Growing North Dakota Sustainably, One Small Farm at a Time

Growing North Dakota Sustainably, One Small Farm at a Time
From foodtank.com, by Alyssa Bruns

The Foundation for Agricultural and Rural Resources Management and Sustainability (FARRMS) works to ensure the sustainability, health, and diversity of small farms and communities across North Dakota. Through their educational programs and opportunities, FARRMS aims to cultivate the next generation of organic farmers. Their work focuses on giving farmers the tools to build and sustain thriving organic farms, promoting the purchase of locally grown produce, and expanding agricultural education in schools.

Food Tank had the opportunity to speak with Sue Balcom, Executive Director of FARRMS.

Food Tank (FT): How do you contribute to creating a better food system?

Sue Balcom (SB): FARRMS staff and board have been working on building a better food system for more than six years. We employ the North Dakota Farm to School state lead for the national organization and to promote school gardens, orchards, and agriculture education in schools and most importantly, the purchase of fresh locally grown produce from our farmers. Our programming is specifically geared towards repopulating the farm landscape with smaller farms that grow edible food and rebuilding local food systems as economic development in small communities.

FT: What is a project, program, or result you are most proud of?

SB: We have several programs that support the small and mid-scale farmers in the state:

Our Grants to Grow program offers low interest loans and grants for sustainable farm improvements or enterprise startups. The application process is very simple and interest is not charged on an annual payment for the first three years of the 10 year note. Also, one-third of the total amount is given by way of a grant that does not have to be paid back.

This summer FARRMS is hosting 15 interns on eight statewide farms. This internship program brings much needed assistance to small farms and also shares the wealth of knowledge about farming to a new generation of farmers. Interns receive a stipend from FARRMS as well as the start of a sustainable farming library. We hold potlucks and farmers offer room and board in addition to the education opportunity of hands-on farming, agritourism, and value-added agriculture businesses.

Our farms sell produce, dairy, beef, chicken, eggs, and more to CSAs, farmers’ markets, and direct sales. One raw milk dairy owner said, no matter the hard work, “We have to keep doing this because our customers rely on us.” 

Our weekly Wednesday webinars cover many topics taught by farmers, foodies, and the North Dakota State University (NDSU) extension program. Additional educational webinars can be found on our FARRMS YouTube channel.

FARRMS is also the FARM BEGINNINGS© provider for the state. We belong to the Land Stewardship Project's Farm Beginnings Collaborative and require farmers who receive Grants to Grow to successfully attend this course. This eight-day course equips beginning farmers with the tools needed to succeed.

FT: What are your goals for 2015 and beyond

SB: Our strategic plan includes working on a statewide local foods branding program, supporting Farm to School Week in the state, and creating a pilot program food hub on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in partnership with South Dakota (as these tribal lands cover both states). We are also creating a second Summit on Local Economies to provide the incentive to build the infrastructure needed to move farmers in the state from Tier 1 to Tier 2 production.

FT: In one sentence, what is the most important thing eaters and consumers can do today to support a more sustainable food system?

SB: Read the label… Purchase food from the farmers in your state, or else when you really need them – they may not be there.

FT: How can individuals become more involved in your organization?

SB: In addition to supporting our work through donations, we need volunteers and people to fill the seats when we hold classes and workshops. We also need people to share information through our Facebook page and providing feedback and evaluation of our current programming.

Download the 2014 Good Food Org Guide HERE.

Submit your suggestions for the 2015 guide HERE.

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