It may be February but some avid gardeners are already thinking about their 2020 garden. Starting early and getting the seeds and sprouts going to be transplanted into the famously fertile ground of the area may yield more than just a bountiful crop this year for those with an entrepreneurial spirit.
The Northern Plains Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) Council conducted a feasibility study on the potential for locally grown food to be a source of revenue. The study, conducted over the summer of 2019, sought to determine if it was possible to expand local food opportunities. To accomplish this objective, the council first had to discover if the current level of supply was meeting the existing demand.
“We are confident that the potential demand for most products is far greater than supply, creating an opportunity for local food producers in many categories,” the Northern Plains RC&D Council states in their report.
With an adequate supply, more buyers can be served, and current buyers may be more willing to develop new uses for local foods that would further expand the demand. The Council supports their assessment with another study that was published by the University of Minnesota that found localized food production and local food markets “provide a substantial economic benefit to communities and regions”.
“What is missing in our region is a comprehensive understanding of the entire market demand and supply potential with different distribution venues such as through direct sales, wholesale through local grocers, or to institutions like schools,” the Council said.
The study was conducted across the 10 county service areas of the Northern Plains RC&D Council. Those counties include Benson, Cavalier, Eddy, Nelson, Pierce, Pembina, Ramsey, Rolette, Towner and Walsh counties. Within this area, there is currently limited numbers of local food producers and venues which sell these types of products. The study, as a whole, was designed to have “local foods” be broadly based to allow for a better understanding of the market demand and the market supply.
“We are using a definition of “local foods” that includes vegetable production but also includes fruit, meats, poultry, dairy, baked goods, processed foods, and even craft foods,” the Council explained.
The collection of surveys and interviews of producers and buyers gave the feasibility study results that they hope will build an economic response. The primary result was that, as a whole, producers could benefit from cooperative services such as community certified kitchens, innovative delivery options, and versatile social media options to better match buyers with producers.
“The public is all about saving time and price. Farmers Markets are not always convenient. Extra marketing to connect the public with the producers and innovative delivery would garner more sales and a happy customer,” the Council stated.
The council believes that overall, based on this study and feedback from public focus groups, the potential demand for local food items is greater than the supply. Potential buyers range from the private individual looking for a side dish for supper to organizations like restaurants, schools and hospitals seeking “local food” to add to their menus.
“With adequate supply, buyers would be willing to develop their local food needs. Lessening the obstacles between producers and buyers would provide economic benefits to communities in northeast North Dakota,” the Council said.
In Cavalier County, the Rendezvous Region Langdon Farmers Market (RRLFM) began in 2004 with the inception of the North Dakota Farmers Market and Growers Association (NDFMGA). That year the NDFMGA began offering $500 mini grants to communities that wanted to start a farmers market. Through the Langdon Area Chamber of Commerce agriculture committee, an application was presented, and Langdon received the initial $500 grant and continues to receive $500 every year since 2004.
“The demand for locally grown, fresh food out of the garden or from mom's kitchen has always been extremely high, and that will not change. In the first few years we would have 100 to 150 customers go through the market during the peak of the growing season. It has backed off a bit but still attracts a good numbers of eaters,” Randy Mehlhoff, a member of the RRLFM, said.
At the RRLFM it’s mostly vegetables that are offered, beginning with radishes and peas continuing with those that ripen throughout the growing season up until pumpkin harvest. There are not any rules on what or what can't be sold as long as it is morally and ethically correct. Fruits, vegetables, baked goods, crafts, jewelry, salsas, books, jams/jellies, pies, lotions, soap, are some of the goods that frequent the RRLFM.
“Farmers markets are a win-win scenario for vendors and customers alike. You will find that the prices normally charged for goods is very similar to what you would pay at the store which is a win for the vendor,” Mehlhoff explained. “For customers, the goods purchased from the farmers market come from our local generational farmlands and gardens from local people who know how to grow high quality produce, not from the Imperial Valley in California.”
That fresh from the field produce that reaches the farmers markets in Langdon is not so much a livelihood as an enjoyable and profitable hobby. Langdon resident and avid gardener Tom Beauchamp shared his thoughts on the potential for the farmers markets to grow.
“Most of the people that go to these markets are people like me that have full-time jobs. They are just basically doing it as a hobby type thing,” Beauchamp explained,” Raising a little more because maybe it got started where this person bought from you, then next year you grew a little more and the next person bought from you, and it kind of evolved like that.”
Many of the producers in the study were similar, where expansion was not an option. The producers who do attend the farmers markets do not see it as anything but a way to make a little side money. Beauchamp does note that those who are coming to the market are older generations.
“I can tell you what’s happening is the people who came to the farmers market 10 years or 12 years ago have either passed away or are in a nursing home. Younger people just don’t grab that concept to come to a farmers market,” Beauchamp commented.
Bringing in younger generations to the farmers markets ties into the goal of the feasibility study in determining the markets potential. Sharing the difference in quality between locally grown produce to that which has to be shipped in is another way to improve the markets.
“The RRLFM is a community-based effort. A special thank you to the St. Alphonsus congregation for allowing us to use their comfy park immediately south of the church for the market on Thursday afternoons,” Mehlhoff said.
The RRLFM will begin on Thursday, July 16, 2020, at St. Alphonsus Park. Vendors will be able to begin selling items no earlier than 4:00 p.m. For those considering becoming a vendor, feel free to contact the Langdon Area Chamber of Commerce office for information and potential grant opportunities. To encourage vendors there is NO vendor fee to sell at the market.
“It’s a great thing. I so hope it continues because you just cannot beat the product that comes out of the ground in how fresh it is,” Beauchamp shared.