Above: More than 100 people from the Fargo-Moorhead community rubbed shoulders with ag professionals Aug. 2 at the Peterson Farms Seed headquarters farm near the village of Prosper, N.D. Below: Roz Randorf (left) vice president for strategic markets, Kathy Coyle, of the USDA’s Rural Development agency and I were among the happy recipients of CommonGround North Dakota volunteers, who are trying to increase the dialog between agriculture professionals and urbanites through the Banquet in a Field event on Aug. 2 in rural Harwood, N.D.
Tonight I found “Banquet in a Field” to be a stunning an unusual showcase for today’s commercial farmers to reach out to urban friends who might never get into a farm field.
In North Dakota, the effort is by CommonGround North Dakota, a group of about 50 state members — women who are closely connected to production agriculture. It’s one of the group’s primary events in a year, and the third of its type staged at Peterson Farms Seed of Harwood, N.D.
Carl and Julie Peterson — among the top of the region’s entrepreneurs and agricultural ambassadors — hosted the event on a perfect evening for it. The CommonGround North Dakota effort is to “bring clarity to discussions about food and farming.” The event is among the impressive for inviting connections with urbanites “so that you are able to have discussions with them about their work and products.”
And what a stage. It was a perfect night for weather and ambiance.
This year was the first time I’d been able to attend. It’s a season when farm shows are starting to take the stage a few miles to the south. But it was a privilege to be here, as I attended with Roz Randorf, Forum Communications Company vice President for strategic markets (including Agweek). Katie Pinke from Wishek, N.D., who starts on Aug. 8 as the new general manager for Agweek/AgweekTV, has been the executive director of the CommonGround effort in North Dakota, and was one of the promoters of the event.
I could introduce Roz to some of the farmers and agribusiness people I’ve grown to respect. She introduced me to some community leaders I don’t run into in my agriculture work. It was a varied group — heads of non-profit agencies, regional retail and insurance chains, and top officials in the region’s agricultural commodity organizations.
The event started with an orientation and an invitation to dialog by farmers including Sarah Wilson of Jamestown, N.D.
There were hors d’oeuvres coordinated to various local crops, followed by a five-course meal, including beef tri-tips, and fancy lamb delicacies, as well as regionally-sourced vegetables. The whole thing ended with honey-flavored ice cream.
Servers were young people, some of whom Agweek has met from their involvement in FFA and 4-H. (Personal thanks to Matt Stroh, North Dakota FFA parliamentarian from Killdeer, N.D., who shared his plans to get an education and get back to the ranch.)(Thanks to the two farm women — a daughter of a farmer and wife of a farmer-agribusinessman from Ashley, N.D., for your charm and joy in your community.)
Banquet in a Field offers a tactile, delicious education about the regional sources of the foods we eat and take for granted each day. The appetizers that feature various North Dakota crops, planted in plots, giving urbanites their first chance to sort out the difference between canola and durum wheat. This year’s assortment of demonstration plots included barley, canola, corn, durum, flax, pinto beans, potatoes, soybeans, spring wheat and durum wheat.
People wanting to learn how to get involved in the group can go to facebook.com/CommonGroundNorth Dakota, or FindOurCommonGround.com. The national Common Ground effort was initiated by the United Soybean Board and the National Corn Growers Association, but much of the financing for the event comes from local sources.
The stated purpose of FindOurCommonGround is to foster conversations so that consumers can “enjoy your food without fear.” Julie Peterson said she was surprised to come face-to-face with some fairly outspoken critics of GMOs — a technology that she (and I) can accept as a benefit to address world hunger challenges. Julie wondered aloud if the event was effective in making a difference for people’s opinions about agricultural technology.
My assessment? Sure it was effective. Even the knowledgeable learned a little more. The smart people who have little to do with agriculture normally learned something if they wanted to. A smile and a handshake are a good impression for agriculture. They eliminate fear. They encourage conversations.
Bravo. Thank you, and my compliments to the chefs.