folks in North Dakota growing barley and buckwheat on a small scale for malt.  As an herb grower I was excited to see the area where Born and Dyed was beginning their operation.  The owner was using a permaculture design of raised beds to plant her herbs and dye plants.  Notice how sandy the soil is.

Also interesting were the rows and rows and stacks and stacks of logs from Cherry Tree House Mushroom Company.  I can’t even imagine how many mushrooms these logs will create!

Eric himself is a member of the cooperative, in fact – Sandbox is located on land owned by his family.  Eric’s business is Mighty Axe Hops.  Mighty Axe grows Cascade variety hops for breweries.  My husband and I have just invested in a few hops so Eric was glad to show us around and teach us a few things about growing hops.

Mighty Axe’s first hops were planted on slanted twine but the next generation have the luxury of growing on very high Tamarac posts with an overhead wire system.

Hops die back or are cut back to the ground each season and since it was pretty early, the hops were just emerging from the soil.  But the photos allow you to see his set up which is pretty interesting!  You can find more photos of Mighty Axe Hops on their Facebook page: .

 This is going to be one cooperative that I want to keep my eye on.  Eric and the other coop founders decided on an LLC formation so that they are forced to act as a business and also so they can feel free to expand to anywhere and not be place bound like so many foundations or non-profits.   They want to do the most good for the most people.  To follow the activities of Sandbox and Mighty Axe, and because Eric and the others are awesome – I’m going to subscribe to their newsletter.  Eric gave me a sample and I’d like to share it with you:

Hey Eric and crew, Here’s to continued play, creativity, and growth in the Sandbox!

DCB assists in Construction and Mulching for High Tunnels

The chance of overnight frosts are lessening, and we are all getting seed into the ground. Those that have high tunnels have had the brassicas in for a couple weeks and now putting in tomatoes and peppers.

This past week I assisted with the construction of another high tunnel near Mandan, North Dakota. Before completion we decided to lay drip line and plastic mulch in the high tunnel.

Bill Davis, Mandan, ND has added a high tunnel to his operation to improve his vegetable production. Before finishing the ends, we added drip line and plastic with a Buckeye bedder/layer implement.

Laying plastic and drip line in a high tunnel helps conserve soil moisture greatly reducing water usage. It also reduces the amount of time spent managing pests such as weeds. With the proper watering rate, weeds do not grow well between the rows of mulch as the walkways stay dry on the surface greatly reducing weed seed germination in the high tunnel.

There are a number of different mulches when it comes to material makeup and color. Plastic mulch is the most common type. It is very thin and usually has a good tensile strength to avoid tearing. Plastic mulch comes in several colors including black, clear, red and white on black.  Each color seems to have advantages as well as disadvantages.

Other mulches include biodegradable mulch that is a starch-based material and acts like a natural fertilizer when it breaks down. Paper mulch is an earth-friendly mulch with cellulose paper fibers. This mulch is often used by producers who want to meet organic requirements.

Having a the soil without clumps, stems, and rock is best as the plastic will come in direct contact with the soil and will help warm the soil in the spring and fall. Usually tilling the soil before laying the plastic works best. Laying of mulch can be done by hand and you do not need a raised bed.

Outside the mulch is good for one season unless fabric mulch has been used. Generally the plastic mulch will get walked on over the winter months by deer and other wildlife leaving lots of holes. Fabric mulches stand up to the wildlife well, though.

With a little planning and crop rotation, you can get 2 to 3 years out of the plastic type mulch in high tunnels. An example of this would be planting vine crop the first year, then going to tomatoes the second year and sweet potatoes or peppers the third year. I recommend using the same holes each year, and adding new for the next year. It may not always be practical, however, as you may want to mix your crop in the high tunnel each year.

Drip lines also vary.  Emitter distance can be selected from six inches apart to two feet apart depending on what you are planting. A good all-around emitter distance is eight inches.

