Carpio organic garden to operate 11 months of year
Posted 7/09/09 (Thu)
$20,000 grant will build renewable energy greenhouse
By Caroline Downs
Marvin and Ilene Baker’s certified organic garden on the outskirts of Carpio is growing as well as any garden this summer, thanks to abundant sunlight, organic compost, and the occasional rain shower supplemented by irrigation from the Des Lacs River.
A $20,000 boost from the Entrepreneurial Center for Horticulture (ECH) at MSU-Bottineau will also improve the garden’s production this season.
The long-awaited partnership between Prairie Star Organic LLC, doing business as North Star Farms, and the ECH was announced June 29th during a ground breaking ceremony held at the Bakers’ garden. The Bakers’ certified organic vegetable operation was named the recipient of a $20,000 grant to build a renewable energy greenhouse that will be the first of its kind in the state.
The Bakers intend for the greenhouse to operate 11 months of the year, allowing them to harvest certified organic produce through late December and to start certified organic seedlings by January or early February. “Next spring, we’ll have seedlings for our certified organic vegetable farm,” said Ilene. “We’ll also look at selling them.”
Marvin nodded toward the long-empty house that still sits on the Bakers’ garden property on Washington Avenue in Carpio. “The house gets torn down July 11th and 12th,” he said. “We’ll order the greenhouse in the next few days and hope to have it up by the very end of July.”
He continued, “It’ll be kind of experimental this year. We want to see what we can grow this fall.”
The greenhouse will have a metal frame and 6mm polycarbonate clear plastic sides, with the back wall containing a thin, water-filled bladder to store heat during sunny days and release it overnight.
The passive solar greenhouse is one step in North Star Farms’ commitment to using renewable energy. “Someday, we want to add solar-powered irrigation to the farm and get a wind turbine to supplement the electricity,” said Ilene.
The Bakers consider the greenhouse and growing their own certified organic seedlings as a natural extension of their garden operation, especially after finding only three companies that currently market such seedlings. “Certified organic seedlings are very hard to find and prohibitively expensive, especially tomatoes,” Marvin said. “We’re trying to take care of part of that need that might exist on the northern plains.”
North Star Farms is one of three certified organic vegetable operations in North Dakota. “We go through the certification process so we can put those labels on [our produce],” said Ilene. “For us, it’s important to be certified organic. That means the food is safe to eat.”
“We believe in it,” added Marvin. “It’s safe, local food. Also, there’s a niche out there. Stores are picking this up. It’s becoming more popular.”
Plans for research, sales
In exchange for the funding, ECH staff will showcase the efficiency of the passive-solar greenhouse, and data will be collected on numerous organic seeds and plants that can be grown on the northern Great Plains. The 22’x40’ greenhouse is manufactured by Farm Tek of Iowa.
“We finally found someone who’s willing to take data from us,” Marvin said, explaining that until now, very little information has been collected and made available about certified organic production on the northern plains. “There’s a lot of research from University of California-Davis, but now, we’ll share data with a college just 80 miles away.”
“We can help people learn how to grow this in western North Dakota,” said Ilene. One future project for the couple involves writing and publishing a book about their work.
The Bakers also plan, within a couple of years, to sell their certified organic seedlings to other gardeners in the local area and across the country. “We’ll market through our website,” said Marvin. “We can be here in a small town like Carpio and ship to anywhere.”
North Star Farms operation has generated interest among several of the Bakers’ neighbors and relatives. “People come forward,” Marvin said. “We haven’t asked anybody yet, but people want to help.”
“Two people in town have already volunteered,” said Ilene. As the operation grows, the Bakers would like to rely on North Star Farms for their livelihood.
While the Bakers continue to dream about the directions North Star Farms could grow, they are also devoting time and energy to the current season. The couple may sell some produce at area farmers markets later this summer, but they have also established a Community-Supported Agriculture program in association with the Lindsay Group in Bismarck that allows them to sell shares in their farm.
“Under the agreement, we deliver produce to the shareholders over a 12 to 14 week period,” Ilene explained. Clients in Bismarck, Minot and Carpio are participating in the program this year.
Ilene shook her head and continued, “That’s why the greenhouse is important. We can’t raise enough produce. On one acre, Marv and I can’t do it all!”
The Bakers have noted a growing demand for their certified organic produce each season, especially garlic. “Garlic seed is expensive,” Marvin said, noting that to seed the entire acre in certified organic garlic would cost approximately $10,000. “So we’re trying to build it up with our own seed.”
North Star Farms started with 325 plants three years ago, then jumped to 900 plants last summer and 1,900 plants this season. The Bakers’ garlic has always sold out in past seasons, and the couple expects to see increased requests for their product this year. “With the greenhouse, we’re hoping to go to 4,000 plants,” Marvin said. “There are niches available out there. Garlic is our thing.”
“If we can grow all this stuff in a small space, hopefully other people will want to grow their own,” said Ilene.
Mutual benefit for
North Star Farms, ECH
He said several projects will be developed on campus, with the goal of demonstrating organic growing strategies and sharing information with other entrepreneurs who want to start their own small farms. “Our main thrust is to pass along what we learn to small farms,” he said. “They’re becoming more and more popular.”
HollyRose Mawby, ECH director, said the center will focus on organic vegetable production throughout North Dakota. “First, we want to help producers within the state of North Dakota,” she said. “We want to create an industry, commercialize it, help grocery stores, and eventually extend this throughout the Midwest.”
She noted the high costs for labor and transporting produce from Texas and California to the midwestern states. “We want to increase local food production and grow it organically,” she said.
The ECH will offer seminars, workshops, classes and one-on-one consultations to growers across the state. According to Mawby, the center address a variety of topics related to organic vegetable production, including publishing educational materials, helping with the start-up for new farmers markets, and teaching producers about safe handling and market preparation practices.
This is the second partnership MSU-Bottineau has announced with North Star Farms. In February 2008, just a month after the ECH was established, North Star Farms was named a private sector partner with the new Bottineau horticulture center.
“This partnership, as North Star Farms becomes an extension and test site for the ECH, is a very positive step toward increasing the production capabilities of North Dakota and the continued progress on a distribution system for North Dakota produce,” Mawby said.
For their part, the Bakers are grateful for the interest and support by Mawby and her staff. “We’re looking forward to the relationship with ECH,” Marvin said.
“Without this grant, this all just wouldn’t happen,” Ilene added.
Further information about North Star Farms and the Bakers’ certified organic vegetable operation can be found at the Bakers’ website, www.northstarorganic.com.