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Published March 08, 2010, 08:08 AM

Yokel foods

FARGO, N.D. — While attending the recent “Local Foods” conference with Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., in Marshall, Minn, someone made a statement about how today’s people need remedial training in value and craft of gardening.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — While attending the recent “Local Foods” conference with Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., in Marshall, Minn, someone made a statement about how today’s people need remedial training in value and craft of gardening.

I flashed back to one of my most memorable experience with Red River Valley-grown vegetables, and nodded.

Twenty years ago, I was a staff writer for The Forum in Fargo, N.D. I was writing about a carrot operation in Cass County, N.D., that was trying to grow carrots for the “fresh” market. The farm was digging carrots and I was having a ball, taking pictures of brightly colored roots.

As I watched the carrot lifting process, I noticed the crew had missed a row. I pointed this out to the farmer and asked whether that was a common thing.

“Oh yeah, we’ll miss one every once in awhile,” the fellow said, shrugging. “That’s no problem. People from town come out afterward and usually glean them out.”

Hmm, I thought.

Back at the office in Fargo, I asked a co-worker, Chris, if he thought he and his wife, DeAnne, might like some fresh carrots. Chris and DeAnne had foster kids. We had a couple of kids of our own.

Soon, the four of us and our kids drove out into the country that evening. Armed with spading forks and pulling a trailer with some clean garbage cans, I figured I easily could find that unpicked row.

Unfortunately, that field was larger than I’d remembered.

Close to dusk, I couldn’t be sure I was in the right part of the field. As it grew later, I became agitated and embarrassed at having brought my friends out on this fiasco.

Suddenly, Chris shouted, “Here it is!”

While my wife, Barb, and DeAnne held the flashlights, we joyfully filled those cans and soon were heading back to town.

Chris and I were visiting in the front seats, then Barb and DeAnne, and the kids in the back. Barb was telling DeAnne about an article she’d read.

“Did you know you could wash off carrots in a washing machine?” she said.

Chris and I caught half-snippets of this conversation as we motored along. Soon, we’d dropped off our friends and their carrots and said our goodnights.

The next day

Three postscripts are the important part of the story:

The day after the carrot hunt, I got a phone message. “Mikkel,” said a low voice. “This is Chris. I’m at home. Under no circumstances should you clean your carrots in your washing machine.”

Helpful Chris had missed some vital instructions. He hadn’t heard that the first step was to line the machine with towels. He hadn’t heard that step 2 was to put the machine on “rinse.” No, Chris had filled the machine and put those carrots through the whole wash cycle. Now bits of carrot were in all of the machine’s little holes and orifices.

I don’t know if they ever got them out.

Several days later, Barb and I were planning to preserve some of our carrots by burying them in the backyard — just the way I remembered we did it when I was a kid.,

A neighbor woman walked by and was awestruck.

“That’s amazing,” she said. “If the electricity goes out, can you just survive for days and days?”

Later, I didn’t tell her that many of the carrots turned slimy and spoiled because I’d failed to put enough holes in the container.

Much later, DeAnne would tell us that her foster son had sat her down on the couch on the night of the big carrot dig and asked her gravely.

“I just want to know: Are we poor?”

Nope. Just ignorant.

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