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Beginning farmer co-op looking for a few good acres

The New Roots Farm Incubator co-op needs 3 to 5 acres of land for 2023 in the Fargo-Moorhead area.

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Simeon Bakunda samples one of the African eggplants he is growing in his garden plot near Moorhead, Minnesota, on Friday, July 29, 2022. He is one of about 14 growers in the New Roots Farm Incubator.
Jeff Beach / Agweek
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MOORHEAD, Minn. — A Red River Valley cooperative that helps small-scale beginning farmers, most of them new Americans, is again in search of a farm site.

The New Roots Farm Incubator had hoped to purchase land east of Moorhead but was not able to finalize the deal before a deadline in early December.

Verna Kragnes, who helped found the co-op and serves as the executive director, said the co-op needs 3 to 5 acres of land. She said it could be on either side of the Red River, though the Minnesota side and the southern end would be preferred.

The site will need access to water for irrigation, and the co-op will need to use or build greenhouses and sheds for tools, though they could be temporary structures.

Kragnes said the property could be leased or purchased. It had leased a site in Clay County for the past four years, but that site is no longer available.

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Verna Kragnes helped found the New Roots Farm Incubator. The co-op is launching a fundraising campaign to expand into a new site.
Jeff Beach / Agweek

New Roots, with about 12 members, is part of a larger Community Supported Agriculture organization called PRAIRIE, which stands for Prairie Rose Agricultural Institute for Research, Innovation, and Education.

The New Roots Farm Incubator co-op is embarking on a campaign to raise $500,000 to expand into a 60-acre site and help members become independent farmers.

The co-op does have access to some land near Felton, Minnesota, through the related Prairie Rose farm. But that farm is intended to help farmers advance from mostly hand-labor to using tractors and farm implements to scale up their operations.

One farmer, Caliton Ntahompagaze, was able to grow and sell enough produce from Prairie Rose farm to qualify for a loan through the Farm Service Agency and buy 12 acres of land to farm.

But Kragnes said the Prairie Rose site, about 12 miles northeast of Moorhead, is too far away from the Fargo-Moorhead area for some of the co-op members, especially those from the Bhutanese community who don’t drive.

Kragnes said the fact that the land sale fell through may have been for the best if the co-op can find land closer to Fargo-Moorhead.

Kragnes said the 60 acres of land would have cost the co-op about $6,000 an acre. It ended up being sold at auction for about $9,000 an acre.

The success of New Roots has led it to be named the 2022 Clay County Farm Family of the Year by University of Minnesota Extension.

Kragnes can be reached at verna.kragnes@gmail.com.

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Verna Kragnes, left, helps Simeon Bakunda pick peas on July 29, 2022, near Moorhead, Minnesota. The peas were some of the produce to be sold the next day at the Red River Market in Fargo.
Jeff Beach / Agweek

Reach Jeff Beach at jbeach@agweek.com or call 701-451-5651 (work) or 859-420-1177.
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