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Published February 01, 2012, 11:30 PM

Ag women tout state’s food production, social media as connector

FARGO – Prior to starting her job at the North Dakota Department of Agriculture, Katie Pinke was traveling throughout the country watching how areas like the West Coast are embracing locally-grown foods.

If you go

What: 8th Annual “Dakota Grown” Local Foods Conference

When: Friday and Saturday, February 3 and 4

Where: Holiday Inn, Fargo

Info: Registration begins at 7:30 a.m. The $40 registration fee includes all sessions and meals for both days.

Topics will include agri-tourism, social media, and farm-to-school. The conference will provide networking opportunities with other growers, processors and marketers.

Call (701) 328-4763 or email ndda@nd.gov.

Online: You can also learn more at www.Facebook.com/GoingLocalNorthDakota or www.Twitter.com/NDlocalfoods

FARGO – Prior to starting her job at the North Dakota Department of Agriculture, Katie Pinke was traveling throughout the country watching how areas like the West Coast are embracing locally-grown foods.

“In California they have a huge advantage. They can talk about getting their food supply from within 20 miles of where they live. California is like the salad bowl of America,” said Pinke, as marketing and information director.

North Dakota’s food sources may be a little more spread out, but Pinke thinks we’ve got a good thing going on here, and she’s intent on finding more ways for North Dakotans to be similarly connected. Pinke believes new technology is one of the ways it can happen.

“There’s a tremendous way for us to connect now, so we can learn from one another, and it’s also a way to build spirit in North Dakota,” Pinke said. “There is a pride of Dakota in what we grow and who we are as people. We do have a connection to the land.”

To help foster those connections further, she’s invited local bloggers interested in locally grown foods to blog from the 8th Annual “Dakota Grown” Local Foods Conference Friday and Saturday in Fargo.

Pinke, who blogs, Tweets and utilizes Facebook whenever possible, is business gal by day, but farm wife and mother of three by night. Having grown up on a farm in southern North Dakota, she’s always been knee-deep into agriculture in one way or another.

Her great-grandmother Kirsti singlehandedly broke land and raised seven kids in a sod house on the prairie after her husband passed away.

“I think of what she had to do to feed her seven children. I’m not actually threshing the wheat anymore and grinding my own wheat, thank goodness, but I can go to my grocery store in Wishek and buy flour that’s made from North Dakota wheat, and sugar from North Dakota sugar beets. And I buy North Dakota beans. That’s an amazing connection to the land five generations later.”

Though not all foods we consume on a daily basis can come from our area, Pinke said, the closer to home, the better. “If I can buy a local product first, I do. I want to know where my food comes from and trust that what I’m putting in my kids’ mouths is a local, healthy product.”

Pinke said it’s also important to consider that as our world population grows, American farmers have to grow more on less land. “We as Americans…are so spoiled. We get fresh food all year round that’s primarily grown in our area.”

In her work as marketing specialist for business development for the state agriculture department, Stephanie Sinner, who works in both local and international foods, has seen firsthand that not all countries are so fortunate. Japan, for example, imports 60 to 70 percent of its food.

“It’s a worldwide thing to have concern where your food is coming from,” Sinner said. “When we go overseas, we find that we are a high-quality producer of food ingredients that go into the mouths of people around the globe, and it comes from our farmers right here in North Dakota.”

Sinner travels to those other areas – like Southeast Asia, where soy is king – to market local products. “We grow some of the world’s best soy in this region, so we’re a leader in that for sure.” Our beans and wheat also make long journeys across the globe, she said.

But she’s also passionate about local endeavors, like the Hunger Free North Dakota program. “If you and I both plant a little extra in our gardens this year, and commit to 30 pounds of fresh produce to our local food banks, that can make a huge difference,” she said. “Especially with the influx of new population in North Dakota, there’s a whole, new opportunity to connect with where our food comes from.”

The Fargo-Moorhead area has seen more interest in the local-foods movement. Joining community gardening is a surge in farmers’ markets offering fresh, locally-grown produce.

Sinner has ideas, like bringing the farmers’ market concept to the doorstep of small-town groceries. “They’ll get things their store can’t necessarily provide on a regular basis, but they have the milk and meat and everything else,” she said, “and then you also have that place where people are coming to. You can’t deny that food brings people together.”

Indeed, food will always be a major connector, Pinke said, because it’s something we all do, every day.

Preparing it can have the same effect. When the fruit truck came to a farm in her area last summer, she bought a lug of cherries, along with some peaches. Soon, she was side-by-side her mother-in-law canning the cherries.

They’ve also bonded over pickling cucumbers.

“I just think about that community connection. We tend to not be a high-touch society anymore, but agriculture can bring us together for that digging in the dirt,” Pinke said. “People want to connect to the dirt.”

Enthusiasts of locally-grown foods – as well as those curious to learn more – can still attend the 8th Annual “Dakota Grown” Local Foods Conference Friday and Saturday at the Holiday Inn, Fargo.