By Hannah Moser of Forager Farm
Creating a community of food lovers has always been at the top of our to-do list. A community that is centered on food but goes beyond just the consumption, one that supports sustainable practices in not just farming, but day-to-day living.
Our first year of operation hasn’t allowed for much community building. In fact, it hasn’t allowed for much beyond just surviving. We realized quickly we bit off more than we could chew and decided we needed to focus on our priorities as a first-year vegetable CSA.
However, within the CSA model, and in particular how we chose to set-up Forager Farm, community is at the heart of it. Our process of pick-ups meant we met with our members on a weekly basis, face-to-face, to deliver their boxes of fresh vegetables.
Right off the bat your members are your community. One specific drop-off location was during a farmer’s market we chose to join. This allowed us to not only meet that location’s members weekly, but to meet new people interested in supporting local, sustainable food.
Participating in this farmer’s market also allowed us to meet other growers and producers. There are many elements in a sustainable food diet and going forward we’d like to collaborate with other farmers to provide the full-spectrum to our members, as well as bouncing ideas off one another or helping each other out in times of need, no matter if they’re competition in the market. And I use the term competition loosely, as I have come to believe as growers and producers we should stand together in local food, not fight to be the best.
Another avenue of community was through our intern, Kayla, who was found through and supported by the FARRMS Intern Program. Roughly seven farms partook in the program, which provided a new opportunity to meet other farmers in We have always understood the importance of community in local food. In fact, before we even started Forager Farm we met with another local CSA farm and learned all that could absorb from them. At this beginning stage of our farm, we probably have more experience being on the receiving side of community building than we do as community builders.
At the end of the season we decided our current rental situation was no longer the best fit for us and have decided to move our farm to Jonathon’s family farm, not far from our original location. But to do so we needed a place to live. Since September we’ve been working a small home to put down new roots for Forager Farm.
Earlier in the season one of our members decided to step up from simply being a consumer and helped out at the farm from planting to weeding and everything in between. When we told him we were moving and needed to build a home, he didn’t hesitate to offer his help. What began as one helpful, interested member has evolved into a group of four guys willing to drop almost anything to help us continue our dream of Forager Farm.
Our house isn’t quite finished, but we’d be nowhere near this point if it wasn’t for the help we’ve received from our community, a community that’s not just about sustainable food, but a sustainable community where we can count on one another for support, encouragement, and laughter.
By Hannah Moser of Forager Farm
As a first-year farm selling direct-to-consumer vegetables policy is not something we’ve had to deal much with as of yet. However, the overarching Food Safety Modernization Act or FSMA rules still to be implemented tend to hang over the decisions we make as a farm in the next couple of years.
We have plans of integrating livestock into our vegetable operation, including a small goat dairy as well as laying hens and pastured pork. This allows us the ability to turn waste from the vegetables into a saleable product and also provides a built-in fertility program. Not to mention utilizing the animals to manage weeds (especially perennial), clean up finished crop, and incorporate cover crops.
These FSMA rules would stifle even responsibly integrating livestock into vegetable production. We think diversification of our farm ecosystem and revenue streams will lead us to be more successful. These rules are all put in place under the idea of keeping food safe. We think knowing your farmer and taking the time to understand their farming practices is the best way to get safe food. Some of these rules would apply to our farm and some of them would not. However, they do stifle our innovative spirit.
We started the farm in our home state of North Dakota because it has an up and coming local food scene. It allows us to be leaders and even pioneers in the local food market. After only one year of our CSA, we are starting to see the need for some policy changes in North Dakota to allow for more sales of local food straight off the farm.
This legislative session, the local food community is hoping to pave the way to help more North Dakota farms sell more products directly. This would happen by defining some of the rules and interpretations through a cottage food law. As it stands now, there are two different governing bodies over local foods: the North Dakota Health Department and the North Dakota Department of Agriculture. Since the Health Department has jurisdictions in separate districts, what one county allows another county may not. The cottage food law will set clear rules and create a committee to decide what is allowed (or not allowed) to sell from the farm here in North Dakota.
