Upside Down Under: Rebranding the association…

Written by: Marvin Baker

Anyone who is a gardener in North Dakota should consider attending the North Dakota Farmers’ Market and Growers Association local foods conference May 4 and 5 at Dakota College in Bottineau.

Each year the conference is geared toward better educating gardeners about a myriad of subjects regarding growing, harvesting, having a better display at farmers’ market to increase profit and food safety.

It’s also about networking, and that is the main reason I go every year, no matter where it is in North Dakota. You can learn so much about the work you’re doing from other like-minded individuals and I truly believe that’s one of the most important aspects of this annual conference.

I’ve been involved with the North Dakota Farmers’ Market and Growers Association since 2004 and over the years I’ve seen some of the after-conference comments about the location of the event. Generally speaking, it’s too far away.
In recent years we’ve had poor attendance in Minot because “it’s too far away” for people in the Red River Valley. If it’s in Fargo or Grand Forks, “it’s too far away” for people in the west.

Splitting it is not an option because that would dilute the quality of the event. It’s a statewide conference and everyone should attend. It exists solely to make us better at what we do.

This year it’s going to be in Bottineau for the first time and if you don’t already know this, Dakota College has an impressive horticulture program with several greenhouses and growing areas. People teach about horticulture at Dakota College which will definitely add a professional element to this year’s event.

For the past several years we’ve partnered with the North Dakota Grape and Wine Association and Pride of Dakota. It may have been good for everyone involved for a couple of years, but NDFMGA began to lose its identity. As a result, this year the organization is doing its own conference to regain that stability as a statewide organization.
A number of educational seminars are set up, there will be horticulture tours and panel discussions from a variety of people throughout the state involved in separate aspects of gardening.

For myself, I’ve attended the conference every year no matter where it has been except 2007 when I was on active military duty at U.S. Central Command. I live northwest of Minot and those frequent trips to Fargo weren’t too far, nor did they drain my bank account. Honestly, I’d go every year if the conference was in Fargo, just for the education and networking.
But it rotates around the state and that’s good for all of us.

One of the things that most of us have really enjoyed, were the years the conference was in Mandan, Minot and West Fargo. All three communities have hotels that allowed us to serve food grown from our own gardeners. The Baymont in Mandan and West Fargo and the Grand Hotel in Minot have all embraced this, giving those of us who attend an even better experience. We have to get back to that.

We’ve also had five-star chefs come to speak to us about preparing meals and what they look for in producing award-winning dining.

One in particular is Stuart Tracy of Pirogue Grille in Bismarck. Stuart is in a class all by himself because he will take the most mundane vegetables, fruits and leafy greens and turn them into mouth-watering meals.

People have spoken about food safety, organic growing, mass production of an item such as carrots or cucumbers and catering to children to get them involved in gardening.

One year we brought in Christy Rost, a chef since the early ‘90s whose written several books and has a show on PBS. Christy was a big hit for everyone that year in Minot.

Those kinds of guests can happen again, but interest has to be built back up in order for the association to justify the cost of their services.

Come to Bottineau in May and see for yourself what this local foods conference is all about. If you’re new, you’ll be pleasantely surprised and you’ll make some new friends in the process. If you haven’t been there in a while, “welcome back.”

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