Nancy Edmonds Hanson
It’s the peak harvest season at Farm in the Dell, and its fields north of Moorhead are overflowing with prime produce.
“Pumpkins, potatoes, bell peppers, winter squash, summer squash, green beans, carrots, eggplant, onions, cucumbers, kohlrabi, jalapenos …” farm manager Sarah Bofferding ticks off the list on her fingers. “And chard – so, so much chard. Sadly, people don’t fall in love with chard as easily as we can grow it.”
She is talking about the bounty that abounds right now in the fields of Farm in the Dell. But vegetables, though abundant, aren’t its primary product. That’s dignity and respect – the values the small nonprofit nurtures in the adults with disabilities who work at the farm throughout the growing season.
Founded in 2015, Farm in the Dell is a place where every one of its 11 employees – affected by autism, Down syndrome and other unspecified conditions that limit their employability – can earn respectable wages while reveling in productive work. The farm operates a CSA (“community-supported agriculture”) program with some 60 subscribers and sells its fresh produce throughout the season at the Sheyenne Market in West Fargo.
They’re saying thanks to the community that supports them on Saturday and Sunday, when families are invited for an afternoon of free fresh-air fun at the annual Fall Festival. From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., visitors – both supporters and the community at large – can enjoy a variety of kid-approved activities, from rides in the farm’s beloved tractor-drawn barrel train to pumpkin-themed crafts, face painting, games, smoked pork loin sandwiches and a trip through the Not-So-Scary Maze …
… and pick up a trunkload of fresh veggies, as well as premium pumpkins.
“We have more than half a mile of pumpkins,” longtime board member David Sigler points out proudly. “That includes at least 30 varieties, from some that fit in the palm of your hand to the kind that win blue ribbons at the fair.”
But fun and veggies, though abundant, aren’t the reason that the crew at Farm in the Dell spend their summers planting, hoeing, weeding and harvesting from the black Red River Valley soil.
“We’re here to transform disabilities into abilities,” Sarah explains. “We strive to create opportunities that respect the people who work here … for them to learn that while dignity is found in work, their personal value lies in who they are. Here they are loved. They are known. They don’t need to work to have value as people, but at the same time, they can find joy in it.”
Sarah learned about her job – her “dream job,” she says, “growing plants for people” – in the last weeks of her horticulture studies at North Dakota State University. After receiving her degree, she took over day-to-day management of the farm, where six of its 30 or so acres are cultivated by a team of men and women who, she says, love tending their gardens.
Most of the Farm in the Dell crew are residents of CCRI and CLI, both Moorhead group homes for adults with disabilities. Others live at home with their families. As the fields begin to flourish, they help pick, wash and pack weekly shipments of whatever’s ready for CSA subscribers to pick up. The boxes are often hefty – 30 pounds or so right now – and come with an opportunity for patrons to add items with less universal appeal like jalapenos, banana peppers, eggplants and (of course) the over-abundant chard.
While Farm in the Dell’s CSA and farmers market sales help its budget, the nonprofit relies heavily on its donors to support its operations. SA spring event, the Harvest of Dreams sponsored by Friends of the Farm at Bethel Church, is its major annual fund-raiser.
The Fall Festival, David explains, is just the opposite. “It’s a chance to say thanks to our whole community,” he says. “This is a way for families to get outside, enjoy the beautiful fall weather and get a look at the work we’re doing out here.”
And buy pumpkins. Visitors can pick out the pumpkins of little trick-or-treaters’ dreams from the pre-picked piles in the farm’s blue greenhouse or roam the fields to bag their own on the ground where they’re grown. All sales are by free-will offering.
The volunteers who support and operate Farm in the Dell are hoping this year’s Fall Festival attendance will at least equal its pre-Covid peak of 700 in 2019. The site is located at 7426 40th St. N., about five miles directly north of Highway 10.