‘Growing local’ showcased this weekend

The 10th annual North Dakota Farmers Market and Growers Association & Local Foods Conference will be coming to Minot’s Grand Hotel on Friday and Saturday. Cosponsored by the growers association and the state Department of Agriculture, the conference will provide an opportunity for producers and prospective consumers to meet, eat, and learn a thing or two about locally-grown agriculture.

This will be the first time this conference will have been held in Minot.

“We try to move it around,” explained Holly Rose Mawby, director of the Dakota College at Bottineau Entrepreneurial Center for Horticulture. Her department directs the association, which helps organize and promote farmers markets and local grower groups around the state. The association operates year-round, implementing market strategies, printing advertisements and airing television commercials on behalf of localized agriculture. The association was behind the “Dakota Grown, It’s All Good” slogan that lets shoppers know when the goods they buy have been grown or produced locally.

Mawby estimates there are 50 farmers market groups in the state, of which 36 are members of the NDFMGA, with over 300 vendors between them. Mawby explained that it is common for vendors to overlap between different markets, adding to the variety of goods available at each. A poll taken of 45 vendors identified more than 100 different products grown or made in North Dakota. With the exception of tropical fruits and produce, local growers can produce a varied assortment of things, from farm favorites like onions, garlic and tomatoes to kale and Jerusalem artichokes.

The growers association’s biggest event of the year, starting at 11 a.m. on Friday this weekend’s conference will feature a number of guest speakers, whose topics touching on production and financial themes may help to add even more items to that list.

On Friday afternoon, an introduction to crop grafting will be presented by Matt Kleinhenz, an extension vegetable specialist at Ohio State University. After that, Mark Boen will talk about the benefits of high tunnel farming. A similar concept to greenhousing, high tunnel structures retain solar radiation, shield crops from the elements, and can extend the growing season by two months.

Owner of the Bluebird Gardens vegetable farm in Fergus Falls, Minn., the community-supported agriculture group Boen is a member of has been incorporating high tunnels for the past decade, which have been useful for their tomato and cucumber crops. Somewhat coincidentally, he’d first come on to the idea at a similar growers’ conference in Minnesota.

The economic side of local food production will also be discussed. Keith Knudson, an instructor of sustainable vegetable production with Dakota College at Bottineau, will be there to discuss business development. Later, representatives from several commissions and state agencies will present different financing options and opportunities for local growers.

The day’s schedule will be punctuated with lunch, a banquet, and time to mingle, providing a good opportunity for attendees to network. Saturday will kick off with a continental breakfast at 8 p.m., with a more expansive array of subjects being presented on.

“We try to pick topics of interest not just for producers,” explained Mawby, “but then also for the consumers themselves.” Food trends for the new year, an introduction to craft brewing, more effective packaging and marketing strategies; through 5 p.m. a slew of presentations that culminate with that most important of topics, an outlook on the year’s weather delivered by meteorologist Greg Gust of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association.

Pre-registration is still available, and Grand Hotel is still booking reservations for out-of-town conventioneers. Passes to the event cost $50 for both days or $30 for a single day, with meals and seminars included.

More information on the conference can be found online at (www.nd.gov/ndda/events/2014-ndfmga-local-foods-conference) or the NDFMGA and Local Foods Conference page on Facebook.