Moorhead’s Farm in the Dell is on the grow

Orange Smoothies. Knuckleheads. Jack Be Little, Darling and Baby Boo. Big Rock, Cotton Candy, Rocket and Warty Goblins.

They’re all pumpkins – some of the 40 varieties of pumpkins that young adults with special needs, along with parents and community friends, have been raising on the burgeoning Farm in the Dell north of Moorhead.

And the farmers and their friends will be selling piles and piles of those pumpkins Saturday at the farm’s second annual Fall Festival … along with games geared for all ages, pulled-pork sandwiches and other harvest-style fare. The free public event from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. also features Scarecrow Row, a first-time fence-line lineup of entries developed by local organizations to capture visitors’ attention in a most unfrightening way.

The balance of the pumpkin harvest will be available at the farm all through October, introducing the community to both new varieties and the farm itself, a 4-year-old dream come true. They can be purchased seven days a week.

“Farms in the Dell are a new alternative for young adults with special needs,” explains Karen Urlacher, one of six directors guiding the local project. It started small with an informal gathering at Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in March 2012. “I really feel that God brought us together — a group of parents of special-needs children and others who cared about opportunities for them,” she says. “Despite progress in living arrangements for this population, there really hasn’t been a rural option.”

They were inspired by Farm in the Dell International Foundation, a movement to provide farm-based living and vocational opportunities. Six other farms are now in operation – four in Montana, one in Saskatchewan and one in Kyrgyzstan.

The Fargo-Moorhead enterprise began three summers ago with an expansive garden south of Interstate 94 in Fargo on land owned by Dr. Susan Mathison’s Catalyst Medical Center. A combination of adults with special needs – including autism, Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy and intellectual impairment – and community volunteers began working acres of every vegetable they could think of. They offered their produce to shareholders in a CSA (community-supported agriculture) arrangement. This year, 40 families took part, double the number of the first year; a larger number of shares will be available in 2017.

Funds from the weekly veggie deliveries are used to help support the physical Farm in the Dell – a rural home plus 30 acres of land located about 5 miles north of Dilworth on County Road 9. This summer, the Dell crew planted and nurtured 900 hills of pumpkins on two of those acres. Watermelons and cantaloupes were grown there, too, for CSA customers, along with a modest acreage of fancy gourds.

In all, Farm in the Dell boosters have raised at least $150,000 to date through annual fund-raisers in the spring, the fall festival, their CSA and contributions. Their pumpkin fields and the rest of the farm acreage beside their rural house was donated to the program.

Karen predicts the first special-needs adults will move into the farmhouse this November. It will be operated in cooperation with Moorhead’s CCRI. “Some will live here, and we hope many more will come to work the gardens,” she notes. Sponsors are planning to expand the agricultural side in years to come, including with renovation of two greenhouses on the site. (North Dakota State University has provided space to start seeds in past years.)

“Someone has offered us goats, so maybe down the road,” adds Lee Swanson, whose wife Karen also serves on the board. “And laying hens? We’ll see.”

Help for both the in-town garden and the farm has come from a variety of sources. Centre Inc. residents have pitched in on work release, along with volunteers from Frazier Ltd. Two dozen Concordia freshmen bused to the farm for their Day of Service, and another contingent of students – speech pathology students from Minnesota State University Moorhead – are running games and helping with other parts of Saturday’s festival.

There’s no admission charge to attend the festival. Farm in the Dell is located at 7378 40th St. N., 5 miles north of Highway 10 on County Road 9. More information is available at farminthedellrrv.org.

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