Other than helping shape our local policies we’re working on wrapping up our year. With the end of October comes the end of our first CSA season. As relieved as we are to slow things down a bit, we can’t help but reflect on our very first year of our very own vegetable farm. At times a feat we thought we’d never get through, but here we are. Although the deliveries have stopped and there’s not much left in the field, there’s still plenty of work to do before the snow begins to fall.
At the top of our list is planting our garlic for next season; garlic is planted in the fall, mulched, and dormant until the conditions are right in the spring. Then there’s cleanup of drip tape, tools, etc., and prepping of fields for next year. So we’ll forge on through November and drift through the winter with intermittent moments of rest and relaxation and planning and organizing for our 2015 season.
By Hannah Moser of Forager Farm
I’ve always viewed marketing as telling a story and there’s no better story to tell than the one of growing food and community. I feel a bit biased discussing marketing in farming. Before I decided to be a farmer, I was a marketer. I have a degree in Public Relations and Advertising and have done a lot of self-teaching on graphic design and web design.
Therefore, I knew from the beginning that we’d have to create a feeling of community via social media networks, blogging and email. It was a struggle to understand what exactly would draw people in. Ultimately, we went with approaches that would interest us if we were on the other side.
We discussed for months how exactly we wanted the CSA set up, the price points, how much we could grow for the money asked, etc. Once we decided on that, we knew we needed to create a brand that embodied all things Forager Farm.
Our main forms of advertising are social media, specifically Facebook and Instagram, word of mouth through family and friends, and printed materials we hung up at local businesses around the towns we deliver to.
We also tried participating in a few local expo booths to really get in front of people. We thought if we could just talk to people in person about our mission, we could sell them on becoming members of our CSA. We managed to get a few signups but now, months later I think it’s a great thing to do as a beginning farm, but probably not completely worth it in later years. At that point it’s more about maintaining your quality of product and keeping your current customers or members happy enough to stick around, year after year.
As part of that signup form we asked, “How did you hear about us?” It’s one of the most useful things we’ve done in the sales and marketing department thus far. It’s helped us realize what works and what doesn’t. It was interesting to see that several of our members signed up after seeing our poster hanging at a local coffee shop, even though many say, “print is dead” or “digital is best.”
Marketing a direct to consumer product requires a lot of trial and error. Being able to share our brand and mission through photos has been a great asset. Instagram has helped us reach a broader set of people. This may not help immediate sales, but the long-term impact of an online community has loads of potential.
But keeping local roots in your online community is where most sales stem from. Aside from word of mouth, the majority of our sales came from our Facebook presence. We opened our Facebook page up at the beginning of the year and started to really push the idea of a CSA and all that it can offer. It’s such a new concept to this area, so we knew there would be a bit of education involved before sales started rolling in. We designed promotional graphics to encourage “newbies” to give it a try and offer a few discounts too.
We were also fortunate enough to be featured in a number of local publications. We reached out to the few connections we had in the local media, but our social media presence caught the eye of a few local reporters as well. Plus, it helps that Jonathon is a “talker” and can probably convince anyone!
Honestly, we feel like many of the locations we deliver to were in need of more fresh, local, organic options. I think it’s safe to say that much of our success is for that reason.
Just as much as marketing is about telling a story, it’s about getting your customers to connect with you on an emotional level too.
As we near the end of the season we have much to be thankful for. It wasn’t a banner year, in fact it wasn’t a great growing season at all, but we did the best we could. We have roughly 4-5 weeks left of our CSA deliveries and can’t wait to start introducing winter squash, potatoes, cauliflower, cabbage, and et cetera into the mix. Cheers to a successful end of the season!
By Hannah Moser of Forager Farm
Every single week we learn something new. We never stop learning. Farming is a profession where your weakest link and your biggest problems are apparent almost immediately.
When Jonathon and I decided to start Forager Farm, we had a combined vegetable growing experience of roughly 10 years. We also had one full CSA season under our belt from our time spent working and learning at Captain’s Creek Organic Vegetable Farm in Australia.
But as for experience with starting a new farming business in North Dakota, we had none. We were and still are, highly unprepared in so many facets.
