Opportunities for North Dakota Producers and Consumers to Connect
North Dakota’s Department of Agriculture provides opportunities for consumers to connect with the folks producing the food they want to eat. From beets to beef, fresh fruit to fresh bread, North Dakotans are making it available to North Dakotans who put it on the table.
For people looking to put local produce or meat on the menu, the department has online resources to help locate local sources. A digital map can be found on their website (www.nd.gov/ndda) with interactive layers showing farmers’ market locations, u-pick farms, orchards, CSA farms and sources for locally raised beef, pork, chicken and other meats as well as jellies, pickles and baked goods. Anyone not comfortable with computers can give the office a call and the staff will mail out information about local food sources or help them to navigate the website.
Commissioner Doug Goehring said they created the map a couple of years ago in response to calls asking for help in finding local farmers’ markets, and that they have developed it since then to include more resources.
“We expanded it to include food pantry donation sites for garden produce, roadside stands, u-pick gardens, and our Pride of Dakota members who offer pickles, jams, jellies and other homemade treats. We have started to introduce beef, lamb, pork, poultry and other meats, and now we’re adding processors as well.”
Individuals have always been able to purchase a beef or a hog from a producer and get it processed for their own use. Goehring said he’s trying to make that easier for families who want locally raised meat in smaller quantities.
“North Dakota is one of a few states that are taking this a step further,” he said. “We are working within the federal framework to make it possible for our Custom Exempt processors to act as agents between producers and consumers. Four to eight people can go together to purchase the animal from the farm and then pay for the processing, so they are buying the animal, not certain cuts of meat. We are trying to find ways to do something different that can help consumers and help agriculture in North Dakota.”
Commissioner Goehring also said that he tries to make things a little easier on farmers and ranchers who have an interest in direct marketing their meat or other produce.
“I spent years on the other side in production agriculture, so I understand the frustration that can happen with trying to understand and comply with regulations,” Goehring said. “We’ve tried to create efficiencies and streamline the process of education and compliance. We work with the regulatory community and then we try to simplify the guidelines and make them more understandable.”
“It’s not as scary as some make it out to be,” said Stephanie Messer, who operates Messer Family Farm with her husband Wesley and their four children. Their grass based, farm-to-table focused operation near Richardton, North Dakota, provides meats and eggs for families in the Dickinson area and provides learning opportunities for students at Dickinson State University.
Stephanie and Wesley each grew up on conventional farms, but early in their married life decided that changes needed to be made improve the ecological and financial sustainability of their farm.
“These fields used to be fallowed,” Stephanie said. “The plow ridges where the fields meet the pastures are several feet high. It’s a lifelong process to take the land in a positive direction.”
A holistic management course with the Savory Institute helped the couple identify their goals that would set the course for their operation.
“We have a small farm where we raise beef, lamb, chicken and sometimes turkeys,” Stephanie said. “We also sell eggs. Everything we do is based around using solar energy; our herbivores eat plants, our cattle and sheep just eat grass, and our chickens live in the pasture too. We make regular deliveries to Dickinson and we have an egg list, and people can also order on our website: http://www.messerfamilyfarm.com.”
The couple started direct marketing their meat slowly, and still sell some cattle and sheep through the commodity markets, but they like the flexibility that direct marketing offers.
“It took us time to work the kinks out and get to know our customers and what they want,” Stephanie said. “With direct marketing we can price our products so that we know we can make a profit instead of just taking our calves to town and hoping we might break even at the end of the day.”
Processing their meat proved a challenge; chickens are processed on the farm but finished beef and lambs must be slaughtered at a USDA inspected facility for meat to be sold at retail. Stephanie said that she contacts the Health Department whenever she has questions about the state laws and that the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund was another helpful resource in understanding regulations surrounding direct marketing.
Commissioner Goehring said his office is happy to help as well.
“Contact us,” he said. “Explain what you’re intending to do and we can help you understand how to work within the regulations. We all need to make sure we operate ethically because if something goes wrong at one point it will give a black eye to the entire industry.”
“The current situation with our food supply chain being interrupted by COVID related shutdowns is a great opportunity for people to support more local food producers,” Stephanie Messer said. “It’s also a great time for farmers and ranchers to step outside their comfort zone and take the first step in marketing what they produce.” F
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