Michael Pollan, author of ‘In Defense of Food, an Eaters Manifesto’, says “Eat food, plenty of it, mostly vegetables.” MSU-Bottineau is out to help North Dakotan’s do just that. The Entrepreneurial Center for Horticulture (ECH) at the college is poised to increase the amount of fresh organic and specialty vegetables that end up on the dinner plates in communities across the Midwest.

The Center, whose planning began in 2003, has hit the ground running in the past 7 months and now boasts and impressive line-up of successes. The Center began its journey beginning the organic certification process for its land and spaces that will be used for growing structures. This is a three year process but the first inspection went very well and the ECH passed with flying colors. This summer ground was broken for a community supported organic farm. At a recent organizational meeting, 14 people signed up as the first members of the farm club. These members will volunteer time and services as well as advice in exchange for free access to first rate educational tidbits on organic and northern climate growing and a share of the produce.

Mark Pomarleau, MSU-B advisor to the group, says “our goal should be 48 week harvesting. We should be able to figure out how to use high tunnels and growing structures, renewable energy sources and the right timing on crops to harvest fresh vegetables 48 weeks out of the year.”

In addition to the community supported organic farm, the Center has been busy with fundraising and networking to build relationships all across the state. To begin work, the College received a grant from the US Economic Development Association in the amount of $310,000 to organize and plan for the operation of the Center and to begin the necessary steps to make it a reality. The Center received approval from the CONAC REAP zone for $200,000 for construction of growing structures and is in the process of applying for $400,000 in state Center of Excellence funds to begin full operation. The Center also received $50,000 from the Minot MAGIC Fund, part of which will construct a growing structure at an extension site in Carpio, ND.

To directly connect with producers across the state, the Center has taken on the administrative role for the North Dakota Farmers Market and Growers Association. Previously managed by the ND Department of Agriculture, this role with give the Center direct access to current small to mid-size producers and well recognized brand and logo to be used when marketing ND grown produce. Larger producers have been contacted and will be visited later this month along with representatives from a logistics company in Minnesota that may help to distribute larger amounts of produce to grocery and retail stores throughout the Midwest. In the upcoming months the Center will conduct a thorough survey of distributors in ND to determine the best method of transporting vegetables for small to mid-size farmers.

This winter the Center will offer its first short seminars on organic and specialty vegetable production topics for interested parties and will continue to collect information related to the topic so they can become a clearinghouse of information for the industry. At the rate this Center is growing and progressing, we should all see ND grown vegetables on our tables very soon! For more information on the Center or its programs, please contact the Center’s Director, Holly Mawby, at 701-228-4032 or email her at hollyrose.mawby@msub.nodak.edu