ECH Blog


Frequently Asked Questions of the Farmer

Here at the Entrepreneurial Center for Horticulture (ECH), we receive a lot of inquiries about vegetable or specialty crop farming in North Dakota.  Some of the most frequent asked questions we hear from beginning and experienced farmers are:  ‘What crops should I grow?’  ‘How much of each?’ and, ‘What are the best ways and places for me to market my crops?’

Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to these questions.  You should start by stepping back and taking an honest look at your overall situation.  What is your desired outcome for farming? Are you trying to bring grandpa’s farmstead back to life?  Or, do you want to quit your off-farm job and become a full-time farmer? Whatever your vision, you need to narrow your purpose down to a very clear understanding of your actual intentions (or purpose) for farming. 


Farmer Q and Family has ten acres of land.  They dream of quitting their off-farm jobs to stay home and grow vegetables and berries and wool producing livestock.  They have a passion for sustainable farming practices and hope to provide better food choices for their family and local community. 

They have some assets and a dream.  Their first step to realizing their dream, is to determine exactly what their desired outcome for their farm operation is.  For instance, is their desired outcome:

  • To provide sustainable food choices for their family and community?
  • To quit their off-farm jobs?
  • To produce fiber from wooly livestock?

Likely, while they entertain the thought of obtaining all of these personal and financial outcomes from farming, there is one main purpose that rises to the top.  For instance, they really want to become full-time farmers.  They have a special interest in producing wool products, but their ultimate goal is be able to quit their off-farm jobs.  So, this is their true desired outcome for farming; they need to write it down.  For Farmer Q and Family, sustainable farming practices, and producing vegetables and fiber products are important operational values and concept ideas, not their “desired outcome for farming”.

So, now you go ahead and try it. Write down all the reasons you want to farm and try to narrow it down to your real desired outcome for farming.  If you’ve got any questions, or need help along the way, please don’t hesitate to call or email.  Next time, we’ll walk through the next stage of production and marketing planning.

Submitted by Cheryl Duvall, Small Farm Vegetable Production Specialist (701-799-3746)


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Scaling Up Local Food Production

In recent years, there has been a lot of chatter about vegetable and specialty crop production in North Dakota.  Over the last 10 years, the traditional North Dakota food distribution channels have realized the advantage of differentiating their product selection with ‘local foods’.   Therefore, we now have a positive demand for homegrown products in many grocery stores, restaurants, and public institutions in addition to farmers markets and CSA’s.


To meet that demand, we are watching new farmers enter the market and seeing current growers looking at ways to ramp up their production.  As this new industry expands, there will also be a need for other industry professionals to help support ‘local food system’ farmers.  Lenders, accountants, marketing firms and agribusiness suppliers will find opportunities to work with growers to help capture market demand.   The Entrepreneurial Center for Horticulture at Dakota College recognizes that during this industry growth stage, growers and their institutional support teams need accurate region-specific data, to help them scale-up into this market opportunity.  Farmers thinking about increasing production will need to explore various crops, financial scenarios, and production systems along with post-harvest handling, storage, delivery, and regulatory issues, such as food safety.  Support teams will need a place to find financial, pricing and market data.   echpic02.pngIf you find yourself in one of these categories, looking for a way to get involved or scale up in this industry, we are here to help you.  The Entrepreneurial Center for Horticulture offers free guidance and resources to producers and industry professionals located anywhere in ND.  Please contact our Vegetable Production Specialist for any specific information about specialty crop production, budgets or financials, business, and/or marketing. 

She can be reached at: 701-799-3746 or


Your Chance to WIN!

You could be in the drawing to win $200 just by filling in our survey. Help us help you by completing a survey that will give us and other organizations involved in providing services and financing to small farms and producers. AND - for completing the survey, you have the chance to enter your name to win $200! Use this link to access the survey:


Learning and Growing

Keith Knudson, and three of his students, attended the North Dakota Nursery and Greenhouse Association Conference last month. They went to sessions on planters and outdoor rooms, how to sell yourself, pollinator plants, revenue streams for the horticulture industry, and learned about changes in the credit card industry.

 At the conference, Morgan Klebe also received the Nicholas Boehm $500 Scholarship.

Congrats Morgan!

Pictured below are from left to right: Keith Knudson, instructor, and students, Morgan Klebe, Dayton Phelps, and Jameson Knudson.  DCB instructor, Diann Beckman was also in attendance at the conference.



Let us help you manage your time!

clock-ech.pngTime, time, time… Where can we find extra time? As small farm producers, we seek to stretch our minutes, dollars, and the very depth of our knowledge - to squeeze more out of less; to meet demands, fulfill commitments, weather the storm, prepare for the future and make the most of today.

Here at the Entrepreneurial Center for Horticulture, we want to help.  It is our purpose to help your small farm flourish!  While we can’t be there to help you pull weeds, pick tomatoes, or market to your customer; we can help you expand your knowledge.

We are currently in the process of building an online toolkit of resources to help you sort through information overload and discover valuable and relevant material that will simplify your farming operation. Recognizing that you don’t have the time or resources to “reinvent the wheel”, we want to gather the best, most useful data available, put it at your fingertips, and essentially help you “put the wheel in motion”. 

