A couple of weeks ago, I screwed up. My family went to dinner at Fireflour Pizza downtown. As I bit into a delectable goddess salad with greens from Roving Donkey Farm, I suddenly yelled “Hammer of Thor!” (because I have fully acculturated to the Northern Plains). I realized I’d missed my favorite part of the week: picking up a box of fresh vegetables (and sourdough bread!) through my family’s Community Supported Agriculture farmshare.
I called Lori Martin, Roving Donkey owner and my farmshare producer, who drove downtown in the rain to hand-deliver my forgotten box of produce. For many reasons, not least being exceptional acts of kindness, it pays to know your farmers.
This is the best time of year to eat locally, whether from a garden, CSA farmshare, a farmers market like BisMarket (Saturdays at Kiwanis Park), Bisman Community Food Co-op or one of our local restaurants or breweries that sources regional produce. I love that North Dakotans fully appreciate our short growing season. Many summer days I have returned home from my office with bags of corn, cucumbers, tomatoes, and peppers from colleagues sharing garden excess. Needless to say, this never happened when I lived in New York City.
Through befriending farmers and local foodies, I’ve also become aware of what happens to the food we throw away. Last month I attended a screening of Anthony Bourdain’s documentary “Wasted! The Story of Food Waste” at Dakota Stage, followed by a panel discussion. The panel, comprising Andrew Flory of the Great Plains Food Bank, professor Joan Kopperud from Concordia College and Mike Frohlich from Laughing Sun Brewing, was moderated by Beth Schatz Kaylor, Bisman Community Food Co-op president. I learned many new facts, but here are three: We throw away 40% of the food we produce; the food we put in the trash, and ultimately landfills, breaks down into methane gas, which is worse for the environment than carbon dioxide; and, Laughing Sun sends its spent grains to pigs.
Wait, pigs? Before I unpack that, I should quickly mention alternatives to throwing food away: eat it, share it, compost it, use it for energy, or feed it to animals. Which leads me back to the pork. As many times as I have patronized Laughing Sun Brewing, I never noticed the trailer in the parking lot that collects spent grains left over from the brewing process. This “waste” is picked up weekly by Monte Pulkrabek, a farmer south of Mandan, who feeds it to his pigs, chickens, cattle and sheep. Now that Laughing Sun has added a food menu, Mike says they are hoping to send kitchen waste to feed animals as well — and ultimately would like to source that same livestock for meat on the menu, completing the circle.
Full confession, I am a vegetarian who doesn’t like hoppy beer, but I am thrilled by this process. Creative reuse and food redistribution is already happening across our region — such as efforts to redirect food to those most in need by the Great Plains Food Bank, a campus initiative at Concordia to cut plate waste, and a new effort called GleaND that gathers excess crops from growers.
Those of us with the time and money to spend should take the extra step to support our local growers and businesses. Local food tastes fresher, is better for you and our community and may connect you to new friends. Also, food people love to cook, so you can probably finagle yourself a dinner party invitation or two — or at least a box of gorgeous vegetables delivered in the rain.