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Published July 13, 2015, 09:42 AM

Small farms form alliance

GRANDIN, N.D. — Tyne Stormo was skeptical when she first heard about the Northern Small Farm Alliance. She wondered how much, if any, good the fledgling organization could do for her business or for other small farms that stress local foods and sustainable agricultural practices.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

GRANDIN, N.D. — Tyne Stormo was skeptical when she first heard about the Northern Small Farm Alliance. She wondered how much, if any, good the fledgling organization could do for her business or for other small farms that stress local foods and sustainable agricultural practices.

But Stormo, who’s involved in Kragnes Family Farm in Felton, Minn., with her boyfriend, Ben Kragnes, has become a big believer in the alliance.

“It’s nice to have a network of people, so we don’t have to feel like we’re swimming upstream all by ourselves,” Stormo says.

The alliance, established this past winter, seeks to provide its members with both pragmatic and moral support, says Ross Lockhart, who helped organize it.

“We want to focus on the issues and challenges we all face,” says Lockhart, who operates Heart and Soil Farm in Grandin, N.D., with his wife, Amber. “We all have similar challenges, successes and opportunities.”

In many cases, proprietors of small farms that stress sustainable ag and provide locally grown goods have off-farm jobs, which can mean less time and energy to devote to the farm, and limited access to expansion capital, Ross Lockhart says.

Such farms are still relatively novel in this part of the country, Stormo says.

As a result, people who operate them often have little or no experience in working together. They also face greater challenges in marketing their product to consumers who might not understand it, she says.

The alliance seeks to help in both areas. Its four main “pillars,” or guiding philosophies, are:

• Raising public awareness about the importance of eating locally grown food and the need to support farmers who produce it.

• Sharing information and encouraging cooperation among members.

• “Aggregate the efforts” of members in areas such as collectively buying in volume at lower prices and jointly filling orders from larger customers such as schools and hospitals.

• Support and encourage new members.

Most of the seven members are in the Fargo-Moorhead area. Fargo, N.D., and Moorhead, Minn., sister cities separated by the Red River, make up the Fargo-Moorhead Metropolitan Statistical Area, the largest MSA in North Dakota and northwest Minnesota.

Fargo-Moorhead has great, untapped potential for local foods, Stormo says.

“The market is underserved,” he says. “We can do so much more.”

The alliance welcomes new members from outside Fargo-Moorhead, too, Ross Lockhart says.

Other alliance members are:

• Freedom Rangers in Vergas, Minn. — Noelle Harden.

• Legacy Gardens in Moorhead — Randy and Toni Bach.

• Plain State in Moorhead — Erica Sponsler and Aaron Swinkels.

• Woodchuck Community Farm in Moorhead — Christian Schultz and Kayla Pridemore.

• Yellow Bird Organics in Harwood, N.D. — Jade Larson.

Lockhart is optimistic the alliance will grow, adding new members and expanding the ways in which it benefits existing ones.

“I’ve been blown away by enthusiasm for this,” he says. “We really think it’s going to help.”

A farmer or consumer interested in locally grown food or the alliance can contact any of its members, he says.

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