Building local foods infrastructure in a small town
ANAMOOSE, N.D. — The lunch rush now over, Mirek and Julia Petrovic finally have time to sit down and grab a bite to eat. Their work has gotten busier since March when they opened a storefront cafe in a historic building in Anamoose.
The Petrovics, owners of Slavic Heritage Farm, started the FARMtastic Heritage Foods Hub in order to provide a link in the local food economy in central North Dakota, helping small- and mid-sized farms utilize excess produce to fill larger orders. That effort has grown to providing value-added services, including catering and baking, and the opening of their storefront in the old Anamoose post office, where they have a certified kitchen.
Right now, the food hub works with seven other growers who provide things like local berries, potatoes, carrots, onions, rhubarb, peppers and more.
"We're always looking for more growers," Julie says.
The purpose of the food hub, the Petrovics explain, is to help producers grow and sell more produce and consumers to buy and use more locally grown, nutritionally dense food.
But the Petrovics, as their accents attest, are not themselves local to central North Dakota. But what brought them to Anamoose is similar to their goals for the food economy of the region. They wanted to get back to their roots.
Both Petrovics hail from Europe but met in the United States. They lived for a time in New Jersey and then Pennsylvania. But eventually, they decided they wanted to raise their children on the land.
In 2010, the Petrovics took their then-four children on a cross country trip for six months, during which time they volunteered on 12 organic farms. Two of the farms were in North Dakota, and one of them — the now closed Dairy By The Lake — was in Anamoose.
When the time came for the Petrovics to move on toward Montana, they passed an abandoned homestead about 12 miles "as the crow flies" from Anamoose.
After their trip ended, they returned and bought the homestead, with its 12 acres offering enough space for gardens and a greenhouse. And Slavic Heritage Farms was born and began producing fruits and vegetables for sale.
"It's a multi-phased business," Julia explains. They have a Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, venture, in which buyers can join to get regular supplies of fresh produce. They've sold at farmers markets and at wholesale.
But in forming the FARMtastic Heritage Foods Hub, they were able to take more of their produce, combine it with that of other farmers and sell into other markets or add value by cooking, baking or canning. They began aggregating produce with other producers a couple of years ago, and the idea for the storefront came along with it.
The old post office
Main Street in Anamoose is, like many small towns in the Midwest, nowhere near as vibrant as it once was. The town had a population of 227 in the 2010 Census, compared to 563 in 1920. And, just like many other small towns, some of the buildings around which the community was centered in its busier days have fallen into disrepair over the years.
The city had planned to tear down the old post office, as it was in rough shape and had become a health hazard, Julia says. But the Petrovics saw potential in it and presented an idea to fix it up and "give the building another chance."
The shop is open for lunch and supper. Since the menu changes with the seasons, customers have to be aware that what they liked on their last visit might not be available on their next. Julia says sauerkraut dishes have been popular, but when they run out of what they have, they run out. They don't open a can of sauerkraut to fill in.
"It's OK with the customers," she says.
The Petrovics want consumers to know it's OK for food not to be uniform. Every meal doesn't have to be the same. And they want them to understand the possibilities in what comes from the area.
"We want to encourage people to grow and cook and bake with local ingredients," Julia says.
The Petrovics see the possibility of food hubs in other small communities, using a similar model to what they've set up in Anamoose. Food hubs provide more local economic activity, while providing healthy food, they say.
"A food hub is an economical entity that makes communities viable," Julia says.