So, what questions have you found yourself wondering about?  Are you wondering about the best location to situate your next garden, crop or high tunnel?  What types of weed controls will work best for you?  The best marketing mix (product, presentation, and sales outlets)?  Maybe you would like to know what to expect from different vegetable varieties?  Or where to buy the most economical supplies?  If you find yourself with more questions than you have time to research them, please call our new Small Farm Vegetable Production Specialist, Cheryl (701-799-3746) for help.  Don’t have time to call?  Just send a quick email:

Don’t have any immediate questions, but got some ideas about topics you would like to dig into further or simply have at your disposal in the Small Farmers Online Toolkit.  Please drop us a quick email or give us a call.  Taking advantage of our time….is one good way to get more out of your time!


The Rural Food Dilemma – Written by Holly Mawby, ECH Director

“Once the school and grocery store are gone, you know a rural town is about to go down”, says the adage.  We’ve all heard it.  We may have even said it ourselves about our own community or one close to us.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.

fruit.jpgFor about the last year, I have been privileged to be a part of a group of folks looking into the needs of rural grocery stores.  I initially joined the group so that I could explore any opportunities for the producers we work with to sell to the rural stores.  For a long time, I had been told “Rural stores won’t buy from local producers.  They have buying amounts and quotas they have to purchase from their suppliers and if they buy local they won’t be able to make those buying quotas.  They just can’t risk losing their suppliers.”  I wanted to see if that was true.  I wanted to know if there was some way to make local produce sales available to rural grocery stores without the store making sacrifices in other areas of being in jeopardy of losing their main suppliers. 

What I didn’t know was everything that I would learn, the whole new world of food that would open up to me, and the great respect I would gain for the volunteers and staff that run our state’s rural and small grocery stores. 

The group, led by the good folks (Mary Stumpf and Lori Capouch) at the North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives, and made up of great folks from NDSU, Northern Plains Electric, USDA Rural Development, and several rural grocery stores, began by identifying the rural and small grocery stores in the state.  It was amazing to see the number of stores, the locations, and sadly; the number of stores that had closed or were closing just in the course of our work.  Of the 118 stores identified, 7 had ceased operations before the group could even get a survey together.

What really got me hooked on this group though, wasn’t so much the plight of rural stores, the possibility of helping our producer clients, or even my passion and interest in food and how people access it – it was the conviction of the grocery store members of the group.


The day we met to review the survey findings, four rural grocery stores were represented by a variety of managers, volunteers, and workers.  It didn’t take long for those of us in the service and education industries to see in action what group learning is all about.  The conversation quickly turned to a sharing of ideas and ways in which to stay profitable, to stay open, to stay staffed.  The talk was quick and many notes were being taken – and we were NOT the ones doing the teaching!  We truly were witnessing our own little brain trust for the rural grocery industry.  But it was also a bit like watching an exciting documentary, filled with facts and points of interest that we had no clue about – like learning about life on another planet. 

I never thought about the troubles that small town grocers have in getting product.  They really ARE very limited by what distribution companies are willing to deliver to them.

They do have to order a certain number of cases or amount of product or they don’t get their shipment.  Some have no access to bread so they have to make their own.  Others have no access to meats except frozen.  Some rely on almost subversive activities to ensure that the staples you and I enjoy are stocked on the shelves of their stores.  They make almost no profit at all and some of the stores operate in the red at all times.  They would love to have extended hours or be open more but finding workers is all but impossible, meaning many of them volunteer a great number of hours of their own time just to keep you and I in milk and butter when we want it.  (I’m not even going to say ‘need’ it, as most of the time our ‘need’ is only because we don’t have any in the house – not because we are starving).   Paying workers cuts into the already low profits – the money is just not there to give.  Putting products on sale to bring in more customers only adds to the profit problems and dealing in perishable items means losses happen every day. 

echblogpost02.pngThis group of managers and volunteers spends their own time, their own gas, uses their own vehicles, to source products for their stores.  They spend many many hours of their own time, unreimbursed by the store or its customers doing the books, stocking the shelves, and carrying on polite conversation with the community members they serve.  They are determined to find ways to save the store – and its customers money.  They are determined to stay open for those customers that need them most; the elderly that don’t drive, the young that can’t drive, and the community members that just must have that one item that’s not currently in their pantry.  These people are the heroes of small town food.

And what about us as consumers?  We SAY we support our local grocery stores, but do we really?  We say their prices are too expensive – but do we stop to determine what the gas, time, and vehicle maintenance is costing us to drive to the bigger cities to shop is costing us? And have we really and truly shopped there enough to know for sure that overall, on a weekly basis, the prices are not fair and reasonable?  We say they are not convenient, or open the hours we want to shop – but what happens when they are not there at all anymore and you need that gallon of milk or loaf of bread?  It makes them seem like they were pretty convenient doesn’t it?

I’m very happy to report that on January 14th, this wonderful group of advisors, along with the North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives will hold a very special gathering specifically for the rural grocers of the state.  We’re hoping they learn from each other, exchange ideas, learn new techniques for becoming or staying profitable and leave this gathering energized and excited to go back to their communities.  We hope that they can form some lasting relationships, as everyone needs a support system.  We’re hoping that through this work, we find ways to ease their burdens and make food in rural communities remain accessible.  If you have a local grocery store, please invite them to join us.  Believe me – they deserve a break.  They deserve to be surrounded by others who can help them feel invigorated.  Volunteer to work the store so they can attend…you owe it to them!

For more information on the Rural Grocers meeting, contact  NDAREC, C/O Mary Stumpf, PO Box 727, Mandan, ND 58554 Or by emailing

We hope to see you at 9:30 a.m. (CDT) on January 14, 2016 at Farm Credit Services, 1600 Old Red Trail, Mandan. (Use the customer [east] entrance.)  This is a free meeting.