Generally, the mulch cannot be reused once it is pulled from the soil.  Fabric mulch is an exception and can be reused. Often drip line can be reused but it is advisable to test it before laying it under the mulch on the second go around. Remember to lay the drip tape with the emitter facing up allowing it to self-clean and not plug. 

Give me a call or email me if you would like to know more about drip irrigation and mulch. 

Keith Knudson, Instructor at Dakota College Bottineau;

Ph 701-228-2160 or email


It was a Hard Row to Hoe.

A big hooray rung out over the campus recently.  You see, after many long years, lots of work with architects and engineers, three times out for bid, many revisions, and LOTS of stress; the Dakota College at Bottineau Entrepreneurial Center for Horticulture Wash/pack facility has awarded bids for construction and will be completed by November of this year.   This has been a long and arduous row to hoe.  The whole project began five and a half years ago, early in 2009. 

          This is the space/new location for our wash/pack facility.

Phase one of our construction project, the high tunnels, was completed late in 2011.  Phase two, the construction of a wash/pack facility to safely handle the produce from the ECH and to demonstrate safe post-harvest activities, has been held up over the years for several reasons. 


The first and foremost reason was the flood in Minot in early 2011.  The flood displaced the architect and engineering firms hired to create the drawings and specifications for the building.  The flood not only displaced them, it kept them from working on almost any projects for several months while roadways throughout the region were re-routed and restored and their office buildings were either relocated or renovated.  After the flood, the diversion of any and all construction companies to the Minot area for rebuilding efforts led to a shortage of builders and finally to increased construction costs in the region. 

During this period of time, the state as a whole saw a dramatic change in economy with increases in oil production, population, new construction and average annual wage and income.  These changes caused a spike in construction costs and a shortage in the manpower to build new facilities all across the state.

The first time the project was put out to bid in 2012, no proposals were received.  The second time it was put out to bid, the costs of construction had risen so dramatically between 2009 when the budget was established and 2013 when the second bids were let, all bids were way outside of what the grant and the college could afford. Legally, Dakota College at Bottineau is responsible for any costs over and above the originally approved budget.  What once was seen as an extravagant budget for such a simple building with plenty of room for contingencies, now seemed an impossible mark to hit without extreme reductions or great hardships for the college.

The staff of the ECH, the architects and the engineers went back to the drawing board for a third time and cut anything and everything possible while trying to leave a functioning building that would fulfill the needs of the ECH.  The new plans removed all items that were not absolutely necessary to the functioning of the building and its purpose.  The office for the farm manager was removed, the winter greenhouse was removed, the restroom was removed, racks for storing tote bins and supplies were removed, electricity to the high tunnels to regulate temperatures on the weekends was removed, one of the coolers for holding produce was removed, even the counter space for cleaning produce was removed and the decision was made that the ECH could use leftover folding tables from the college as space for holding produce.  Even the extra light on the outside of the building was removed from the plans.

Luckily the third time was the charm. By now, the award letters have been mailed out to the winning bidders.   That means construction of the building should begin very soon.  Just in time too as our ‘alternative location’ for washing and packing vegetables, the Dakota College student center, which has been used the past three years as our washing and packing area, is also slated for renovation and we would have lost our only other place to properly care for the produce we grow. 

A wash/pack building is a very necessary facility for the ECH, or for that matter any farm producing vegetables or fruit for sale.  It is the building where the produce is properly cleaned, inspected and handled post-harvest.  A facility like this can be small or elaborate but it is necessary.  Ensuring the produce is clean, undamaged and held at the proper temperatures until delivery is important to the safety of our locally grown food sources.

A wash pack facility can be something as makeshift as this

Although the Good Agricultural Practices that we operate under do not suggest washing and packing in a area that is not covered so this was not an option for us.  Or as elaborate as this

Our goals lie somewhere in between with a vision of a building that contains a cooler, triple sinks, a hand washing sink, floor drains, and tables or counter tops for packaging and sorting.  Please watch us this summer as we grow into our full potential and get ready, as at the end of summer, in the fall, before winter hopefully… we’ll be holding a party to celebrate the opening of our new Wash/Pack facility!