When I first began thinking about this blog topic and what I would write, the most glaring point was that farming, more than many other professions, is a “learn as you go” job and way of life.
This is a blessing and a curse. There’s so much beauty in realizing your mistakes and how to fix them, but so much frustration in having to wait for the next growing season to implement your new ideas and strategies.
My first taste of farming was nearly two years ago during our six-month stay in Australia. One of the items we were tasked with when we first arrived was to weed the beet beds. Anyone who has weeded young beets can understand what a hair-pulling experience it is, let alone leaving subzero temperatures in the States for near 100 degrees days in the Outback. I didn’t know what I had gotten myself into.
However, by the end of that week we had also harvested for and worked our first farmer’s market and quickly thereafter started our routine of pick-and-pack days. These are the areas where I felt confident. Not without hesitation, but I was sure I could handle it. Which was true, but there’s only so much you can prepare for.
Often overlooked when preparing to start a farm is the mental and emotional capacity needed to persevere through all the ups and way, way downs. You can read every book, watch every video or talk to every experienced farmer, but you’re not going to find “how to keep sane” written across pages or screens or faces. You have to find within yourself the fire to fight through it all.
So much of our lives the past two years has been this mantra: “figure it out.” We jumped head first into this adventure and never looked back. Admittedly, we took on too many things at once. We were fearless and felt strongly that this was what we had to do, this is what we were meant to do.
And although we still feel this way, we’ve been able to take a step back and clearly see where we’re getting it right and where the bits of training we’ve had has paid off. But you can never fully prepare for new adventures and that’s the beauty of it.
he last month around here has seen some very exciting times. At the end of July we hosted an on farm dinner with Oustanding in the Field, an organization “setting tables at the source of ingredients, serving from farm to table across the country.” It was a dream come true for us. We met so many lovely folks who reminded us there is a growing community of food lovers and supporters. Making all of this year’s hard work truly worthwhile.
By Hannah Sargeant of Forager Farm
Unlike many other young farmers, we had access to land even before we made a concrete decision on whether to grow vegetables or not. We were fortunate enough to have family and friends willing to rent us a slice of land. Ultimately, we decided to rent land from some of our friends. This option allowed us access to some equipment as well as a place to live.
Renting versus buying, whether land or equipment, allows us to get a feel for what works and what doesn’t. We realize now after operating for a few months, that the tractor we’re renting doesn’t fit all of our needs. The wheel spacing prohibits us from using the tractor for cultivation and weeding and limits the size of our raised beds.
We realized that hand weeding and using wheel-hoes and stirrup-hoes isn’t enough, especially when you get just under three inches of rain in one night and a continual rainfall for the next 10 days, amounting to double the average rainfall for the month of June. Let’s just say, once it dried up and we were no longer drowning in water, we were drowning in weeds. With that said, going forward we’d like to invest in some sort of mechanical weeding equipment, which we feel is necessary until we can get the weed seed bank under control.
Another thing we had going for us was the basic CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) model. This model allows for funding or capital up front at the beginning of the season, directly from the very people who will be consuming our food. Our members take a financial chance on our farm and us and we grow their food. Without this model, we would not have been able to operate at this level.
In addition to this model and opting for renting versus buying, we were eligible for a grant-loan specific to sustainable farmers in North Dakota through the Grants to Grow program at The Foundation for Agricultural and Rural Resources Management and Sustainability (FARRMS). It is a grant loan combination with two-thirds of it a loan (with the first three years interest free) and one-third of it a grant.
These fortuitous circumstances have afforded us with a strong beginning to Forager Farm. Yet, we’ve come to understand that the first few months of your first year of operation really shine a light on where you excel and where you need to improve. This is to be expected of any new venture, but it has felt exceptionally harsh thus far.
As previously mentioned, we had a lot of precipitation in a very short time pushing us out of the field for a good two weeks. Everything was drenched and muddy. We weren’t sure of the long-term effects, but we recently felt them.
Last week, our supposed third week of deliveries, had to be postponed. The short version is we simply didn’t have much to put in our CSA boxes. Our first two weeks were filled with assorted lettuce, some tatsoi and pak choi, garlic scapes, and a bit of dill. By the time week three came around we had cut our lettuce supply low and almost all of our crops were stunted and still recovering from all the rain.
