Dawn Rognerud is growing her commercial gardening operation right along with the ever-expanding Town Square Farmer’s Market. We spent a morning with her in her favorite place as she prepared for the Saturday market.
Dawn Rognerud is at ease with a million things going on. Witness her working in her 1.5-acre vegetable garden and its clear she isn’t lying. Rognerud is one of several produce and product providers that wake early on most Fridays to pick vegetables, or on Saturdays, to make it in time to operate a booth at the Town Square Farmer’s Market. If you’ve been to the market, you know that produce is popular. The market features several growers that provide a range of products including vegetables, fruits, eggs, salsa, honey, coffee beans and a wide-range of crafts. We spent a calm and cool sunny Friday morning with Rognerud to see her in her element as a grower and vendor for one of Grand Forks must-attend summer attractions.
At 7 am when we show up to her operation north of East Grand Forks, Rognerud is already on her smaller section, hands dirty with a bit of sweat on her brow just starting to gleam. Adjacent to a massive golden wheat field, Rognerud Farms was established after the farmer decided to square off his field, leaving a pocket for the garden to grow. On their second section—she runs the operation with her husband who was working the morning of our visit—she convinced the owner of the land they are renting from to disc the dirt for the heart of their growing operation. Rognerud weeded, dug, picked and piled product that morning while she explained her operation.
“My parents always had a garden on the farm their parents homesteaded near Cavalier,” she says. “We knew our garden here was going to be bigger than we could handle, so we decided to sell at the farmer’s market.” After starting a smaller operation a year previous on land provided by the Stable Days Youth Ranch, the Rognerud’s have found their home base on the 1.5 acre plot they are on now. They live in a house between the garden plots.
In February, they start growing from their own seed with the help of grow lights. In early spring, they risk losing their plants to a late frost for the reward of having more plants of different varieties sooner than most at the market. Watering occurs during the early part of the growing season, especially during the time of germination. After that, Rognerud farms relies on mother nature to supply the necessary moisture. During most of the growing season, a portion of the Rognerud family is in the garden two to three hours per day. “If we get behind on weeding or planting, we get stressed,” she says. “But, we always get everything picked before it spoils, even if we are out in the garden past 11 pm.”
Her kids help her pick and weed. On Saturdays at the market, they are each given $10 to spend during the day. “They love being out in the garden,” she says.
At the market, the family takes turns walking to other vendors and talking shop. Since they started participating in the event, they’ve never felt tension or competition with other growers. According to Rognerud, there is an unspoken bond and understanding amongst all of the growers. They keep their prices in check with others and many buy produce or trade with others. “We’ve met so many people. All of us just want to raise something and share it with other people,” she says.
In the midst of another great growing season, the Rognerud’s have also joined a produce cooperative that provides product to paying participants. In the future, the family wants to expand with a greenhouse and geothermal heat. They want to establish an apple orchard and better irrigation. If they have a million things to pick this summer, they want two million next summer. The demand is there to justify what she calls an inherited passion she just couldn’t do without. “Typically, during the week, we don’t eat as many vegetables as you would think. We try and save everything for the market and when we come home, there is never anything left.” G
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PHOTOS BY: PATRICK C. MILLER