We felt so disappointed by the weather, but mostly by ourselves. We know you can’t control Mother Nature, but it’s a major blow to have to call your members and tell them you just can’t deliver this week.
However, we are so lucky to have the members that we do. Absolutely everyone was supportive and understanding of our situation, and it has really only lit the fire underneath us to supply them with a bountiful harvest to come.
You see, nothing is dying or a complete crop loss (except our spinach), it’s just very slow. We’re so grateful for this and know things could be much worse. We are hopeful and optimistic for the coming months. Tomorrow we’re expecting highs in the mid-90s and as long as things are irrigated properly, it’s grow, baby grow!
By Hannah Sargeant of Forager Farm
Each seed has a story. Some seeds have been passed down relatively unchanged for generations. Others have been breed for certain characteristics and traits. And others have been adapted for climates like North Dakota.
In developing our seed order, it became apparent that we need seeds of all kinds (except GMO) in order to deliver quality product to our customers. Many of the seeds we purchased we’ve grown before for ourselves and recommended to family. It only seemed right to continue with the reliability and deliciousness we’ve found in each variety.
In our quest to become certified organic we follow organic management practices. Therefore, we need varieties that are well adapted to these practices. This is why we buy seeds from companies such as Prairie Road Organic Seed and High Mowing Organic Seed. Both work exclusively in organic seed. We also purchase a few things from Johnny’s Selected Seeds and Irish Eyes Garden Seeds to round out our seed order.
North Dakota is a challenging place to grow things. We sit firmly in the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 4a. We have a relatively short growing season. The wind blows constantly, seemly from every direction. The lack of trees makes the wind that much more difficult. We get our share of Upper-Midwest thunderstorms. So finding the right varieties is important to ensure our business is successful.
At Prairie Road Organic Seed, located in Fullterton, ND the Podoll family has been developing North Dakota adapted seed for almost 40 years. This small-scale seed development has resulted in some pretty unique seed that we love. They carry certain breeds that we absolutely have to get every year. The germination and quality of product is unsurpassed.
Their Sweet Dakota Rose watermelon is a favorite on our list; “Over 30 years ago David Podoll crossed a small early maturing variety (Early Canada) with a large, southern shipping variety (Black Diamond) to create this medium sized 15-20 pound delight.” It is one of the few watermelons we’ve grown from direct seed that matures in the North Dakota growing season. Oh and did we mention the flavor? Jonathon’s 87-year-old great uncle noted that it was the best watermelon he had ever tasted.
We also grow and recommend Dakota Tears onion and Uncle David’s Dakota Dessert squash as well as their wide selection of tomatoes. They have a few things we haven’t tried yet, but plan to try new things from them each year, allowing us to not only support organic, but local as well.
The other big piece of our seed order came from High Mowing Organic Seed. We love that they sell only organic seed. It makes ordering from them a breeze. We don’t have to look for the “OG” behind the variety, it’s implied. They carry the varieties we grow and are always competitive on price.
We started farming because we believe that there is a better way to do things. Even in our purchasing, we want to support businesses that are making a living doing things the right way.
By Hannah Moser of Forager Farm
When I was young I wanted to be many things: an architect, magazine editor, zoologist, but a farmer was not one of them. The closest idea of a farmer I had was my grandpa. I knew he had cattle, and a barn, and a lot of farming equipment, but eactly what he did I was unsure.
So I followed the typical path of graduating high school, talking with guidance counselors, and deciding what major I would declare in college. I thought something business related, but knew I had terrible math skills. I ended up pursuing a degree in Public Relations and Advertising.
While in college I started experimenting with cooking, which in turn meant I started to learn more about food; where it comes from, how it’s grown, the number of ingredients, organic or GMO-free.
I was immediately appalled by our giant, industrial food system; the lack of culture and diversity, the lack of understanding by the majority of our country, the lack of respect to our land and our animals. It just wasn’t right in my mind.
I began to carefully make food purchases and garden with my fiancé Jonathon, then boyfriend. I shared every bit of knowledge with those closest to me, hoping to find common ground to make a change in our food culture, but I didn’t find it. I thought that I had, and I thought that I was satisfied with “voting with my money” so to speak. But it wasn’t until my six-month stay in Australia learning every detail of growing organic vegetables on a mid-size scale and delivering locally that I found it.
Food was what fueled me then and food is what fuels me now. Food is why I have two dairy goats. Animals that I knew absolutely nothing about, but wanted to learn. It’s why I daydream of my own milk parlor full of goats to milk to make artisan goat’s cheese with. Food is why I tirelessly feed my sourdough culture so we can have fresh, homemade bread. Food is why I’ve become a vegetable farmer.
But even more than food, it’s people. The sense of community that comes with knowing where your food comes from is insurmountable. At Forager Farm we’re constantly focused on reviving our food culture and growing our food relationship. Although it is our first year, we already feel a sense of connectedness with our members whom we’ve yet to meet.
I’m not sure there is anything better than handing off a heaping box of fresh vegetables you grew with your own hands to an eager customer. The only thing I can think of to be better is what they express to you after they’ve cooked with and eaten it.
Before our time in Australia, I always fantasized of leaving North Dakota, living in different states and experiencing things I thought I couldn’t in my home state. Once we returned back stateside, it didn’t make sense to be anywhere else.
North Dakota has a fairly unsaturated market when it comes to local food producers. That’s not to say we don’t have a local food movement. We have a thriving group of passionate folk set out to change how we eat. We knew if we joined them now we could be a part of something bigger.
And we’re doing just that. So far this growing season we’ve had a May, that’s acting like April, a very slow beginning. However, this past week our temperatures have finally warmed up and today we planted and transplanted like crazy. And we’ll do the same tomorrow and the next day and the next until we’re ready to harvest for our first week of deliveries.
By Hannah Moser of Forager Farm
My name is Hannah Sargent and I am a marketer turned farmer turned marketing-farmer. My fiancé Jonathon Moser and I own and run Forager Farm, a vegetable CSA in central North Dakota and are in our first season! We are on a mission to revive our food culture by providing fresh, local produce directly to our members.
In January 2013, we jetted off to Australia to live and work at Captain’s Creek Organic Farm, an organic vegetable farm located one hour north/northwest of Melbourne, Victoria. While there we managed a vegetable CSA (or vegetable box scheme as they say down under) with an average of 100 boxes going out to local customers within 100 miles of the farm every week. We learned the ins and outs of the operation and fell in love with it.
After returning to North Dakota in June 2013, we knew we had to start our own operation. Thus, Forager Farm was born. We are beyond excited for this new adventure and can’t wait share it with our fellow North Dakotans! Each week, beginning in late June 2014 to mid to late October 2014, we plan to deliver fresh, local vegetables to our farm members. If all goes as planned, our members will receive 16-18 weeks of fresh produce.
The weeks will vary in variety and availability of vegetables provided. The first few weeks will focus on the short season cold hardy veggies like lettuce, spinach, kohlrabi, radish, dill, etc. Once the season progresses, we will be ramping up the variety with things like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, watermelon, zucchini, corn, etc. The end of the season will feature cold hardy and storage type veggies like carrots, broccoli, cabbage, potatoes, onions, winter squash, beets, etc.
For the 2014 season, we will be delivering to collection points in Jamestown, Bismarck, and Fargo. We are also looking at the option of delivering to smaller communities if we can find enough interest. We also invite anyone interested to pick up at the farm. We offer full, half, and single share sizes and hope to sell 50 full shares; we are one quarter of the way to our goal!
Forager Farm is also proud to be a 2014 producer for the Jamestown Public School district as part of the Farm to School program. The land we are renting has been certified organic since the late 1970’s; however, Forager Farm is currently working towards our own organic certification.
Although our first year will be focused on vegetables, I am always dreaming of future Forager Farm adventures. We currently own two milk goats, Coffee and Tullah, and hope to someday have a goat dairy as well as our own sourdough bakery.
I would love the opportunity to share our stories throughout our first year. We’ve already encountered countless “learn by doing” experiences as beginning farmers and know it will only continue.